Thursday, April 26, 2012

Tell the Senate: Release the SSCI Report on CIA Torture!

Human Rights First has released a letter to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and is asking the public to sign on. This is an important action anyone can take to help bring about accountability for US war crimes, especially torture. The text of their call and the letter follows (readers can skip if they wish and follow this link to sign the letter now):
Tell the Senate: Release the Real Book on Torture!
Release the Real Book on Torture!

One year after bin Laden's death, torture proponents are gearing up once again to reignite the debate. But let's get our facts straight. Top level officials including Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta have debunked the claim that torture led to bin Laden. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) has nearly completed a 3-year long review, 4,000-page report of the CIA's post-September 11 detention and interrogation practices. Let's end the torture debate. It's time for the United States to stand by national security policies based on facts and not fiction. Tell the SSCI to set the record straight and release the real book on torture.
Release the SSCI report on CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program

Dear Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), ), Kent Conrad (D-ND), Barbara A. Mikulski (D-MA), Bill Nelson(D-FL), John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV), Mark Udall (D-CO), Mark Warner (D, VA), Ron Wyden (D-OR):
As members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), we urge that you make the forthcoming SSCI report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program public with as few redactions as possible. We strongly support the Committee’s ongoing effort to investigate and establish the facts surrounding the CIA interrogation, rendition, and detention programs. These issues have been the subject of intense speculation and debate, and the absence of a comprehensive examination of the facts based on the actual historical record has been extremely corrosive and divisive. For example, soon after the killing of Osama Bin Laden, proponents of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” claimed that information derived from torture revealed his whereabouts. The anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death will likely result in another contentious debate about the use of torture and cruelty in interrogations. The public is entitled to a complete reporting of the facts, detailing how and why these techniques came to be used. The use of cruel interrogation techniques long denounced by the United States as forms of torture represented a dramatic reversal from the principles to which our nation has aspired for over 200 years. We believe that these policies were abhorrent, illegal and ineffective. But, in the absence of a comprehensive review based on the classified record, people on both sides of this controversy continue to claim the facts are on their side. The Committee should let the facts speak. It should let the American people know what was done in their name. There can be no justification for continuing to deny the public the facts. As you know, the bipartisan Senate Armed Services Committee Report on the role of the Department of Defense in detainee abuses has already been made public.


Friday, April 20, 2012

Archival Interviews with CIA & Military Officers to Be Released

The following announcement has been released regarding the pending publication of a treasure-trove of documentary material on the CIA and the 1960s torture-killings program in Vietnam, the infamous Phoenix Program. Both historians and political activists should be grateful to Doug Valentine and Cryptocomb for making this new material accessible to the general public. I look forward to perusing it.
Cryptocomb is proud to announce the publication of over 8GB's of taped interviews journalist/author Douglas Valentine conducted with more than a dozen CIA and military officers while researching his book The Phoenix Program. The original interviews were recorded in the late 1980s on magnetic tape and, with the help of several volunteers, subsequently converted onto CD's twenty years later. Advances in technology now make it possible to post the interviews on Cryptocomb for everyone to hear. The Phoenix Program, notably, is the template for the targeted killings in the war on terror, and the interviews are invaluable tools for learning about the men who were instrumental in its development and prosecution. Many of the people at the helm of the Phoenix Program later went on to walk the halls of the U.S Dept of Homeland Security, Congress and the Pentagon. The first interviews will be posted April 22nd, with more to follow each week through May 8th.
Those who wish to support Cryptocomb's work can do so by clicking here. (Disclosure: I have no financial or other association with either Doug Valentine or those who own or operate the Cryptocomb website.)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Did NYPD "Undercover Agent" Try to Suborn Tarek Mehanna into a "Terrorist Plot"?

Many bloggers and the press have reposted Tarek Mehanna's impassioned speech to the court as he was sentenced to 17-1/2 years for supposedly providing "material support" to terrorists. (See here, here, here, and especially the ACLU's Nancy Murray's widely quoted article at the Boston Globe here.) But few have commented on Mehanna's charges that he was set up by an undercover agent to participate in a terrorist plot, and that he refused the agent's overtures.

These are the relevant portions of Mehanna's statement at his sentencing hearing (bold emphases added):
Exactly four years ago this month I was finishing my work shift at a local hospital. As I was walking to my car I was approached by two federal agents. They said that I had a choice to make: I could do things the easy way, or I could do them the hard way. The “easy“ way, as they explained, was that I would become an informant for the government, and if I did so I would never see the inside of a courtroom or a prison cell. As for the hard way, this is it. Here I am, having spent the majority of the four years since then in a solitary cell the size of a small closet, in which I am locked down for 23 hours each day. The FBI and these prosecutors worked very hard — and the government spent millions of tax dollars — to put me in that cell, keep me there, put me on trial, and finally to have me stand here before you today to be sentenced to even more time in a cell....

It was made crystal clear at trial that I never, ever plotted to “kill Americans” at shopping malls or whatever the story was. The government’s own witnesses contradicted this claim, and we put expert after expert up on that stand, who spent hours dissecting my every written word, who explained my beliefs. Further, when I was free, the government sent an undercover agent to prod me into one of their little “terror plots,” but I refused to participate. Mysteriously, however, the jury never heard this.
The Telegram and Gazette described the uproar in the courtroom when Mehanna brought up the accusations regarding the undercover agent's attempt to recruit him into a terrorist plot.
After Mr. Mehanna said the government had sent an undercover agent to prod him into participating in a terror plot — that he refused — Mr. Chakravarty rose to call that “categorically false.” Mr. Mehanna yelled to him that “you’re a liar.”

Two U.S. marshals strode to Mr. Mehanna seated at the defense table in an orange prison jump suit, put a hand on him and spoke to him, but Judge O’Toole did not allow Mr. Chakravarty to continue.
What actually lie behind these accusations, the prosecutor's interruption, and the Judge's subsequent actions? (O'Toole later chided Mehanna for "lack of remorse" and "a quality of defiance.")

The answer can be found in a February 25 posting by Mehanna at the Facebook page, "Free Tarek Mehanna." While one can easily find online the young man's stirring defense of himself in his April 12 sentencing statement, his statement about the attempt to frame him as part of a government-inspired terrorist "plot," has virtually escaped coverage outside of some small blogs concerned with defending Islamic or Palestinian causes and defense (with the one notable exception of Richard Hugus at Boston IndyMedia).

This is not surprising as the widespread use of government undercover agents to gin up the terror threat in the U.S. is not fit matter for the mainstream press, who report these incidents as if they were gospel descended from the heaven populated by covert intelligence agencies. I think Mehanna's accusations merit further investigation, and the way he describes (see below) the way the matter was kept out of court leaves little doubt that there is much to what he says.

In summary, Mehanna claims he was approached by a stranger in late 2005. This individual on numerous occasions tried to get him to "find American soldiers returning from Iraq (whose addresses he supposedly had) and kill them." Mehanna subsequently cut off contact with this person because he would not let up on trying to seduce Mehanna into some kind of crime.

Mehanna wrote that in early summer 2011, his attorney was contacted by an AP reporter who had heard that "two sources within the NYPD had contacted her and confirmed to her that the NYPD had sent an undercover agent up to Boston to 'befriend' me, and try to prod me into carrying out a 'terrorist attack,' and that I had refused to go along (bingo!)." Mehanna's attorneys filed a "motion asking the judge to compel the government to disclose these details so that they could be mentioned at trial." The motion was denied after Judge O'Toole met with prosecutors in a closed hearing (closed to the defense).

Mehanna notes, "A brief mention of the motion and the hearing was made in an August 2th 2011 article in the Boston Globe, written by Milton Valencia. But the article was published before O’Toole had officially denied the motion. This was the only media attention that this incident received." I was not able to verify there was such an article or coverage, as nothing about this comes up on Internet search or at the Boston Globe search engine.

What follows is Mehanna's complete FB post, with only some bolding of certain text added for editorial emphasis:
My arrest and trial had little to do with “terrorism.”

The overwhelming majority of “terrorism” cases in America can fit into a category in which the FBI picks the gullible Muslim youth, sends an undercover agent to “befriend” him, and over a period of time, prod him to agree to carry out some attack. The agreement is recorded on tape. The undercover FBI agent offers the kid weapons, and arrests him as soon as he is about to proceed with the so-called “plot.” While the intended impression is that the Feds swooped in to save the day, the reality is that they “foiled” their own plot. An artificial victory, and this is the formula which you see every other day when you read the news, whose purpose is to compensate for the lack of authentic “terror plots.”

The government attempted this strategy with me, but failed. This has been one of the most underreported aspects of my case, despite it being in the public record. This is what happened:

In late 2005, I was approached by an individual whom I’d never met. Over the course of two years, he attempted to befriend me, and gradually began shifting otherwise mundane conversations to suggesting the need to “do something.” Eventually, this “something” that he was hounding me to “do” emerged as a plan of his to find American soldiers returning from Iraq (whose addresses he supposedly had) and kill them. He would show up at my house uninvited, and always try to steer the conversation in this directions, and I would steer it away and bury it, but he would never give up. Finally, I told this individual to never contact me again.

Two years later, I found myself here in a Plymouth jail awaiting trial on terrorism charges. From day one, I related this to my lawyers, and that I was 100% sure this had been an attempt by the FBI to entrap me in one of their artificial “plots” so that they could have additional firepower in this case. But my lawyers explained that without some acknowledgement from the government, it would be impossible to prove. So we filed numerous motions over the course of the two years before trial requesting exculpatory evidence (i.e., evidence that would be in my favor) from the government regarding this, but they feigned ignorance, and said that they had nothing.

Finally, in the early summer of 2011, my lawyer, Jay Carney, got a call from an Associated Press reporter who said that two sources within the NYPD had contacted her and confirmed to her that the NYPD had sent an undercover agent up to Boston to “befriend” me, and try to prod me into carrying out a “terrorist attack,” and that I had refused to go along (bingo!). Furthermore, these sources in the NYPD told this journalist that when the prosecutors in my case found out about this – the same prosecutors at my trial, Aloke Chakravarty and Jeffrey Auerhahn – they became frantic and called the NYPD to come up to Boston for a meeting, where they admonished them for “interfering” in my case. With this information, my lawyers filed an additional motion asking the judge to compel the government to disclose these details so that they could be mentioned at trial – the logic being that this is a “terrorism” trial, and here was an attempt by the government to actually push me to carry out an act of “terrorism,” and I had refused, and they were trying to cover this up. The motion was filed on July 15th, 2011.

A hearing took place in court on August 3rd, 2011 to discuss this. A number of other motions were discussed first, then at the end, Jay got up to argue this one. He mentioned to the judge tat [sic] we were seeking exculpatory evidence from the government, as they had thus far given us none. And then he mentioned that from the items we sought were details of an attempt by the NYPD to prod me to engage in a domestic attack, which I refused, etc. This was apparently the first the prosecutors knew that we were privy to this, and the surprise was evident on their faces. The judge asked them if they knew anything about this, and Mr. Chakravarty’s response was an ambiguous “we have no information from our office on this, and it is the defendant who should know,” to which Jay stood up again, faced Mr. Chakravarty, and asked: “So you’re willing to say, on record, before the court, that no members of the NYPD came up to Boston at anytime to meet with you to discuss an attempt to prod Tarek Mehanna to engage in an act of terrorism that he refused to go along with?” The prosecutor’s response, verbatim, was: “Well, I didn’t say that either…”

O’Toole said he would wait to rule on the motion, and immediately, the prosecutors requested a private meeting with him in the judge’s chambers. He granted their request. My lawyers stood outside the judge’s door as the prosecutors walked in and protested: “Well, that’s not fair. How are you going to meet with the judge privately about this motion, and we have no idea what is being said?” But the judge met with them for almost 20 minutes. We will never know what was said in that meeting, but the next morning, O’Toole denied our motion, and that was the last anyone had ever heard of it: nothing about this topic was allowed to be mentioned to the jury at trial. Not a single word.

A brief mention of the motion and the hearing was made in an August 2th 2011 article in the Boston Globe, written by Milton Valencia. But the article was published before O’Toole had officially denied the motion. This was the only media attention that this incident received.

Conversely, the baseless “shopping mall plot” received the lion’s share of media attention, and was freely introduced at trial by the government. The progression of this particular story is interesting, and quite telling as to how dishonest the government is:

-October 21st, 2009: I’m introduced to the world as having plotted to gun down shoppers at a local mall.

-10/21/09 to 10/24/11: The two year period before my trial: not a single additional detail is presented about this.

-My trial: Not only was no evidence presented to support this, but the government’s own witnesses admitted that I never participated in any such discussions, and that I in fact spoke against such ideas.

-Closing arguments at trial: The prosecutor backtracks, and says that even if these were not my ideas, that I knew people who had these ideas was enough.

In the end, you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. At this point, it should be clear that my trial was about many things, but it was not about “terrorism.”

(To be continued…)

- Tariq Mehanna
One can only assume that Mehanna's story of being approached by undercover operatives and informants, of being "recruited" into government-originated terrorists "plots" is so consistent with other such reports that what we have here is an orchestrated government program (or even, as we see with the NYPD accusations above) competing programs meant to frame-up militant Muslims, radicalized, or even just made angry, about U.S. government policy in the Middle East and Afghanistan. The end result is meant to feed the domestic police and intelligence agencies need for "enemies" and "threats," the better to justify their existence. An added justification could be the government's paranoid need to destroy what it sees as a threat -- in this case Muslim "extremism" or opposition to US aims in the Muslim world -- and it is using COINTELPRO methods to do just that.

I don't doubt that bad or even deranged people exist, people who mean to cause harm to others, or who even have adopted terrorist methods as a means of furthering their cause. This certainly isn't restricted to Muslims (as this Murray article linked above makes clear), nor even to our own time or era. But what is clear is that U.S. government agencies have acted in secrecy and in bad faith, and without any means to hold them to account, we are all Tarek Mehanna, we are all threatened by a government that feels it can use any method it wishes to undermine differing points of view.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Dvořák on a blustery early Spring day

Antonín Dvořák - String Quartet No.12, the "American" in F (Op. 96)
Second movement: Lento - Alban Berg Quartet

CD or MP3:

The photo montage presents "Christina's World" and "Wind from the Sea" by Andrew Wyeth(1917-2009).

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Günter Grass on Subs for Israel, Threats Against Iran: "I’ve had it with the West’s hypocrisy"

German author Günter Grass published a poem whereby he breaks his silence on the issue of Israel's nuclear capacity, and recent moves by German to facilitate that capacity with the sale of two submarines capable of launching nuclear missiles. All of this is, of course, in the context over the U.S.-inspired controversy over Iran's nuclear program.

Germany has already sold two new Dolphin-class submarines to Israel (to add to three older subs), and this sale would be for a sixth submarine. Germany originally balked at the sixth sale as a matter of protest against Israel's settlement policies on the West Bank (particularly "the construction of 1,100 homes in Gilo, an Arab part of Jerusalem captured from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War"), but by February this year, the matter seemingly was dropped and the sale moved forward.

The subs are being built by Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft (HDW), a division of German steelmaker Thyssen-Krupp. Haaretz Daily reports that Germany subsidized 80 percent of the cost of the three original Dolphin submarines in the 1990s. According to Haaretz, the German-Israel dispute over the sixth submarine was not apparently about the settlements, but bickering over the cost of the German subsidy for the deal. The eventual February 2012 agreement has Germany paying a portion of the $700 million per sub price tag.

Apparently the Israelis had been testing the older Dolphin subs for nuclear missile launch. The new subs reportedly have a upgraded propulsion system. According to Defense Industry Daily last January:
It is also rumored that Israel has tested a nuclear-capable version of its medium-range “Popeye Turbo” cruise missile design for deployability from the 650mm torpedo tubes in its Dolphin Class submarines. The 2002 Popeye Turbo launch test location off Sri Lanka suggested that the tests may have been performed in cooperation with India.
The translated text below is reposted from
What Must be Said

By Günter Grass

Why have I kept silent, silent for too long
over what is openly played out
in war games at the end of which we
the survivors are at best footnotes.

It’s that claim of a right to first strike
against those who under a loudmouth’s thumb
are pushed into organized cheering—
a strike to snuff out the Iranian people
on suspicion that under his influence
an atom bomb’s being built.

But why do I forbid myself
to name that other land in which
for years — although kept secret —
a usable nuclear capability has grown
beyond all control, because
no scrutiny is allowed.

The universal silence around this fact,
under which my own silence lay,
I feel now as a heavy lie,
a strong constraint, which to dismiss
courts forceful punishment:
the verdict of “Antisemitism” is well known.

But now, when my own country,
guilty of primal and unequalled crimes
for which time and again it must be tasked—
once again, in pure commerce,
though with quick lips we declare it
reparations, wants to send
Israel yet another submarine —
one whose specialty is to deliver
warheads capable of ending all life
where the existence of even one
nuclear weapon remains unproven,
but where suspicion serves for proof —
now I say what must be said.

But why was I silent for so long?
Because I thought my origin,
marked with an ineradicable stain,
forbade mention of this fact
as definite truth about Israel, a country
to which I am and will remain attached.

Why is it only now I say,
in old age, with my last drop of ink,
that Israel’s nuclear power endangers
an already fragile world peace?
Because what by tomorrow might be
too late, must be spoken now,
and because we—as Germans, already
burdened enough—could become
enablers of a crime, foreseeable and therefore
not to be eradicated
with any of the usual excuses.

And admittedly: I’m silent no more
because I’ve had it with the West’s hypocrisy
—and one can hope that many others too
may free themselves from silence,
challenge the instigator of known danger
to abstain from violence,
and at the same time demand
a permanent and unrestrained control
of Israel’s atomic power
and Iranian nuclear plants
by an international authority
accepted by both governments.

Only thus can one give help
to Israelis and Palestinians—still more,
all the peoples, neighbour-enemies
living in this region occupied by madness
—and finally, to ourselves as well.

“Was gesagt werden muss” published in Süddeutschen Zeitung (4 April 2012)

Translation by Michael Keefer and Nica Mintz

Saturday, April 7, 2012

"The Cemetery of the Living": Hideous Conditions in U.S. Prisons

U.S. prisons, which hold well over 2 million human beings in incarceration, ranging from minimum security to Supermax prisons where people are kept in total isolation for years on end, are an abomination to humanity, a sign of the barbarity of the society we live in. The poem reposted below was found on a webpage of the Massachusetts Statewide Harm Reduction Coalition (SHaRC), from 2007 hearings held on prison suicides and prison mental health.

SHaRC notes:
While we acknowledge that some behaviors may be diagnosed mental illness, designating and placing the focus on “mentally ill” prisoners allows administrators, guards and staff to evade responsibility for the cruel, inhuman and degrading conditions to which suicidal and other prisoners react. Further, labeling people as “mentally ill” masks “disablement” caused by child abuse, poverty, racism, sexism, etc.. Coping responses to inequality and unhealthy and unsafe conditions must be differentiated from mental illness. Counterproductive measures meted out for such coping responses punishes individuals unfairly for the harms we have inflicted upon them. Vitally important questions are not asked such as why so many are diagnosed mentally ill and how do we restore social policies and practices to alleviate disability while fulfilling human rights obligations, reducing crime rates and ultimately, prisoner suicides.

The International Convention Against Torture governing imprisonment has been ratified by the U.S. From the extremes of sensory deprivation to seemingly mundane daily occurances, prison policy and practice violates human rights. In addition to concerns about our international obligations these violations of rights mean that many leave prison worse off than when they went in. Post Incarceration Syndrome (PICS) is caused by incarceration. 60% of prisoners have been in prison before. They are at even greater risk for further harm, again subjected to “environments of punishment with few opportunities for education, job training, or rehabilitation. The symptoms are most severe in prisoners subjected to prolonged solitary confinement and severe institutional abuse.”
The Massachusetts hearings came after "the Boston Globe did a comprehensive exposé on what it called the ”Prison Suicide Crisis” in Massachusetts." But the conditions that led to the hearings still continue.

Indeed, cruel conditions are not by any means limited to Massachusetts prisons. An article at Solitary Watch notes, "A report just released by Amnesty International documents and denounces conditons in Arizona’s state prisons, including their gross overuse of long-term solitary confinement."

Solitary Watch has been working assiduously to publicize the fights around the country against cruel and inhuman prison conditions that damage and destroy hundreds of thousands of people every year, and by extension traumatize millions more, as the families of those victimized suffer intensely. Recent article concern the fight to close Tamms Supermax prison in Illinois, the use of solitary confinement at Rikers Island, and the ongoing fight to change California's policies in regards to Security Housing Units (SHUs) at Pelican Bay and elsewhere. The latter were the subject of hunger strikes by inmates throughout the California prison system last year.

The following poem was written by C.T., a prisoner at Massachusetts' Bay State Correctional Center.
The Cemetery of the Living

The cemetery of the living, this I call the place;
Where my heart beats, my blood flows, yet it has no one to embrace.
Many have visited, not everyone survives;
It’s not a horror story, and now I’ll tell you why:
Time is hard, lonely, and unforgetful;
The dead rest in peace, but this rest is painful.
I had many by my side, upon entering these walls;
The ones I called my friends were the first who I lost.
My Baby’s Mother took my daughter away, I ask why?
Every night I ask God to watch over her, as I cry.
Mom and dad, even they fell apart,
How much more can one take to the heart?
I live but I’m dead, and in this casket I lie.
In prison, the cemetery, I speak of today,
I guarantee my soul will never stay!!

March 9, 2005
Supporting documentation to the 2007 Massachusetts hearings can be downloaded as a PDF here.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

"Guidebook to False Confessions": Key Document John Yoo Used to Draft Torture Memo Released

Originally published at Truthout
by Jason Leopold and Jeffrey Kaye

In May of 2002, one of several meetings was convened at the White House where the CIA sought permission from top Bush administration officials, including then National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, to torture the agency's first high-value detainee captured after 9/11: Abu Zubaydah.

The CIA claimed Zubaydah, who at the time was being held at a black site prison in Thailand, was "withholding imminent threat information during the initial interrogation sessions," according to documents released by the Senate Intelligence Committee in April 2009.

So, "attorneys from the CIA's Office of General Counsel [including the agency's top lawyer John Rizzo] met with the Attorney General [John Ashcroft], the National Security Adviser [Rice], the Deputy National Security Adviser [Stephen Hadley], the Legal Adviser to the National Security Council [John Bellinger], and the Counsel to the President [Alberto Gonzales] in mid-May 2002 to discuss the possible use of alternative interrogation methods that differed from the traditional methods used by the U.S."

One of the key documents handed out to Bush officials at this meeting, and at Principals Committee sessions chaired by Rice that took place between May and July 2002, was a 37-page instructional manual that contained detailed descriptions of seven of the ten techniques that ended up in the legal opinion widely referred to as the "torture memo," drafted by Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) attorney John Yoo and signed by his boss, Jay Bybee, three months later. According to Rice, Yoo had attended the Principals Committee meetings and participated in discussions about Zubaydah's torture.

That instructional manual, referred to as "Pre-Academic Laboratory (PREAL) Operating Instructions," has just been released by the Department of Defense under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The document sheds additional light on the origins of the Bush administration's torture policy and for the first time describes exactly what methods of torture Bush officials had discussed - and subsequently approved - for Zubaydah in May 2002.

The PREAL manual was prepared by the Department of Defense's (DOD) Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) and used by instructors in the JPRA's Survival Evasion Resistance Escape (SERE) courses to teach US military personnel how to withstand brutal interrogation techniques if captured by the enemy during wartime. The manual states one of the primary goals of the training is "to give students the most reliable mental picture possible of an actual peacetime governmental detention experiences [sic]."

A US counterterrorism official and an aide to one of the Bush officials who participated in Principals Committee meetings in May 2002, however, confirmed to Truthout last week that the PREAL manual was one of several documents the CIA obtained from JPRA that was shared with Rice and other Principals Committee members in May 2002, the same month the CIA officially took over Zubaydah's interrogation from the FBI. As National Security Adviser to President George W. Bush, Rice chaired the meetings.

Rice and Bellinger have denied ever seeing a list of SERE training techniques. But in 2008, they told the Senate Armed Services Committee, which conducted an investigation into treatment of detainees in custody of the US government, that they recalled being present at White House meetings where SERE training was discussed.

Sarah Farber, a spokeswoman at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, where Rice teaches political economy, said she would pass on Truthout's queries about claims that Rice reviewed and discussed the PREAL manual to Rice's office. But Rice's office did not respond to our inquiries.

Guidebook to False Confessions

Air Force Col. Steven Kleinman, a career military intelligence officer recognized as one of the DOD's most effective interrogators as well a former SERE instructor and director of intelligence for JPRA's teaching academy, said he immediately knew the true value of the PREAL manual if employed as part of an interrogation program.

"This is the guidebook to getting false confessions, a system drawn specifically from the communist interrogation model that was used to generate propaganda rather than intelligence," Kleinman said in an interview. "If your goal is to obtain useful and reliable information this is not the source book you should be using."

Indeed, in their newly published book "The Hunt for KSM," which refers to self-professed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, investigative reporters Terry McDermott and Josh Meyer wrote that the torture of the top al-Qaeda figure resulted in false confessions about pending attack plans.

Kleinman, who has testified before four committees of Congress about interrogation and detainee policy - and the so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" - has publicly called for a thorough investigation into how a program such as this could have found its way into the interrogation doctrine that guided US-sanctioned operations.

"In SERE courses, we emphatically presented this interrogation paradigm as one that was employed exclusively by nations that were in flagrant violation of the Geneva Conventions and international treaties against torture," Kleinman said. "We proudly assured the students that we - the United States - would never resort to such despicable methods."

Rice said she was assured the interrogation methods that were used on Zubaydah, which she and other officials signed off on, "had been deemed not to cause significant physical or psychological harm," according to written responses to questions about the origins of the torture program Rice provided the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Kleinman, however, said that's simply untrue.

"Dr. Rice is clearly an exceptionally bright individual, as were her colleagues. At the same time, however, they understood little about human intelligence gathering and even less about resistance to interrogation training. I simply don't understand how they could have promoted the assertion that, because these techniques have been used safely with tens of thousands of US military personnel in a carefully controlled training environment, they would also be employed safely in a real-world interrogation environment?" said Kleinman, who testified before the Armed Services Committee about the use of SERE techniques. "A critical distinction that has been consistently overlooked is that detainees have no idea whether interrogators are using [techniques like waterboarding] to intimidate them or to kill them. In a training environment, waterboarding would end as soon as you raised your hand, and the student could be absolutely confident that SERE instructors and medical personnel were always ready to respond to ensure they wouldn't be injured. In contrast, from the detainee's perspective, he is in the presence of the enemy."

Kleinman pointed to one of the techniques in the PREAL manual to demonstrate how the safety of detainees subjected to the methods was clearly not a cause for concern among the government officials who designed and approved of Bush's torture program. In a section describing the use of cramped confinement, one of the torture techniques Zubaydah was subjected to, the training manual says, "The maximum time allowed for a student to be in cramped confinement in 20 minutes." But the Yoo/Bybee torture memo says, "Confinement in the larger space can last up to eighteen hours; for the smaller space confinement lasts no more than two hours."

The PREAL document notes that the purpose of cramped confinement, like the 55-gallon drum and the water pit, is used to "demonstrate the reaction to uncooperative behavior, inconsistent logic, or to accelerate the physical and psychological stresses of captivity."

It also appears that James Mitchell, the psychologist under contract to the CIA and credited as being one of the architects of Bush's torture program, received some form of authorization to use cramped confinement and sleep deprivation in May 2002, the same month the PREAL manual appears to have been accessed and discussed among top Bush officials and the CIA.

The introduction of a cramped confinement box in May 2002 is what led Ali Soufan, a former FBI agent who first interrogated Zubaydah shortly after he was captured, to leave the CIA black site prison in Thailand that month.

Soufan had complained to officials at FBI headquarters that Mitchell's interrogations of Zubaydah amounted to "borderline torture," according to a report released in 2008 by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine related to the FBI's role in harsh interrogations.

Soufan's partner on the other hand, FBI Special Agent Steve Gaudin, opted to remain at the black site prison. He told Fine's investigators that unlike Soufan, he had no "moral objection" to the interrogation techniques Mitchell subjected Zubaydah to because they were "comparable" to the "harsh interrogation" techniques he "himself had undergone" as part of the US Army's SERE training.

In his book, "The Black Banners," published last September, Soufan refers to the methods of interrogation Mitchell subjected Zubaydah to during May 2002 as "experiments."

Breaking Down the Prisoner

The CIA, apparently, was not legally authorized to subject detainees to some of the more extreme forms of torture described in the manual, such as immersion in an icy "Water Pit" and forced confinement in a 55-gallon drum or barrel, the purpose of which was to "demonstrate the reaction to uncooperative behavior and accelerate the physical and psychological stresses of captivity."

But other techniques cited in the PREAL instructional manual, such as walling, cramped confinement, facial slap, sleep deprivation, attention grasp, facial hold and stress positions were included in Yoo and Bybee's August 1, 2002 torture memo.

The manual also describes how the use of hooding (a form of sensory deprivation) and sexual humiliation can be used as a form of torture, which military interrogators employed against detainees at Guantanamo. Moreover, SERE trainees were also subjected to isolation, according to the PREAL manual (another form of torture detainees underwent), including a harsh form where the isolated prisoner was hooded and cuffed in what the manual called "Iso-stress." OLC, however, never signed off on isolation as a specific interrogation technique.

Where the PREAL manual and the torture memo differ is in the detailed descriptions of the purpose of subjecting a prisoner to these torture techniques. For example, the PREAL manual says the purpose of walling, where a prisoner is slammed against a "flexible" wall, would be to instill "fear," "despair" and "humiliation." The torture memo, however, states "walling" is a method used to "shock" or "surprise" the detainee.

The most controversial of the ten torture techniques used on Zubaydah - waterboarding - is not included in the PREAL manual. Waterboarding was cited in other SERE documents the CIA and DOD obtained from JPRA, according to an investigation by the Senate Armed Services Committee that probed the treatment of detainees in custody of the US government.

The PREAL manual also includes a lengthy description on the use of water as a torture method, such as "water dousing." That technique, which the manual says was used to "create a distracting pressure, to startle" and to "instill humiliation or cause insult," was not approved until August 2004, when the head of OLC, Steven Bradbury, drafted a second torture memo to replace the one by Yoo and Bybee.

However, high-level intelligence source told Truthout in April 2010 that Zubaydah was repeatedly doused with cold water from a hose (an example cited in the PREAL manual's of how water could be used to torture a prisoner) while he was naked and shackled by chains attached to a ceiling in the cell he was kept in at the black site prison in Thailand.

The harsh physical techniques included in the manual are consistent with notes written by psychologist Bruce Jessen for a SERE survival-training course more than two decades ago, which said enemies who captured US personnel used methods of torture, such as those outlined in the PREAL manual, as a way of gaining "total control" over the prisoner. The "end goal," according to Jessen's handwritten notes, was to make the prisoner feel "completely dependent" on his captors so they would "comply with [their] wishes."

The purpose of such dependence, according to Jessen, who worked with Mitchell in designing Bush's torture program, was to coerce the prisoner's cooperation, the better to use the prisoner for "propaganda, special favors, confession, etc." Jessen's handwritten notes provided the first look into the true purpose of the "enhanced interrogation" program and were the subject of an exclusive investigative report published by Truthout last year.

The PREAL manual also notes the importance of propaganda in the prisoner of war setting. For instance, in a mock torture scenario prisoners are brought before a "press conference" to answer questions from "reporters." According to the manual, "reporters play the role of legitimate American newspersons," raising the question as to whether professional reporters were recruited as part of the PREAL training.
"Found" in OLC's Files

The PREAL manual was first identified in a report released by the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) in February 2010, which was the result of an investigation conducted by OPR over five and a half years into the legal work Yoo and Bybee did prior to writing the August 2002 torture memo. (Jeffrey Kaye was the first reporter to discuss the PREAL manual in a report published in Truthout in March 2010.)

The OPR report states that the "May 7, 2002" PREAL manual, marked "For Official Use Only," was found in OLC's files, but investigators said there was "no indication of how or when it was obtained."

Aaron Graves, a spokesman in DoD's FOIA division, said he did not know if the May 7, 2002, date at the bottom of each page of the manual meant it was drafted on that date, accessed from  a government hard-drive, or placed into OLC's files on that date.

Jason Darelius, a DoD FOIA officer, told Truthout Monday that the manual was cleared for release late last year and posted to DoD's FOIA reading room March 15. It was requested under FOIA by McClatchy Newspapers, but the news organization never filed a report about the significance of the document as it pertains to the origins of the Bush administration's torture program.

"Learned Helplessness"

The Justice Department's OPR report stated that interrogation methods US military personnel may experience after enemy capture differed from the mock prisoner of war scenarios SERE trainees underwent "in one significant respect ..." Quoting from the PREAL manual, the OPR report said, "Maximum effort will be made to ensure that students do not develop a sense of 'learned helplessness'" during role-playing scenarios.

That citation, we now know, can be found on page 4 of the PREAL manual, under "[P]re-Academic Laboratory Goals." It underscores how military and CIA interrogators deviated from the lessons of the SERE training when they subjected detainees to the same torture techniques used in the role-playing scenarios.

"Learned Helplessness" was one of the main goals of the Bush administration's torture program as overseen by Mitchell and Jessen. It is defined as "a laboratory model of depression in which exposure to a series of unforeseen adverse situations gives rise to a sense of helplessness or an inability to cope with or devise ways to escape such situations, even when escape is possible," according to the American Heritage Medical Dictionary.

The learned helplessness theory was developed by psychologist Martin Seligman, who discussed it in May 2002 at the SERE training school in San Diego, the same month Mitchell, who attended the lecture, began subjecting Zubaydah to various torture techniques. The CIA sponsored Seligman's lecture.

Brent Mickum, Zubaydah's habeas attorney, reviewed the PREAL document and said it confirms what he has long believed: that Zubaydah's torture took place prior to the issuance of Yoo and Bybee's August 2002 torture memo.

"This document confirms, in my view, that my client's torture was over before that memo was ever issued," said Mickum. "I can't go into detail and why that is the government can only explain. I have been muzzled wrongfully even though the government contends that everything it did was legal."

Echoing Kleinman, Mickum added he was also struck by the PREAL manual's extensive warnings to SERE instructors about the safety of trainees subjected to brutal interrogation methods.

"Without commenting about anything that my client told me about what was done to him, what I can tell you is that there is no correlation between the safe treatment of SERE trainees listed in this particular document and what happened to my client. None whatsoever."

Author's Note: When the Department of Defense released the PREAL manual last month, several pages were missing from the PDF file and the file also contained a number of duplicate pages. We contacted the FOIA office about the issue and officials there restored the missing pages, except for one: page 33, which a FOIA officer said he is unable to track down.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Why the Huffington Post Needs to Immediately Retract Mark Benjamin's Afghanistan Massacre Report

Originally published at Truthout
This article reflects an updates included in the original Truthout article

A March 25 article by Mark Benjamin at The Huffington Post seriously misled readers about a link between the controversial antimalarial drug mefloquine and the mass murder in Afghanistan attributed to Staff Sgt. Robert Bales. Relying on a document he wrongly identified, and with zero evidence backing up his claims, Benjamin's headline stated "Military Scrambles to Limit Malaria Drug Just After Afghan Massacre." As a matter of journalistic ethics, Benjamin should apologize to his readers and retract the story.

The article begins with a dishonestly crafted lede that links the Afghan massacre with a "task order" memo from a Department of Defense (DoD) command regarding a review of mefloquine procedures, and goes on to suggest that Sgt. Robert Bales, a victim of traumatic brain injury, may have gone psychotic from use of mefloquine and possibly committed the killings under influence of the drug. Furthermore, the article strongly implied that DoD possibly knew this and then implemented an "emergency review" of mefloquine procedures nine days after the Afghan killings.

UPDATE: Instead of issuing the retraction I called for, Mark Benjamin, in yet another deceptive move aimed at misleading his readers, quietly rewrote his Huffington Post story hours after this report was published Wednesday morning without informing those readers that he made substantial changes to his original report. Nor did Benjamin point out to his readers that he quietly rewrote his story and changed the headline nearly four hours after we exposed the errors contained in his original report. Notably, the lede to Benjamin's story, which formed the basis for the entirety of his claims that a Defense Department review revolving around the administration of mefloquine for US troops was ordered after the Afghanistan massacre, no longer makes that argument because, as this report notes, the initial review was ordered before Sgt. Robert Bales allegedly murdered 16 people. Readers who now visit the Huffington Post link where Benjamin's story was originally published will be find a very different story. But this is how his report originally appeared when it was published Monday. I encourage you to compare the two. My report was published, as the time stamp below my byline shows, at 10:44 am. The rewrite to Benjamin's story was posted at 2:35 pm.

But nothing in the record suggests this is true. The word "emergency" is never used [UPDATE: Benjamin changed "emergency" in his original report to "urgent" after I pointed out the word was never used.] in the one document Benjamin cites, and an actual examination of the full documentary record shows that the mefloquine review described in the article was actually ordered last January.

Despite these serious flaws, Benjamin's article caused a sensation in the press, being picked up by many news outlets, including interviews with Benjamin on the topic at both CNN and Democracy Now!.

But in an email to Truthout, a DoD official strongly refuted Benjamin's claims, explaining that the task order referenced by the Huffington Post author originated in a January 17, 2012, memo from Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Dr. Jonathan Woodson. Despite Benjamin's reporting, the review order was not issued nine days after the Afghanistan murders, nor was it limited to Afghanistan, but involved five different regional commands.

The official explained that the delay in implementing the review in the Afghan theatre was due to the absence of a key individual. The urgency in the March 20 task order (sometimes called a "tasker") referenced by Benjamin was due to a deadline for the conclusion of the review set back in January.
The official told Truthout:
Army Medical Command did receive the ASD [Assistant Secretary of Defense] Health Affairs tasking memo in mid-January, but due to the absence of the tasking individual on a temporary duty assignment for several weeks, the request to review the Army's program was not staffed and pushed out to the five regional medical commands until March 5th with a suspense date of March 15th. The Regions expressed that this was not enough time so they were given until March 20th to reply. This still put us well within the 90-day window provided by the original tasker in January. This review has no relation whatsoever to the incident in Afghanistan, as borne out by the dates when the tasker was initiated by ASD-Health Affairs in mid-January and later by the Army Medical Command to its subordinate regions on March 5th.
The official noted other problems with the Benjamin story. The link to what Benjamin called the "task order from Woodson, obtained by the Huffington Post," was actually to "a tasking document from one of the Army Medical Command regions - specifically the Southern Regional Medical Command, annotated in the incorrectly identified memo as 'SRMC'."

It appears Benjamin relied upon an implementing order by a lower command, but even with an update to his story a day later, the Huffington Post journalist insisted on linking this document to the Afghanistan killings. In his update [UPDATE: the "update" Benjamin posted was changed to a "correction" in the rewritten version of his story], Benjamin incomprehensibly kept pushing the March 20 order, which he claimed "shows that one part of the Army issued a new, urgent call to complete the Jan. 17 request from Woodson within six days." But Benjamin must know this is false, and there was nothing "new" about the order.

Truthout has obtained the original January 17 memo, which can be downloaded here. Woodson expressed concern that, "[s]ome deploying Service members have been provided mefloquine for malaria prophylaxis without appropriate documentation in their medical records and without proper screening for contraindications."

Some five months earlier, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) had issued a press release expressing her concern that mefloquine had been administered to military personnel without the safeguards put in place by a 2009 DoD protocol. Moreover, according to her press release, "These service members are now suffering from ... preventable neurological side effects."

While Benjamin never makes the point directly, if his mefloquine hypothesis about Bales and the killings were true, it would be the first mass murder attributable to mefloquine ever recorded in the roughly four decades of its use.
Yet, Benjamin admitted in his story that there is no evidence Bales ever took mefloquine, noting that DoD will neither confirm nor deny it. Even more, there is no evidence that if he did, he suffered ill effects, much less a reaction that led to the killings of 17 men, women and children on the night of March 13.

Benjamin states that military officials cited "privacy rules" as the reason they could not say whether Bales took mefloquine or not. But Benjamin appears dubious about this, and in his March 26 update to his story, continues to complain, "The Pentagon still will not say if Bales was wrongly given mefloquine."

In fact, the Federal 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, also known as HIPAA, forbids the release of medical information, including by the military, "except for specifically permitted purposes" (see DoD 6025.18-R, paragraph C1.2.1). Such purposes can include criminal investigations, but not releases to the press.

To be fair, Democracy Now! has also emphasized the nondisclosure of Bales' medical information in its story on the possible Bales-mefloquine link, and also never mentions federal law prohibiting such disclosure.

No Mention of Eyewitnesses

Benjamin's article, like a similar piece on Time Magazine's Battleland blog, which Benjamin cites, never mentions that there were eyewitnesses to the Afghan killings who have provided a very different story as to what happened in the March 11 pre-dawn hours of the massacre. The Battleland article was written by Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, a former Army psychiatrist at Guantanamo.

One eyewitness report in the Global Post quoted Massouma, a woman who lives in the village of Najiban, where 12 people were killed, as saying at the time of the killings that there were helicopters flying overhead. She said the uniformed soldier that entered her home was speaking into a walkie-talkie.
According to the report, the soldier, "had a radio antenna on his shoulder. He had a walkie-talkie himself, and he was speaking into it," Massouma said.

"After the soldier with the walkie-talkie killed her husband, she said he lingered in the doorway of her home," the report continued. "'While he stood there, I secretly looked through the curtains and saw at least 20 Americans, with heavy weapons, searching all the rooms in our compound, as well as my bathroom,' she said."

In another example of eyewitness evidence, Jefferson Morley at Salon pointed out a March 17 Afghanistan Outlook report describing an Afghan Parliamentary investigation, which spent two days "interviewing the bereaved families, tribal elders, survivors and collecting evidences at the site in Panjwai district." The investigation found, "there were 15 to 20 American soldiers, who executed the brutal killings."

The Global Post article also reported that the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) turned away reporters who came to interview survivors of the shootings at a hospital at Kandahar Airfield. "'The wounded survivors, who saw everything of the massacre, are crucial to the story,' said one of the frustrated reporters. 'But the Americans didn't allow us to talk to them.'"

While there have been conflicting accounts of the massacre, Benjamin's article followed the DoD claims that Sgt. Bales was the sole soldier involved, then sought reasons to explain the actions of the supposed lone killer. The reader was never informed there may be other evidence that would make the mefloquine narrative superfluous.

Bales was charged with the murders on March 23.

Mefloquine Controversies

Benjamin, with reporter Dan Olmstead, covered the controversy over the use of the antimalarial drug mefloquine in the military. The reporters wrote story after story exposing the slowness, ineptitude and possibly corruption that allowed a dangerous drug to be continuously prescribed to armed forces personnel. So, it may be understandable that Benjamin still harbors passion for the topic. Additionally, Benjamin was correct when he told Amy Goodman at Democracy Now! that the recent DoD review shows that DoD, "seems to be violating its own rules."

Yet, curiously, he has remained silent, including in his most recent article, on investigations that revealed an unprecedented mass dosing of Guantanamo detainees. The supposed presumptive treatment for malaria of all incoming Guantanamo detainees was standard operating procedure, as documents revealed. One medical expert described the use of the drug, which was administered at doses five times that typically administered prophylactically to US soldiers serving in malarial regions, as "pharmacological waterboarding."

[Full disclosure: this author, along with Jason Leopold, conducted these investigations, which were published at Truthout. Seton Hall School of Law's Center for Policy and Research conducted their own investigation and released a report, while the story was later reported as well by the military's own paper, Stars and Stripes.]

Benjamin and "Tall Tale" Journalism 

One of the strangest aspects of Benjamin's article is that it comes not long after Benjamin himself strongly criticized an article by Scott Horton at Harper's Magazine. The article, which won the National Magazine Award for Reporting last year, revealed evidence of a cover-up in the 2006 deaths of three detainees at Guantanamo - deaths the military attributed to suicide.

Benjamin chided Horton for relying on witnesses "who did not witness much," and relying on "alleged inconsistencies and weaknesses in the government's investigation to buttress his narrative that something fishy was going on." He referred readers to another article by his former collaborator, Alex Koppelman, who wrote a scathing critique of Horton's article for Adweek. Koppelman called Horton's investigation "a tall tale," and chided Horton for, "less methodical reporting and more conspiracy building, favoring the evidence that supports the conspiracy view and minimizing the evidence that does not."

Koppelman's own criticisms were debunked by this author in an article at Firedoglake last June. But Koppelman's verdict on Horton is an apt judgment upon Benjamin's own recent mefloquine article, which misrepresented government documents, minimized or buried evidence that would refute his claims, and implied a conspiracy and coverup without a shred of evidence that would support his view.

Even sadder, neither editors at Huffington Post, nor major media outlets like CNN, Democracy Now! or others ever fact-checked or even questioned Benjamin's assertions, which were patently untrue. To date, no media outlet that carried Benjamin's story has issued any retraction or substantive correction.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

CNN report on eyewitnesses to Kandahar massacre

The following CNN video includes interviews with survivors of the massacre of Afghan villagers last March 11, and seriously damages the Pentagon narrative that one lone killer, Robert Bales, was the author of the atrocities. It was the first Western reporting from the actual site of the killings.

Harper's Magazine: "U.N. Official Presses Query into Gitmo Deaths"

reposted from Scott Horton's "No Comment" blog at Harper's
U.N. Official Presses Query into Gitmo Death
By Scott Horton
One month ago, Truthout’s Jeffrey Kaye published a review of autopsy reports released last year by the Department of Defense in response to an ACLU Freedom of Information Act request concerning two unwitnessed prisoner deaths at Guantánamo that authorities had described as suicides. Now, Kaye reports that Christof Heyns, the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, and arbitrary executions, is “looking into” the deaths. Heyns is a South African law professor who teaches at American University in Washington and holds a fellowship at Oxford.
Kaye also asked Cyril Wecht, a renowned forensic pathologist, to review the autopsy report and its supporting documents. Wecht agreed that the autopsy results supported the conclusion of suicide, but he noted that the report failed to rule out the possibility of homicide. He also faulted the military for not providing the pathologist conducting the autopsy with the ligature used in the alleged suicides. “If this is what a respected forensic expert states,” Kaye told me, “then the government should listen and release the evidence held in their investigations and be open to independent investigations held by international forensic investigators.”

In his initial February 29 review of the autopsy reports for Abdul Rahman Al Amri, who died in May 2007, and Mohammad Ahmed Abdullah Saleh Al Hanashi, who died in June 2009, Kaye wrote:
[D]etails in the autopsy reports show that Al Amri was found dead by hanging with his hands tied behind his back, calling into question whether he had actually killed himself…

Al Hanashi was found wearing standard-issue detainee clothing, the undergarments from which he supposedly used to kill himself, and not the tear-proof suicide smock issued to detainees who are actively suicidal. It remains an open question if he [was] in fact under suicide watch, even though he had been repeatedly banging his head on prison walls, and had made five suicide attempts in the four weeks prior to his death.

Both Al Amri, who was housed in isolation at Guantanamo’s high-security Camp 5, and Al Hanashi, who was resident at the prison’s Behavioral Health Unit, were supposed to be under constant video surveillance, and according to camp officials, someone was supposed to be checking on them every three to five minutes.
Kaye noted that the reported deaths and autopsies are odd in a number of respects. First, the detention facility supposedly stopped using regular bed linens in February 2002, replacing them with “suicide watch” linens that could not be torn and used in such a manner. Second, the report claims that the linens were fashioned using a razor blade, but the Gitmo Standard Operating Procedure then in effect denied prisoners access to razor blades other than during shower periods, when their use was supervised. Kaye also focused on the fact that the autopsy failed to scrutinize the ligature purportedly used in the suicide.

According to the autopsy report on Al Hanashi, he had made five suicide attempts in the four weeks prior to his death, and was therefore under suicide watch, which entailed continuous monitoring. The report noted that his death was detected 25 minutes following the last check. Both Al Hanashi and a prior alleged suicide, Yasser Al Zahrani, had been held in northern Afghanistan at the time of the prison riot at Qali Jangi and the massacre at Dasht-i-Leili, and both could have figured as witnesses in an inquiry into those events.
I asked professor Mark Denbeaux of Seton Hall Law School, who has directed a series of studies on prisoner deaths at Guantánamo, what he thought of the latest developments. “Once again,” he replied, “a report of suicide, a questionable autopsy, and no investigation. It is deeply troublesome.”

The issues surrounding the autopsy reports from the Al Hanashi and Al Amri deaths are in some respects similar to those surrounding the three deaths that occurred on June 10, 2006. These questions do not disprove the U.S. government’s claims of suicide. But as U.N. rapporteur Philip Alston noted in a confidential communication about the 2006 deaths to the U.S. government:
When the State detains an individual, it is held to a heightened level of diligence in protecting that individual’s rights. As a consequence, when an individual dies in State custody, there is a presumption of State responsibility…

In order to overcome the presumption of State responsibility for a death in custody, there must be a “thorough, prompt and impartial investigation of all suspected cases of extra-legal, arbitrary and summary executions, including cases where complaints by relatives or other reliable reports suggest unnatural death in the above circumstances.”
Serious questions remain about Guantánamo authorities’ claims that they have taken steps to address prisoner suicides since 2006. Rather than dispel these questions, the recent autopsy reports bear signs of errors and secrecy that actually multiply them. Was this just sloppy work, or was it a desire to cover up embarrassing or harmful facts associated with the deaths?

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