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

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Petition to Annul APA's PENS Report Goes Live

A number of distinguished people have signed onto the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology's petition calling for the annulment of the American Psychological Association's report on Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS), issued under dubious circumstances in 2005, and about which I've written a number of articles over the years.

The petition is a major campaign and an important effort by CEP, and I encourage readers to signe onto the petition (see link below):
A Call for Annulment of APA’s PENS Report

Over the decade since the horrendous attacks of 9/11, the world has been shocked by the specter of abusive interrogations and the torture of national security prisoners by agents of the United States government. Although psychologists in the U.S. have made significant contributions to societal welfare on many fronts during this period, the profession tragically has also witnessed psychologists acting as planners, consultants, researchers, and overseers to these abusive interrogations. Moreover, in the guise of keeping interrogations “safe, legal, ethical and effective," psychologists were used to provide legal protection for otherwise illegal treatment of prisoners.

The American Psychological Association’s (APA) 2005 Report of the Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security (the PENS Report) is the defining document endorsing psychologists’ engagement in detainee interrogations. 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 remains highly influential today. Negating efforts by APA members to limit the damages – including passage of an unprecedented member-initiated referendum in 2008 – the Department of Defense continues to disseminate the PENS Report in its instructions to psychologists involved in intelligence operations. The Report also has been adopted, at least informally, as the foundational ethics document for “operational psychology” as an area of specialization involving psychologists in counterintelligence and counterterrorism operations. And the PENS Report is repeatedly cited as a resource for ethical decision-making in the APA Ethics Committee’s new National Security Commentary, a “casebook” for which the APA is currently soliciting feedback.

Equally troubling, 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. Deeply problematic aspects include the inherent bias in the Task Force membership (e.g., six of the nine voting members were on the payroll of the U.S. military and/or intelligence agencies, with five having served in chains of command accused of prisoner abuses); significant conflicts of interest (e.g., unacknowledged participants included the spouse of a Guantánamo intelligence psychologist and several high-level lobbyists for Department of Defense and CIA funding for psychologists); irregularities in the report approval process (e.g., the Board’s use of emergency powers that preempted standard review mechanisms); and unwarranted secrecy associated with the Report (e.g., unusual prohibitions on Task Force members’ freedom to discuss the Report). These realities point to the impossibility and inadequacy of merely updating or correcting deficiencies in the PENS Report.

We the undersigned organizations and individuals – health professionals, social scientists, social justice and human rights scholars and activists, and concerned military and intelligence professionals – therefore declare that the PENS Report is illegitimate. We call upon the American Psychological Association to take immediate steps to annul the PENS Report. At the same time, in our own efforts, we aim to make the illegitimacy of the PENS Report more broadly known within our communities.

September 26, 2011

(Visit to add your signature)

Organizational Signers

Coalition for an Ethical Psychology
Bill of Rights Defense Committee
Center for Constitutional Rights
Center for Justice and Accountability
International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School
Massachusetts Campaign Against Torture
Network of Spiritual Progressives
Physicians for Human Rights
Psychologists for Social Responsibility
Veterans for Peace
Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity

Individual Signers (listed affiliations are for identification purposes only)

Roy Eidelson, PhD, Past President, Psychologists for Social Responsibility; Associate Director, Solomon Asch Center for Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict, Bryn Mawr College

Jean Maria Arrigo, PhD, APA PENS Task Force Member, Project on Ethics and Art in Testimony

Michael Wessells, PhD, APA PENS Task Force Member, Professor of Clinical Population and Family Health, Columbia University

Stephen Soldz, PhD, Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis; Past President, Psychologists for Social Responsibility

Steven Reisner, PhD, Candidate for APA President; Clinical Assistant Professor, NYU Medical School; Faculty and Supervisor, International Trauma Studies Program, New York City

Brad Olson, PhD, President-Elect, Psychologists for Social Responsibility

Bryant Welch, PhD, Program Director and Professor of Psychology, California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco, CA

Trudy Bond, PhD, Independent Psychologist; Steering Committee, Psychologists for Social Responsibility

Philip Zimbardo, President, American Psychological Association (2002); Professor Emeritus, Department of Psychology, Stanford University

Stephen N. Xenakis, MD, Brigadier General (Ret), U.S. Army

Nathaniel A. Raymond, Former Director of the Campaign Against Torture at Physicians for Human Rights

Leonard Rubenstein, Senior Scholar, Center for Public Health and Human Rights, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health

Noam Chomsky, Institute Professor (ret.), Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Robert Jay Lifton, Lecturer in Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School/Cambridge Health Alliance; Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and Psychology, The City University of New York

Manfred Nowak, Professor for International Law and Human Rights, University of Vienna; Director, Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Human Rights

David Remes, Appeal for Justice; Guantánamo habeas attorney since 2004

Gerald Gray, LCSW, Co-Director, Institute for Redress & Recovery, Santa Clara University School of Law

Morton Deutsch, Past President, APA Divisions 8 (Society for Personality and Social Psychology), 9 (Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues), and 48 (Peace Psychology); Professor Emeritus, Psychology and Education, Teachers College, Columbia University

Nora Sveaass, UN Committee Against Torture; Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Oslo, Norway

Steven H. Miles, MD, Professor of Medicine and Bioethics, University of Minnesota

George Hunsinger, Professor of Systematic Theology, Princeton Theological Seminary

Vincent Iacopino, MD, PhD, Senior Medical Advisor, Physicians for Human Rights; Adjunct Professor of Medicine, University of Minnesota Medical School; Senior Research Fellow, Human Rights Center, University of California, Berkeley

David DeBatto, former US Army Counterintelligence Special Agent and Iraq war veteran

Buz Eisenberg, Chair, International Justice Network; Attorney for Guantánamo detainees since 2005

Michael Ratner, President Emeritus, Center for Constitutional Rights

Vince Warren, Executive Director, Center for Constitutional Rights

Susan Opotow, Past President, APA Division 9 (Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues); Professor, City University of New York

Richard Wagner, Past President, APA Division 48 (Peace Psychology); Professor Emeritus, Bates College

Marc Pilisuk, Past President, APA Division 48 (Peace Psychology); Professor Emeritus, University of California; Professor, Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center

Ethel Tobach, PhD, Past President, APA Division 48 (Peace Psychology); American Museum of Natural History, New York

Joseph de Rivera, Past President, APA Division 48 (Peace Psychology); Research Professor, Clark University

James Coyne, PhD, Director, Behavioral Oncology Program, Abramson Cancer Center and Professor of Psychology, Department of Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

Luisa Saffiotti, PhD, President, Psychologists for Social Responsibility

Jancis Long, PhD, Past President, Psychologists for Social Responsibility

Frank Summers, PhD, President-Elect (as of January 2012), APA Division 39 (Psychoanalysis); Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and the Behavioral Sciences, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University

Alice Shaw, PhD, President, Section IX, APA Division 39 (Psychoanalysis for Social Responsibility)

Jules Lobel, President, Center for Constitutional Rights; Bessie McKee Walthour Endowed Chair Professor of Law, University of Pittsburgh Law School

Bernice Lott, Professor Emerita of Psychology and Women’s Studies, University of Rhode Island

Ruth Fallenbaum, WithholdAPADues Steering Committee

Dan Aalbers, WithholdAPADues Steering Committee

Anthony Marsella, Past President, Psychologists for Social Responsibility; Emeritus Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Hawaii

Ghislaine Boulanger, PhD, WithholdAPADues Steering Committee

Jean L. Hill, PhD, President-Elect, APA Division 27 (Society for Community Research and Action); Professor of Psychology, New Mexico Highlands University

Joseph Margulies, Attorney, MacArthur Justice Center, Clinical Professor, Northwestern Law School

Martha Davis, PhD, Visiting Scholar (ret.), John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York

Kristine Huskey, Director, Anti-Torture Program, Physicians for Human Rights; Guantanamo detainee habeas counsel (2002-2011)

Scott Horton, Columbia University School of Law

William P. Quigley, Professor of Law, Loyola University New Orleans

Rabbi Michael Lerner, Editor, Tikkun Magazine; Executive Director, The Institute for Labor and Mental Health

Scott Allen, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, School of Medicine, University of California, Riverside

M. Brinton Lykes, PhD, Professor of Community-Cultural Psychology, Boston College; Co-Founder, Ignacio Martin-Baro Fund for Mental Health and Human Rights

David Luban, University Professor in Law and Philosophy, Georgetown University

Jeffrey S. Kaye, PhD, Clinician, Survivors International, San Francisco

Sibel Edmonds, Founder & Director, National Security Whistleblowers Coalition (NSWBC)

David Sloan-Rossiter, Boston Institute for Psychotherapy; Massachusetts Institute for Psychoanalysis

Stephen R. Shalom, Department of Political Science, William Paterson University

Andrea Cousins, PhD, PsyD, Massachusetts Campaign Against Torture (MACAT), Northampton, MA

Lynne Layton, PhD, Assistant Professor of Psychology, Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School

Deborah Popowski, Clinical Instructor, International Human Rights Clinic; Lecturer on Law, Harvard Law School

(Names of additional signers and a link for new signers are available at

Note: An accompanying background report, available at, provides additional detailed documentation in support of this call for annulment.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Feds Targeting CA Pot Clubs to Deflect Heat on "Fast & Furious" Scandal?

It could just be coincidence, of course. But just as a huge scandal unfolds in Washington over a seemingly botched guns-drug operation, and a possible cover-up by Attorney General Eric Holder, the Department of Justice has announced a big crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries in California, long the leader in the medical marijuana movement. Something is very wrong here.

The guns-drug operation, run through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF), was titled "Fast and Furious." According to the Arizona Republic (h/t bmaz), it was "a federal gun-trafficking investigation that put hundreds of rifles and handguns from Arizona into the hands of criminals in Mexico." "Legal guidance" to the BATF was provided through the Arizona U.S. Attorney's office. As the botched operation became known, an early casualty of the scandal was AZ U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke, who resigned over the affair last August. Kenneth Melson, the former acting head of the BATF, would follow Burke out months later.

How botched was this operation, run, according to Congressional testimony, with help from the Internal Revenue Service, Drug Enforcement Administration, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement? According to a Jan. 8, 2010 briefing paper (PDF) from the BATF Phoenix Field Division Group, from September 2009 through January 2010 (date of the briefing), at least 20 gun traffickers had "purchased in excess of 650 firearms (mainly AK-47 variants) for which they have paid cash totaling more than $350,000.” According to news reports, ultimately, the number of guns sent over the border to Mexican drug cartels would number in the thousands, including hundreds of weapons to the brutal Sinaloa drug cartel. Meanwhile, ATF honchos watched the sales over closed-circuit video feed.

In December 2010, a Border Patrol agent was gunned down by a weapon traced to the "Fast and Furious" program, and that was too much for one BATF whistleblower: "Senior agents including [John] Dodson told CBS News they confronted their supervisors over and over.... "We just knew it wasn't going to end well. There's just no way it could," Dodson said.

And what happened to all those guns, which were supposed to be tracked by U.S. agents? The BATF says it simply lost track of the weapons, which beggars all sense. As reported at Forbes:
ATF field agents were sending protests up their chain of command, because, as ATF Special Agent John Dodson told the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee on June 15, 2011, he and fellow agents were regularly ordered to abandon surveillance of suspicious gun purchases “knowing all the while that just days after these purchases, the guns that we saw these individuals buy would begin turning up at crime scenes in the United States and Mexico"....

ATF Special Agent Olindo James Casa also said at the June hearing that “on several occasions I personally requested to interdict or seize firearms, but I was always ordered to stand down and not to seize the firearms.”
According to Washington Times journalists Robert Farago and Ralph Dixon in an article last August, the Fast and Furious program was a cover-story for a covert CIA program to arm the Sinaloa cartel in prevent the competing Los Zetas cartel from staging a coup against the Mexican government. And -- shades of the late Gary Webb! -- the journalists claim the relationship extended to “(allowing) the Sinaloas to fly a 747 cargo plane packed with cocaine into American airspace – unmolested.”

First, the government instructed gun dealers to sell guns to suspicious characters, which were then "walked" across the border. Then the government failed to inform Mexican authorities anything about the operation (possibly because they didn't trust them?). In any case, we are supposed to believe that government authorities simply lost track of the weapons?

The Dirty History of the CIA and the War on Drugs

The U.S. intelligence agencies have a long history of using drug running and drug proceeds to finance off-the-books covert activities, including wars, the buying of elected officials, and the smuggling of weapons to favored groups. The late Gary Webb, referenced above, who was castigated by the mainstream press, did ground-breaking work on the connection between gun-running to the Contras, paid for by cocaine trafficking in the U.S., officially denied by the U.S. government, but later documented in Congressional hearings by John Kerry (see this 2004 Salon article). Webb lost his career and later his life to bring the truth to the American people.

The GOP and the right will only threaten Obama and Holder with scandal up to a point. They certainly will pull back before the intel community cries uncle too loudly, and only seek to investigate to smear the Obama administration, not to really blow the lid off sixty years of U.S. dirty games with drug traffickers.

The links between the CIA and Mexican drug cartels were highlighted recently in the federal criminal case against alleged Sinaloa cartel "kingpin," Jesus Vicente Zambada Niebla. According to an article by Bill Conroy at Narcosphere, "US government prosecutors filed pleadings in the case late last week seeking to invoke the Classified Information Procedures Act (CIPA), a measure designed to assure national security information does not surface in public court proceedings." Why CIPA in this case? Niebla has asserted in court filings last July that "the US government... [cut] a deal with the the 'Sinaloa Cartel' that gave its leadership 'carte blanche to continue to smuggle tons of illicit drugs into Chicago and the rest of the United States.'"

The use of the supposed war on drugs to hide money, guns and influence, and at times to actually deal drugs at the behest of the government has been the subject of some notable and influential investigations over the years. Besides Webb, there was Alfred McCoy's The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, and more recently, Douglas Valentine's The Strength of the Wolf: The Secret History of America's War on Drugs.

Guns to Drug Lords, Jail for Medicinal Marijuana Club Owners

The GOP and right-wing press has been having a field day with this story, and the sudden appearance of documents showing Holder was briefed on the program when he appeared to say he knew nothing about it, has sharpened the GOP's talons, out for Administration blood.

So what's an embattled DoJ to do? They appear to have decided now is a good time to crack down on medical marijuana dispensaries in California, the better to burnish their anti-drug credentials. According to the Washington Post, "at least 16 pot shops or their landlords received letters this week warning face they would face criminal charges and confiscation of their property if the dispensaries do not shut down in 45 days."

A story at NPR suggests the roots for the crackdown are in a memo put out last June by Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole. Noting that the Administration's policy had been that limited funds precluded going after pot sold to caregivers and the ill, Cole announced that things had changed (bold emphasis added):
The Department's view of the efficient use of limited federal resources as articulated in the Ogden Memorandum has not changed. There has, however, been an increase in the scope of commercial cultivation, sale, distribution and use of marijuana for purported medical purposes....

The Ogden Memorandum was never intended to shield such activities from federal enforcement action and prosecution, even where those activities purport to comply with state law. Persons who are in the business of cultivating, selling or distributing marijuana, and those who knowingly facilitate such activities, are in violation of the Controlled Substances Act, regardless of state law. Consistent with resource constraints and the discretion you may exercise in your district, such persons are subject to federal enforcement action, including potential prosecution. State laws or local ordinances are not a defense to civil or criminal enforcement of federal law....
The Obama administration has taken a much tougher line when it comes to the recreational or medicinal user of marijuana than it does to drug cartel gangsters. And the GOP, anxious to make Holder look bad, will line up behind the anti-marijuana crusade.

Truly the hypocrisy in this country is so thick you couldn't cut it with a buzz saw. There should be investigations over the "Fast and Furious" operation and possible intelligence connections to the drug cartels; meanwhile, the administration should pull back from their anti-marijuana stance. The drug should not be illegal, but licensed, controlled, and sold commercially for the relatively mild intoxicant that it is, one that also has some beneficial medical uses (just like alcohol!). Abuse of the drug is a matter for public health policy, not jails.

Originally posted at The Dissenter/FDL

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Nearly 12,000 Prisoners Join California Hunger Strike to End Torture Conditions

According to an October 1 article at Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity (PHSS), the Federal receiver's office has indicated that "nearly 12,000 prisoners were on hunger strike, including California prisoners who are housed in out of state prisons in Arizona, Mississippi and Oklahoma."

This is the second hunger strike in less than four months, with prisoners at the Supermax Pelican Bay Prison and other California state prisons protesting the use of long-term solitary confinement, in addition to four other main demands, including provision of adequate and nutritious food, an end to administrative abuses (such as group punishments), and expansion, and in some cases provision, of "Constructive Programming and Privileges for Indefinite SHU Status Inmates."

But besides an end to state-sanctioned isolation, which amounts to torture, the most salient demand is an end to the hated "debriefing" system, which places inmates in solitary if prison officials determine they are "gang members." As I noted in an article last July, determination of "gang" status includes “acquisition or exchange of personal or state property amounting to more than $50…. tattooing or possession of tattoo paraphenalia…. possession of $5 or more without authorization…. [and] refusal to work or participate in a program as assigned,” among others. Indeed, even refusal to submit to "debriefing," i.e., interrogation of prisoners to get them to "snitch," or give names of other "gang" members, is reason to label someone a gang member and put them in solitary indefinitely. The prisoners call this "snitch, parole, or die."

Both isolation and forced confessions are illegal forms of incarceration. The 2006 Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's Prisons, co-chaired by former Chief Judge of U.S. Court of Appeals, Third Circuit, John Gibbons and former Attorney General Nicholas de B. Katzenbach, called for an end to isolation in U.S. prisons. (See summary of findings and recommendations, PDF.)

A Fight for Dignity, Justice, and Humanity

California prisons are a stinking mess, a scandal of gigantic proportions. The health care component of the California prison system has been in federal receivership for years because of the awful, insufficient care provided to the sick and mentally ill. As reported in a McClatchy article last May, the U.S. Supreme Court "cited 'serious constitutional violations' in California's overcrowded prisons and ordered the state to abide by aggressive plans to fix the problem." The court rejected state pleas to put off the necessary changes, and ordered the prison system to lower its population by approximately 37,000. (A plan to implement the changes is meeting some skepticism.)

According to the McClatchy article:
One hundred and twelve California prison inmates died unnecessarily because of inadequate medical care in 2008 and 2009, analysts found. Acutely ill patients have been held in "cages, supply closets and laundry rooms" because of overcrowding, investigators found. Suicides by California inmates have been double the national average.
No wonder the prisoners' hunger strike is gaining so much support in California prisons, where inmates are held like animals. The overcrowding is largely due to long-time incarceration for drug charges, including simple possession, and California's onerous Three Strikes law.

The prisoners have indicated they will conduct "rolling" hunger strikes, allowing prisoners to come off strike to regain their strength. They indicated they have resumed their strike after changes promised after the July hunger strike by the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation (CDCR) failed to materialize, in particular "demands related to solitary confinement and gang validation."

Meanwhile, CDCR has indicated they will punish strikers. Two attorneys representing prisoners in mediation talks with the CDCR have been "banned from all prisons pending an investigation into whether or not they had 'jeopardized the safety and security of CDCR' institutions."

According to an article at the PHSS website, "The CDCR has delivered memos to prisoners at each state prison threatening that any participation or support for the hunger strike will result in disciplinary actions, such as placement in Ad-Seg/ASU [Administrative Segregation Unit] or SHUs [Security Housing Units] (for prisoners currently in General Population), increased destructive cell searches, removal of canteen items, and worse. We know that a number of prisoners lost their jobs as added punishment for supporting the strike in July."

International Support

The renewed strike has gotten support from Palestinian hunger strikers protesting the use of isolation in the imprisonment of Palestinian leaders such as Ahmad Sa’adat. The use of isolation to punish and break prisoners is not limited to California or U.S. prisons, but cases involving American prisoners have made the news in recent months, including the incarceration of Bradley Manning, and the ongoing refusal to release the last British resident prisoner at Guantanamo, Shaker Aamer, who is also on a hunger strike to protest the conditions he is held under.

As thousands muster at protests across the country, such as the Occupy Wall Street protests covered here at The Dissenter, in the deepest, darkest holes of misery in this country people are fighting with their lives for basic humanity and just treatment by a system that treats its victims -- whether they are prisoners, or whether they are impoverished unemployed, thrown on the trash heap by financiers and indifferent politicians -- with indifference at best, or sadistic animus at worst.

The prisoners cannot win their battle without public support. The public must see that the fate of the men and women thrown into American prisons is part of their own struggle, as the methods and attitudes fostered by the prison establishment are turned increasingly on the U.S. population as a whole, just as surveillance, mass round-ups, torture, and economic shock treatment has metastasized from imperialist foreign policy to a domestic program of immiserating working Americans to pay for Wall Street's follies and the Pentagon's wars.

Originally posted at The Dissenter/FDL

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