Wednesday, November 30, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

Re: Shaker Aamer & Guantánamo Bay

Dear Mr Hague:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Senate Amendment Calls for a Return to Bush-Era Torture

Originally posted by Jeffrey Kaye at Truthout

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

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

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

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

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

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

A "Hooding" Substitute

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

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

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

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

Secret Torture and "Enhanced Interrogation"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturday, November 19, 2011

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

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

Evidence of Torture in the Obama Administration

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

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

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


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

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

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

Links to the Torturers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 14, 2011

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

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

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

WHEN: November 15, 2011, 11:00 AM

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

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

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

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

Watch the video, then go sign the petition!

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