Saturday, December 29, 2012

Report: Serious Allegations of Abuse by FBI and Other Agencies in World Cup Bombing Investigation

Originally posted at

A new report from the Open Society Justice Initiative finds allegations that US officials - possibly including FBI officials - abused World Cup bombing suspects in Uganda credible enough to require "independent, impartial and transparent investigation."

The Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) on November 27 released a new report on their investigation into allegations of human rights abuses, including torture and illegal rendition, by counterterrorism forces in Kenya and Uganda following the 2010 World Cup bombing in Kampala, Uganda.

The report, which also looks at allegations of abuse by the FBI and UK security officials in Kampala, concludes "counterterrorism actions that followed the bombing were characterized by human rights violations, including allegations of arbitrary detention, unlawful renditions, physical abuse and denial of due process rights."

East Africa is a major focus of US and UK counterterrorism efforts. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on "counterterrorism assistance" to countries in the area. Laws in the United States prohibit the use of such funds in countries with security forces that have committed gross violations of human rights. But as the OSJI report points out, this prohibition does "not apply to assistance funded out of US government intelligence budgets."

OSJI recommendations include demands that "Kenya, Uganda and the Western countries that support them thoroughly investigate the alleged abuses, and must pursue counterterrorism activities that do not entail human rights violations." In addition, both the US and the UK are encouraged to be more transparent on counterterrorism funding, especially with regard to rules and procedures for cooperating with foreign security forces.

The report was written by human rights investigator and OSJI Associate Legal Officer Jonathan Horowitz, in cooperation with the East Africa Law Society, the Kenyan Section of the International Commission of Jurists, and the Pan African Lawyers Union.

Back on July 11, 2010, there were two bombings at sites in Kampala, Uganda where people had gathered to watch the final game of the soccer World Cup, killing 76 people. One of those killed was US aid worker Nate Henn, who worked with the non-profit Invisible Children, a charity that went on to produce a wildly popular video on Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army.

Somalia's Al Shabab publicly claimed responsibility for the bombings, and said it was a response to Uganda's participation in the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). According to the OSJI report, "Kenyan and Ugandan security forces cast a wide net" in the weeks after the bombing, "rounding up dozens of people."

The hunt for suspects spread from Uganda to Kenya, and included Tanzania and Somalia.

Approximately 20 suspects were illegally rendered to Uganda, some of whom were later released. US investigators, including a three-person FBI team, were dispatched quickly to the scene. New York Police Department (NYPD) detectives attached to the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) also were sent to be part of the investigation.

In all, upwards of 30 people from various countries were held in relation to the bombing. To date, some have been released, while two have pleaded guilty to terrorism-related charges.

But 12 prisoners are still in Luzira Maximum Security Prison in Kampala awaiting trial. And according to OSJI, "serious questions remain about the human rights abuses they were allegedly subjected to, and the roles of Kenyan, Ugandan, US and UK security forces in those alleged abuses."

As reported by Truthout in an August 2011 story about Omar Awadh Omar, one of the Kenyan prisoners rendered to Uganda, Don Borelli was the FBI agent in charge of a team that grew to about 60 agents. It was "the largest FBI deployment since the 2000 USS Cole bombing in Yemen," according to a web page describing Borelli for his current employer, The Soufan Group.

OSJI report author Horowitz told Truthout in a telephone interview that he believed teams of agents circulated in and out of the area during the investigation, and the "60 agents" figure might reflect that fact.

In addition, a third government agency may have been involved in the US effort. The OSJI report describes allegations by Omar Awadh Omar that he was "punched" and "slapped" by men who said they were FBI agents. In addition, Omar "provided the name of an alleged US 'security officer' who struck him in the knee with a hard object."

An affidavit from Mohammed Hamid Suleiman, a Kenyan national rendered to Uganda in August 2010 and still held in prison there, mentions the same "security officer," but identifies him as an FBI agent. (The OSJI report studiously does not report any of the names of security personnel it may have gathered.)

According to the report, both Omar and Suleiman's affidavits describe this officer "as an older man who had long hair in a ponytail, wore a blazer, shirt, and khaki trousers."

"Omar alleged that two other Americans involved in the interrogations saluted this man when he entered the room," the report states. "This is not a common practice of FBI or NYPD officials and raises questions as to whether other government agencies were involved in the investigation and interrogations."

Citing a Time magazine article by Mark Benjamin in May 2011, Horowitz speculated that this other government agency could be the secretive High-Value Interrogation Group (HIG), supposedly formed by President Obama in August 2009.

Asked if they could confirm the participation of the HIG in the World Cup bombing interrogations, FBI spokeswoman Kathleen Wright told Truthout, "As it pertains to the HIG, the FBI does not discuss when the HIG was or was not deployed."

The Associated Press (AP) wrote about OSJI's report upon its release. The news agency quoted an FBI spokesperson who denied claims of abuse or mistreatment of detainees by FBI employees.

"When investigating cases overseas, all FBI personnel operate within the guidelines established by the Attorney General as well as all other applicable laws, policies and regulations," the spokesman, Paul Bresson, told AP.

US and Uganda at Odds on Rendition Story

Ten of the 12 awaiting trial in Kampala were rendered to Uganda by either the Kenyan or Tanzanian governments.

Dean Boyd, spokesman for the National Security Division at the US Department of Justice, told Truthout last April, "Mr. Omar Awadh Omar was detained in Kenya and handed over from there to the Ugandan authorities. There was no US government involvement in his detention or transfer of custody. We refer you to the Governments of Uganda and Kenya regarding the bilateral or multilateral agreements under which this transfer occurred."

But according to a UK court document, the Ugandan government denies it ever received Omar via rendition, claiming he was arrested in Kampala on September 10, 2010.

Similarly, while admitting that five Kenyan prisoners were "transferred" to Uganda, Ugandan officials also deny that Habib Suleiman Njoroge was rendered from Kenya as well. The Anti-Terrorism Police Unit of Kenya (ATPU) also denies involvement in the rendition of Omar and Njoroge.

Yet OSJI's report states outright that the Kenyan government did not follow legal procedures in its rendition of suspects to Uganda.

"Procedures for a lawful transfer to another country are spelled out in Kenya's 1968 Extradition Act," the OSJI report states, "including the requirements to issue an arrest warrant and bring the detainee to a court prior to extradition.... In the aftermath of the World Cup bombing, Kenyan authorities ignored these rules."

OSJI also criticized the Tanzanian government because prisoners were rendered to Uganda before they had exhausted their appeal rights.

The issue of the illegal rendition of Omar and the others from Kenya to Uganda is a matter of legal appeal in the East African Court of Justice (EACJ). According to an EACJ December 2011 ruling, which ruled in favor of Omar and the others pursuing their appeal, the question of whether the prisoners were "abducted and surrendered to Uganda illegally and whether or not the Republic of Uganda failed to provide a remedy are matters for the merits of the case."

Torture Claims

Recent legal decisions in both Uganda and Kenya have curtailed some of the antiterror laws passed since the World Cup bombing, laws that OSJI and others said were overly broad and punitive, targeting political opponents and minority ethnic or national groups. But the abuses detailed in the OSJI report predate these recent legal changes.

A number of ATPU prisoners said they were held incommunicado and not allowed contact with family or attorneys. Some also alleged Kenyan authorities told them prior to rendition they would be tortured by Ugandan officials.

According to OSJI's report, Kenyan national Idris Magondu stated in a court affidavit, "The ATPU officers threatened to hand me over to the Ugandan Army, who would subsequently torture, shoot and kill me and they also told me that I would never see my family again and that they would kill members of my family."

Prisoners alleged abuse or torture by members of Kenyan, Tanzanian and Ugandan security forces, and also from FBI and UK anti-terror agents. For instance, in regard to Kenyan security, according to OSJI, Njoroge named "a high level ATPU official who allegedly took a gun, placed it against Njoroge's neck as if he was going to shoot him, and accused Njoroge of being an Islamic fundamentalist."

The Guardian UK described Njoroge's rendition and torture in an April 24, 2012 article. According to the Guardian, Njoroge alleged being hooded and shackled by Kenyan police and driven to Uganda, where he was transferred to Uganda's Rapid Response Unit (RRU).

According to the Guardian, "While in RRU custody, Njoroge says he was kept naked, beaten, sexually assaulted and forced to sign a statement in which he confessed to being involved in the bombings."
Njoroge claimed, "Among the officials interrogating him ... were men with American and British accents."

FBI in Charge?

A number of detainees have alleged abuse by FBI officers, including physical threats, hitting, hooding and threat of further rendition to Guantanamo. One prisoner alleged an FBI officer threatened him with a gun, telling him, "There are no human rights here. We are in charge of the police and the courts, and you will spend your life in prison and will not see your family again."

OSJI detailed the allegations of Kenyan national Yahya Suleiman Mbuthia. Mbuthia said that in his first interrogation "a blue-eyed man who identified himself as an FBI officer" threatened him. He "cocked his gun as if he were going to shoot me, saying that there was a bullet inside with my name on it and showing me a photo of dead people from the Kampala bombing, accusing me of being the person who did it."

Mbuthia has also alleged physical abuse by FBI officers, writing in an affidavit that he was "repeatedly beaten, punched in the stomach, had my mouth squeezed, and was almost suffocated with a dirty hood."

OSJI reported that Mbuthia "said there were Ugandans present during the interrogations but it was clear to him throughout the interrogations that the FBI was firmly in charge."

One purported FBI officer, who one detainee described merely as a "security officer," was described "as an older man who had long hair in a ponytail, wore a blazer, shirt and khaki trousers." As noted above, OSJI had reasons to believe this was possibly not an FBI agent.

In a telephone interview with Truthout, OSJI report author Horowitz wondered about possible misdirection regarding the identity of interrogators.

Horowitz said, "There is a history of other parts of the US government involved in a clandestine manner more than the FBI." He noted there have been allegations elsewhere, as at Guantanamo, where other officials or agents falsely identified themselves as FBI. The FBI, said Horowitz, is known for "a cleaner record" on detainee abuse than some other government agencies.

Indeed, the OSJI report states that "a former US government official with knowledge of the investigation" said that FBI involvement "had successfully reduced human rights violations" by security forces in the region. FBI agents supposedly "persuaded Ugandan authorities to conduct a more focused investigation rather than mass round-ups."

But OSJI was dubious about such claims. Their report describes how human rights workers in the area who investigated the abuses were themselves jailed, or deported from the country.

The OSJI report states that civil rights groups in Kenya and Uganda have been critical of both the United States and the United Kingdom "for blindly supporting domestic security forces that violate human rights and the rule of law, including their close partnership with the now disbanded Ugandan Rapid Response Unit."

In a review of instructions given to FBI agents for interrogations in foreign detention centers, Truthout found that interrogators are to supposed follow certain "non-coercive" rapport-building techniques, as well as the 18 "approach" techniques approved by Army Field Manual 2-22.3 (Human Intelligence Collector Operations). Such "approaches" include the use of "Fear Up," "Emotional Pride and Ego Down" and "Emotional Futility."

There is a 19th technique in the Army Field Manual, involving the use of isolation on a prisoner (Appendix M of the AFM). While not formally placed in the FBI's list of techniques, the Agency's manual does recommend "isolation of the detainee," stating, "In order to create the optimum conditions for productive interview, if the policy of the facility permits, consider having your detainee placed in an individual cell several days before you begin interrogation."

Asked to respond to the varied abuse allegations, Wright, the FBI's spokeswoman, told Truthout in an email exchange, "The FBI demands strict adherence to both the letter and the spirit of all applicable laws, regulations, and policies. Each employee has the responsibility to uphold the FBI's core values of integrity and accountability so that the Bureau maintains the public's trust."

Wright said the Bureau's Inspection Division (INSD) reviews all allegations of misconduct, and "the facts generated by INSD during the investigation are turned over to the Office of Public Responsibility (OPR) for adjudication based on those facts."

Asked if there had been an investigation by either INSD or OPR into the allegations surrounding FBI abuse during the World Cup bombing interrogations, or whether FBI agents had documented the condition of those it interviewed, as required by FBI manual procedures Special Agent Wright said, "The FBI cannot comment on investigations or on reports related to a particular investigation."

Wright said that the FBI had taken "considerable care and consideration" and made "an accurate and appropriate response," when they told AP abuse charges were "without merit."

She referenced a statement by FBI Director Robert Mueller to the Senate Judiciary Committee last May.

Mueller told the committee, "Every FBI employee takes an oath promising to uphold the rule of law and the United States Constitution. I emphasize that it is not enough to catch the criminal; we must do so while upholding civil rights.... In the end, we will be judged not only by our ability to keep Americans safe from crime and terrorism, but also by whether we safeguard the liberties for which we are fighting and maintain the trust of the American people."

Wright further said FBI policy "forbids abuse, threat of abuse to the interviewee or any third party, or imposing severe physical conditions on the interviewee. Agents may not participate in a circumstance in which the agent knows or suspects that a co-interrogator or the detaining authority has used a method that is not in compliance with FBI policy, even if the method is in compliance with the co-interviewer's or detaining authority's guidelines. "

But according to the FBI's Cross Cultural Rapport-Based Interrogation manual, revised in February 2011, FBI agents working in a "foreign detention facility" have "limited or no authority" over how detainees are treated.

The manual tells agents [bold in original], "You have no control over the detention conditions of your subject so you need to document his condition every time you interview him."

As the FBI says it will not comment "on investigations or on reports related to a particular investigation," we do not know what the FBI found regarding the condition of detainees held in Uganda, or rendered from Kenya and Tanzania. Nor do we know what was found on any internal investigation related to the charges, or if indeed such an internal investigation ever took place.

Horowitz labels much of the FBI's response to press questions as "stock language," and noted that the FBI refused multiple times to respond to official requests for comment or questions from OSJI.

Horowitz told Truthout the allegations of FBI mistreatment of prisoners "certainly require a serious, detailed, comprehensive public response."

Regarding allegations that US officials abused World Cup bombing suspects in Uganda, the OSJI report itself concludes, "If an independent, impartial and transparent investigation" into these allegations did not take place, [the US should] conduct one as a matter of urgency."

Copyright, Reprinted with permission

Monday, December 17, 2012

"Give me Christ -- or give me Hiroshima!"

Leonard Cohen's apocalyptic vision of "The Future" looks all too much like our awful present.

From his 2009 Live in London concert (catch the DVD).

David Remes on the Tragic Death of Adnan Latif: What is the Military Trying to Hide?

The following is posted by permission. It was written by David Remes, an attorney for the late Adnan Farhad Abdul Latif.

The Tragic Death of Adnan Latif: What is the Military Trying to Hide?

by David Remes

A few weeks ago, as Truthout first reported, the US military began saying that my client Adnan Latif, a Yemeni at Guantanamo, who died in his cell on September 8, committed suicide by overdosing on medication he smuggled into his cell. On Saturday, December 15, the military further stated that acute pneumonia was a contributing factor in Adnan's death. The government's theory doesn't stand up. It leaves urgent questions unanswered.

Extraordinary scrutiny

By way of background, my unclassified notes indicate that Adnan's tragic saga unfolded between August 8 and September 8.

The tragic saga began when Adnan was in Camp 6, a medium security facility, where detainees are allowed to socialize and have other privileges. On August 8, Adnan was moved from Camp 6 to the psych ward, and from there to the camp hospital. On Friday, September 7, though suffering from acute pneumonia, Adnan was moved from the camp hospital to Camp 5, a maximum security facility. There, he was put in the "punishment" cellblock, in the cell where he was found "motionless and unresponsive" the next day.

Though he was slight in build, and his weight fluctuated between 100 and 120 pounds, Adnan could be difficult to control. Guards asked other detainees how to manage him. As many as six guards "escorted" him from place to place. He was searched repeatedly wherever he went. He was monitored in his cell day and night by an overhead dome camera. Instead of the usual solid steel door (0:50-0:60), Adnan's cell door may have been toughened glass (0:40-0:45), designed for constant observation of "vulnerable prisoners."

Adnan's exit from Camp 6 illustrates this scrutiny-on-steroids. As he was about to be moved to the psych ward, Adnan asked to go back to his cell to change clothes. The guards would not allow it and instead sent another detainee to fetch the clothes. The guards watched Adnan change in the hallway. This scrutiny alone prevented Adnan from smuggling anything out of Camp 6.

Important Questions

Given these barriers, designed just for him, is it plausible that Adnan smuggled medication into his cell, much less kept and used it? Or did the military, perhaps, plant medication in his cell to facilitate his suicide? (Other detainees have reported such apparent suicide prompts.) Did Adnan actually commit suicide, or was he forced to take the medication? Was he tricked? Did he even die of overmedication?

What medications was Adnan administered? In what doses and on what schedule? How were the medications administered—By injection? Orally? If orally, how were they administered—As pills? Capsules? Liquids? Solutions? Where were the medications administered—in Adnan's cell? The hallway? A dispensary? Somewhere else?

This past Saturday, September 15, the military disclosed, out of the blue, that acute pneumonia was a contributing factor in Adnan's death. Why did the military wait to disclose that information? The military continues to withhold the other information in the autopsy report. Why the selective disclosure? And how could the military have discharged from the hospital a man with acute pneumonia?

Also on Saturday, the military announced that it had repatriated Adnan's remains to Yemen. Until then, the military held the remains at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. Why did the military hold onto Adnan's remains in the first place? Why did it repatriate them now? Did the military let Adnan's body decompose to a point that an independent autopsy cannot be performed?

A Cover-Up?

The autopsy report undoubtedly answers many of these questions. Yet the military will not release the report.

Why is the military stonewalling? What is the military trying to hide?

On Sunday, the family buried Adnan's remains.

Rahmato Allah Aleih

رحمة الله عليه

This article was also published at Truthout and Firedoglake

Sunday, December 16, 2012

"The Hand Is Faster Than The Eye"

The following poem is by Douglas Valentine, part of his new book of poems, A Crow's Dream, published by The Oliver Arts and Open Press.
The Hand Is Faster Than The Eye
(Composed 11 September 2001)

I learned that lesson long ago,
It was the first articulated truth:
"The hand is faster than the eye,"
Said the raven to the youth.

There is love, and then betrayal.
There is a cause, and then there's none.
Then Mandrake lifts his velvet cape
And all you ever knew is gone.
Valentine is, of course, best known for his investigative non-fiction, which produced three of the most trenchant works on U.S. clandestine operations, both CIA/military and the "war on drugs": The Phoenix Program, The Strength of the Pack: The Personalities, Politics and Espionage Intrigues that Shaped the DEA, and The Strength of the Wolf: The Secret History of America's War on Drugs. (My own review of Strength of the Pack can be seen here.)

Valentine has always been a sensitive and incisive commentator. One wonders how much the exposure to evil affects someone. Valentine recently made many audio tapes of his interviews with CIA and US military officials available online. The interviews were made during his research into the Phoenix Program. Certainly archiving the historical record is one way to address the contact with evil.

But poetry is another thing altogether, as it speaks more directly to the senses, to the sense of life and love that cannot be eliminated, and reminds us of our humanity, even when we are in or have entered some very dark places. - I haven't read Valentine's book yet. It's on order, but I look forward to getting my copy soon.

Three other poems excerpted from A Crow's Dream can be read here.

Gitmo Detainee’s Body Returned to Yemen, New Details on His Death Revealed

crossposted from The Dissenter/FDL

U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) said today that the body of Allal Ab-Aljallil Abd al-Rahman Abd (aka Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif) was repatriated to Yemen. The SOUTHCOM statement did not indicate the date or time the body was returned, nor who received the remains.

On November 26, Jason Leopold at Truthout broke the story that Latif’s death would be attributed to suicide. Two days later, Charlie Savage at The New York Times reported that the autopsy would show Latif, who supposedly was found unconscious in his cell on September 8, died from an overdose of psychiatric medication.

Meanwhile, Latif’s body languished at a US Air Force base in Germany, supposedly the object of a dispute between the Yemen and U.S. governments over the former receiving both an autopsy and the results of the full U.S. investigation into the death. The autopsy report was sent to Yemen on Nov. 8. Subsequently, the Yemen government said the body was expected to be sent to them any day, but the U.S. government said the hold-up over release was on the Yemen side. Meanwhile, Latif’s family in Yemen could get very little information about what was going on.

“Acute Pneumonia”

SOUTHCOM’S statement is the first official announcement about the cause of Latif’s death. As terse as it is, it does include somewhat surprising new information.
The medical examiner concluded that the death was a suicide. Mr. Latif died of a self-induced overdose of prescription medication. The medical examiner also concluded that acute pneumonia was a contributing factor in his death.
The revelation that, according to the US military, “acute pneumonia was a contributing factor” to the death raises a host of questions. While pneumonia can develop quite quickly, it is worth noting that Captain Robert T. Durand told Jason Leopold in a statement back on October 8 that Latif had been “medically cleared for transfer to Camp 5″ only a few days before his death. (Thanks to Jason for pointing that out to me.) Camp 5 is a high-security block at the Cuba-based prison, and Latif was reportedly in solitary confinement in a disciplinary wing of the facility.

Even if Latif looked well enough for transfer from the Detention Hospital where he had been held, there is a new question as to how his medical condition went unnoticed when the detainee is checked on multiple times a day, and indeed, per hour. It is also the case that the detainee’s cell is monitored by 24-hour video surveillance. Jason Leopold and I detailed in an article the other day just how difficult it would have been for Latif to have hoarded medications under such a strict regime.

The symptoms of acute pneumonia, moreover, are usually fairly dramatic — shaking, difficulty breathing, coughing — and one wonders why in the day or so before he died he had not been medically attended for pneumonia. How did that go unrecognized? Latif complained in meetings with his attorney that medical care and withholding of medications from hunger strikers in particular was a way Guantanamo authorities tried to control or break prisoners.

Medical abuse?

Other researchers have also documented serious problems with medical care at Guantanamo. In an April 2011 article for PLoS Medicine, Dr. Vincent Iacopino, senior medical advisor to Physicians for Human Rights, and Dr. Stephen Xenakis, a psychiatrist and retired US Army Brigadier General, wrote:
Medical doctors and mental health personnel assigned to the US Department of Defense neglected and/or concealed medical evidence of intentional harm. The full extent of medical complicity in US torture practices will not be known until there is a thorough, impartial investigation including relevant classified information. We believe that, until such time as such an investigation is undertaken, and those responsible for torture are held accountable, the ethical integrity of medical and other healing professions remains compromised.
The U.S. government has long contended that detainees are treated humanely, and that medical issues are given as much care as that of any U.S. military personnel.

Further information from DoD about the circumstances surrounding the repatriation and the autopsy result has been difficult to obtain, as the voice mailbox at the Public Affairs Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD-PA) is “full.”

However, late today, I did receive an email back from an unnamed Duty Officer, Defense Press Office. I had asked SOUTHCOM a number of questions, including what medications Latif supposedly overdosed with; when Latif was diagnosed with pneumonia; why had he been “medically cleared” earlier and by whom; and why the body was finally released and what its disposition would be once in Yemen.

OSD-PA replied, “Jeffrey, the US Southern Command press release represents the extent to which the Department is currently prepared to publicly discuss the matter. Until such time as any future statements by the Department may be made, we refer you to the Yemeni government. Thank you.”

Meanwhile, the message machine at the press affairs office at the Yemen Embassy in Washington, D.C. also says it is “full” and can’t currently take messages. An email query to the embassy had not been returned at time of publication for this article.

[UPDATE, 12/16/12, 8:00 AM: Yemen embassy spokesperson Mohammed Albasha returned my queries early Sunday morning via Twitter. Asked when the family might be receiving Latif's remains, and whether there were any plans for a second autopsy, Albasha replied, "subject is now between the family and the state[.] not sure what or when the next step will be executed."]

In a brief post at Emptywheel, Marcy Wheeler notes the irony of the SOUTHCOM press release reiterating the statement DoD always makes, viz. “Joint Task Force Guantanamo continues to provide safe, humane, and lawful care and custody of detainees. This mission is being performed professionally, transparently, and humanely by the men and women of Joint Task Force Guantanamo.”

You could basically take issue with every modifier SOUTHCOM uses to describe JTF-Gitmo’s mission and its treatment of prisoners. Wheeler focuses on the ostensible “transparency”:

It took two and a half months to learn Latif committed suicide. We’re only now learning he suffered from acute pneumonia. And we still do not officially know how badly his head injury–the one the government claims didn’t really exist so they could keep him detained–expressed itself while at Gitmo, much less the drugs he was being given, ostensibly for that and mental health problems.

Let me focus for just a moment on the “safe and humane” claim.

Other Gitmo Deaths in the Light of What Is Known About Latif

Latif’s death and the secrecy surrounding it reminds me of the way other deaths at Guantanamo have been treated. Last February, I noted in a Truthout article that the released autopsies of two purported Guantanamo “suicides” had raised real questions about their treatment and the way they died. (Later, the UN Special Rappporteur for Extrajudicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions announced he was going to look into these cases.)

One detainee, Abdul Rahman Al Amri, was, like Latif, found in his isolation cell at Guantanamo. Al Amri was reportedly discovered with his hands tied behind his back. The autopsy report stated, “Investigation reveals that a razor blade from a razor was used to cut strips from one or more bed sheets and a ligature was fashioned by braiding these strips together.”

But as I reported at the time, there were strict rules around the possession of razors by detainees. How had Al Amri gotten a razor, hidden it from the many searches, and assembled the ligature (out of what were supposedly “tear-proof” sheets, by the way) with all the surveillance (including video surveillance in the cell)?

The revelation reported by Jason Leopold and I in a story the other day --  that Latif claimed in a letter to his attorney David Remes in May 2010 that guards were placing “contraband” article in his cell that could be used for self-harm -- may have some relevance to the Al Amri case.

Latif wrote:
Furthermore, and to make you believe that they want me to die and to kill me; they prevented me from having anything that can help me live normally. They don’t give me books, a blanket, soap, medical supplies that I need for my hearing, eye glasses, tooth paste, medical shoes or a neck pillow. Instead they give me contraband items like a spoon to hurt myself with it right after all the pressure they exerted on me as I mentioned in the beginning of this letter. They even gave me a big pair of scissors. It was given to me by the person responsible for camp five. This made me ask for the police.
Could Al Amri have been given a razor while guards looked the other way? Like Latif, Al Amri was a hunger striker and considered a troublemaker.

So was Mohammad Ahmed Abdullah Saleh Al Hanashi, who was found dead in an isolation cell in the psychiatric ward, where surveillance is supposed to be if anything even stricter. Al Hanashi was said to be depressed, and upset that he was not allowed a walker. He supposedly strangled himself to death with the elastic from his underwear — except, as I reported, the kind of underwear in use at Guantanamo at this time did not have elastic bands. Not surprisingly, the actual ligature for the “suicide” was never provided to medical examiners. Naval investigators provided an sample for the autopsy they said was similar to what Al Hanashi used. Where was the original ligature?

Of course, there was also the incredible reporting by Scott Horton at Harper’s, which relied on reports by former Guantanamo Army guard Joe Hickman and other guards to show that the official government story about the deaths of three Guantanamo suicides in June 2006 was not coherent. (Investigators at Seton Hall School of Law’s Center for Policy and Research also examined critically the government report.)

While I have FOIA requests for the NCIS investigations of both the Al Amri and Al Hanashi deaths, nothing has been released as yet. The Al Hanashi request is nearly a year old now.

On November 28, the ACLU filed FOIA requests for the autopsy reports for the last three prisoners to die at Guantanamo: Latif, along with Awal Gul, and Hajji Nassim (also known as “Inayatullah”). The three died on September 8, 2012, February 2, 2012, and May 18, 2011, respectively. While not much has been written about the latter two cases, there are important lingering questions about these deaths as well. Gul’s family did not accept the verdict of death by heart attack, which Nassim’s death seemed especially strange, as he supposedly hanged himself outside in the recreation yard, where there are plenty of guards present.

Little bit by little bit we are learning more about the death of Adnan Latif, but there is much more to learn. I hope the release of Adnan Latif’s body and its final internment will help bring his family some emotional release. They want to know what happened to their brother and son. They deserve to know. The American people, too, deserve to know what happened as well.

But on one level we already know, whether by his own hand or by his horrendous treatment and the living death assigned him via the Obama policy of indefinite detention, Guantanamo certainly killed Adnan Latif.

The Struggle to Close Guantanamo

Next month, the Guantanamo prison will go into its 11th year of holding so-called “war on terror” prisoners. Since Obama’s reelection, human rights groups have started to put pressure on President Obama to hold true to his January 2009 promise to close the prison.

In an Twitter exchange with me last month, Zeke Johnson, Director of Amnesty International USA’s Security with Human Rights Campaign, said prisoners like former British resident Shaker Aamer could be transferred out of Guantanamo under the NDAA’s section 1028. Johnson said Congress should “withdraw [the] AUMF (incl from NDAA) and ‘global war’ idea.”

Furthermore, Zeke wrote, “all detainees must either be charged with recognizably criminal offenses and prosecuted fairly in civilian court without the death penalty, or released to countries that will respect their human rights. And there must be accoutntability for torture & other abuses (investigation, prosecution and remedy).” Johnson indicated more regarding AI’s position could be accessed at their website.

Recently, AI has announced its Write #4Rights campaign. It is asking people to get involved in the case of Guantánamo detainee Hussain Salem Mohammed Almerfedi. Almerfedi, like Latif, a Yemeni cleared for release by both Bush and Obama administrations, has been held for over nine years. Originally, AI meant to highlight Latif as part of their campaign, but that was not to be.

How many more like Latif will die, victimized by a cruel and insane system, by what the assistant commandant of the U.S. Army Intelligence Center and School at Ft. Huachuca once called “America’s ‘Battle Lab’ in the war on terror.”

Thursday, December 13, 2012

"The Prisoner"

Art Pepper's version of "The Prisoner," otherwise known as the theme from The Eyes of Laura Mars (1978). Pepper's version reminds me of the Vangelis soundtrack to Blade Runner four years later: cool, sad, bluesy.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Gov't Story on Gitmo "Suicide" Debunked, Letter from Detainee Says Detainee Feared Harm

Jason Leopold and I published an article today that seriously undermines the narrative put forward by the government that the latest Guantanamo detainee to die, Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, did so by suicide, supposedly hoarding medications and overdosing. As the article makes clear, the procedures and rules at Guantanamo, which amount to extremely pervasive and constant surveillance of prisoners, with multiple searches per day, and carefully monitored medication administration makes hoarding of meds extremely unlikely.

Posted below is a fair use snippet from the beginning of the article, but readers are strongly encouraged to click through and read the entire story itself. It is an extremely sad story of a man repeatedly tortured over his 10+ years at Guantanamo (and new details of this appear in the story). But it is also extremely sad to think we live in a country where the citizens allow their politicians and military to pursue such crimes without accountability.
Latif Letter About Guantanamo Speaks From the Grave: "I Am Being Pushed Toward Death Every Moment"

By Jason Leopold and Jeffrey Kaye, Truthout, December 10, 2012

Explosive claims in a letter to his lawyers reveal a Gitmo detainee's fears about his captors' intentions, well in advance of his mysterious death. Meanwhile, the investigation into his apparent suicide centers on the protocols meant to prevent it. 
More than two years before he was found dead in his cell at Guantanamo Bay, Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif reported that the people who oversaw his every move were facilitating his demise.

In a letter sent to his attorneys on May 28, 2010, the Yemeni detainee claimed he was given "contraband" items, such as a spoon and a "big pair of scissors ... by the person responsible for Camp 5," where uncooperative prisoners are sent.

"I am being pushed toward death every moment," Latif wrote to human rights attorneys David Remes and Marc Falkoff. The communication was written in Arabic and translated into English by a translator Remes has worked with for nearly a decade.

"The way they deal with me proves to me that they want to get rid of me, but in a way that they cannot be accused of causing it," Latif wrote.

On September 8, Latif was found "motionless and unresponsive" by guards in a cell in the very same Camp 5 cellblock he had cited in his letter. Two months later, the military produced a report that said he committed suicide.

The mystery surrounding the death of the eldest son of a Yemeni merchant who, by all accounts, did not belong at the offshore prison for suspected terrorists, is underscored by the almost prophetic nature of this singular letter.

The question that likely will never be answered is whether it is a true representation of his experiences, the paranoid creation of an unstable mind or the cunning fabrications of an angry man, captured and sold into bondage by post-9/11 bounty hunters.

That answer may have died with Latif, but there is a measure of corroboration for at least some of his claims, and more questions have been raised as the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) and United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) continue to probe the circumstances surrounding his death.
Click here to read the entire story

Sunday, December 2, 2012

"The Atomic Victims as Human Guinea Pigs"

While much has been written about the victims of the Atomic Bombs dropped by the U.S. on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the closing days of World War II, very little is known by Americans of the fate of the victims of that bombing.

Known as the Hibakusha, their medical condition for years was the subject of U.S. occupational and later Japanese censorship. Studied and examined by U.S. doctors and scientists organized as the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission, in conjunction with staff from the Japanese National Institute of Health (JNIH), researchers withheld medical treatment from the atomic bomb victims, arguably because it interfered with their research goals.

Researcher Susan Lindee wrote about these topics in her excellent 1994 book, Suffering Made Real: American Science and the Survivors at Hiroshima. But few others ever took up the subject, and Lindee's book has been largely ignored, especially in recent years (not even one review at Amazon, for instance).

Another barely known essay on the subject was written by Shingo Shibata, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy and Sociology at Hiroshima University, in Seisen Review (No. 4, 1996). The full essay is nowhere to found on the Internet... until now. (A portion of it -- approximately 8 of its 20 pages -- has been published on this webpage.)

In "The Atomic Victims as Human Guinea Pigs,"Shibata relates the history of the early days of ABCC/JNIH cooperation. He highlights the fact that ABCC was subordinate to the General Head Quarters and U.S. occupational authorities. He also documents how the JNIH utilized scientists who previously worked as part of the notorious Unit 731 of Ishii Shiro, a large-scale bacteriological and chemical warfare research center run by the Japanese military. After World War II, the Americans amnestied the Japanese war criminals involved in the biowar and chemical warfare research programs, even though they had experimented on thousands of civilian and military POW victims, killing all of them in concentration camp-like environs.

The latter tale has been told many times, most recently by the late U.S. historian Sheldon Harris in the revised version of his book, Factories of Death: Japanese Biological Warfare, 1932-45 and the American Cover-Up (Routledge: 2002). It is an evil tale, as dark as they come, of how Cold War political exigency and hypocrisy was used to cover-up, especially for the American public, an alliance with some of the worst war criminals ever -- all to get access to their data and expertise, honed from over a decade of barbaric experiments on prisoners, including, many believe, U.S. POWs.

Later, according to a number of scholarly researchers, Unit 731 members or data taken from them, was used in a highly secret campaign of bacteriological warfare conducted by the U.S. during the Korean War. When news of the this war crime leaked out, including signed confessions from U.S. pilots, the U.S. government began a propaganda campaign deriding the confessions as the result of Chinese "brainwashing" and torture. A covert campaign to study these techniques was the supposed origin of the CIA's MKULTRA program.

It is not an exaggeration to say that much of our modern history, including even the recent turn (or re-turn) of the U.S. clandestine agencies and military to the "dark side" use of torture and drugs on prisoners, had its origins in this diabolical deal made with war criminals from Japan and Nazi Germany (the latter in Operation Paperclip and other similar programs).

I am pleased to bring this important piece of historical writing to U.S. readers and other with Internet access. Below is a selection from the essay. Note, references and footnotes are not reproduced here but can be read in the original essay (PDF link).
The first order of the U.S. Forces immediately after the occupation was to ban all publication of reports concerning the genocide and destruction caused by the atomic bombs. Thus they wanted to monopolize all information on the bombing. Until the end of the occupation on 28 April 1952, Japanese journalists, writers, cameramen, novelists and scientists were prohibited from reporting on the real situations of the atomic destruction. If they dared to do so, they were threatened with trial before the military tribunals of the Occupation Forces. Many books, including novels, poems and accounts of the events, were censored and often confiscated by American authorities. (Braw, 1986; Horiba, 1995a and 1995b) As a result, the urgent necessity to give medical and other social aid to the atomic victims (the “Hibakusha” in Japanese) was not reported even among Japanese.

Their second step was to prohibit all doctors in Japan from communicating and exchanging, even among themselves, the records of clinical experience and research on the Hibakusha. At that time they, especially in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, tried to do their best to find ways to cure the unheard-of terrible burns and internal disorders caused by atomic heat and radiation. The U.S. Forces further confiscated the samples of burnt or keloid skins, internal organs and blood and the clinical records of the dead and living Hibakusha. (Committee, 1981)

Their third step was to force the Japanese government to refuse any medical aid offered by the International Red Cross.

If a laboratory animal were cured, it would be utterly useless from the standpoint of medical scientific observers. Maybe it was by the same reasoning that the U.S. authorities did their utmost to prevent any medical treatment given to the Hibakusha. “As far as medical aid is concerned, the less the better” was their policy.

Their fourth step was to establish the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission (ABCC) as two institutions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki for the purpose of observing, not curing, of the hibakusha. Thus, almost all Hibakusha have been treated as if they were only human guinea pigs. Suppose that an assailant continues only to observe a wounded victim for many years after an assault. There is no doubt that such observance itself is nothing but an infringement on human rights.

What did the Japanese Government do to aid the Hibakusha?

I am ashamed to say that the Japanese government did nothing to help the Hibakusha either.

Firstly, its bureaucrats did their utmost to cooperate with the above policy of the U.S. Army toward the Hibakusha. Only two months after the atomic bombing they dissolved the governmental hospitals in charge of medical treatment of the Hibakusha in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As a result, many Hibakusha were left on the streets of the devastated cities without any medical treatment, compounding the many difficult post-war economic and social conditions they had to contend with.

Secondly, by orders of the General Head Quarters (GHQ) of the U.S. Occupation Forces, on 21 May 1947, the Japanese National Institute of Health (JNIH, YOKEN in Japanese abbreviation) was founded with half of the staff of the Institute of Infectious Diseases (IID) attached to the University of Tokyo.

During the period of the Japanese invasion of China from 1931 to 1945, the IID had fully cooperated with the notorious Unit 731, that is, the Army unit for bacteriological warfare. (Williams & Wallace, 1989; Harris, 1994) Most of the staff of the JNIH transferred from the University of Tokyo to the Health and Welfare Ministry were medical scientists who had intimately cooperated with the network of Unit 731 in China and Singapore as well as the Laboratory for Infectious Disease Control (LIDC) attached to the Imperial Army's Medical College. The LIDC in Toyama, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, was the headquarters for the network of the bacteriological warfare program and its institutions, including most of the medical schools of many universities.

The officially declared aims of the JNIH were to make research on pathogens and vaccines and also to screen the safety of biological products (vaccines, blood products and antibiotics), and thereby to contribute toward preventive medicine and public health under the control of the GHQ. However, there were two hidden objectives of the JNIH. The first was to cooperate with the ABCC. The second was to continue, under the guidance and control of the U.S. Army 406th Medical Laboratory,(1) some uncompleted studies of biological warfare program as schemed up by Unit 731. (Shibata, 1989 and 1990)

As for the first hidden objective, only 13 days after the establishment of the JNIH the GHQ asked it to help the ABCC. Dr. Saburo Kojima, then the first Vice-Director and later the second Director of the JNIH, in his commemorative essay, “Memories on the Past Ten Years of the JNIH,” looking back on its initial stage of cooperation with the ABCC, wrote, “We, the intelligent scientists had equally thought that we must not miss this golden opportunity”(2) to record the medical effects of the A-bomb on humans. He was reportedly one of the leading medical scientists who committed vivisection on Chinese prisoners as human guinea pigs in the network of Unit 731 in China.(3) As such a scientist, very positively appreciating the proposal of the GHQ, he never showed humanistic sentiments towards the Hibakusha, still less a counter-proposal for medical treatment of them. He only betrayed such cold-blooded and calculating words as is cited above.
Click here to read the complete essay, "The Atomic Victims as Human Guinea Pigs."

Additional reading:
"Japanese Biomedical Experimentation During the World-War-II Era" by Sheldon Harris, Ch. 16 of Military Medical Ethics, Vol. 2

"The Pentagon and the Japanese Mengele: The Abominable Dr. Ishii" by Christopher Reed, published at Counterpunch, May 27, 2006

Commission and Omission of History in Occupied Japan (1945-1949) by Stephen Buono, Journal of History, SUNY Binghamton, no date (Accessed 12/8/2012)

RT Video: NSA Whistleblower Reveals We Are All Under Virtual Surveillance

"RT talks to William Binney, whistleblower and former NSA crypto-mathematician who served in the agency for decades."

According to Binney, there is no such thing as privacy in the surveillance state. The FBI has access to all the emails of everyone in the United States, if you become a target for any reason. The emails are being collected in bulk, without requesting the providers for them. 100 billion emails can be collected every day with just one device.

Binney doesn't think there's a filter, the emails are just stored. If you are targeted, they go into the database and pull out all your emails. Binney assumes he himself is on the target list. "I tell them everything I think of them in my emails, so if they read it they'll understand what I think of them.

In the Obama administration, attacks on privacy are getting worse than under the Bush regime. They are collecting more, and storing more.

We should be concerned, as Binney says, because if the government puts you on an enemies list or targets you, they will have access to all of your email electronic records. This is what happened to former Gen. Petraeus, for instance (though he doesn't know what their reason for targeting Petraeus and those associated with the scandal around him were targeted, as there were no laws broken there, so far as we know).

Binney says "the violations of the Constitution and any number of laws" are what bothered him and caused him to leave the NSA. The NSA was building social networks on who was communicating with whom. "The social networks of every US citizen were being compiled over time."

Per Binney, the intelligence agencies are violating the foundations upon which this country was founded.

See also "NSA Whistleblower Details How The NSA Has Spied On US Citizens Since 9/11" at , and Binney's sworn declaration (PDF) in support of the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s case against the National Security Agency (Jewel v. NSA) regarding their illegal domestic surveillance programs.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Gitmo Detainee Death Mystery Deepens with News of Drug Overdose

Charlie Savage at the New York Times reports that "several people briefed on a Naval Criminal Investigative Service inquiry" into the death of Guantanamo detainee Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, who was found unresponsive in his cell last September, have revealed that the prisoner "died from an overdose of psychiatric medication."

As Savage notes, the military autopsy has reportedly declared Latif died a suicide. Accordingly, investigators are said to be following up a scenario wherein the Yemeni detainee, recently moved from the psychiatric ward to a disciplinary solitary unit at Camp 5, hoarded medications somehow, and used them to overdose last September 8.

To date, we do not know what kinds of medications were involved, except they were "psychiatric" in nature. Nor do we know how many different medications were supposedly involved. While the Times article implies investigators are looking at pills, as explained below, Latif also received forceable injections of drugs at various times.

Jason Leopold broke the story labeling Latif's death a suicide in a November 26 article at Truthout. The autopsy report itself has not been publicly released, and has been the subject of wrangling between U.S. and Yemen authorities, a dispute that has left the former Guantanamo's body in limbo (allegedly frozen) at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

Cause of Death vs. Manner of Death

While the government is pushing a suicide scenario, the facts of the case are, as Savage describes them, "murky." The NYT reporter cites alternate scenarios for a drug overdose put forward by one of Latif's civilian attorneys.
David Remes, a lawyer who represented Mr. Latif in a habeas corpus lawsuit, said there was reason to be suspicious about how his client was overmedicated, voicing skepticism that he could have hoarded his daily dosages without detection. He noted that Mr. Latif was under “intense scrutiny” — including regular monitoring by guards and cameras....

Mr. Remes, who has not seen the autopsy report, suggested that Mr. Latif instead may have negligently been given too many pills that day, which the lawyer doubted, or that the authorities might have deliberately given him access to too much medication hoping he would kill himself.
Intentional suicidal overdose, accidental overdose, and facilitated suicide aka murder are not the only possibilities. But before proceeding with that discussion, one should be clear that the revelation that Latif died of a drug overdose only refers to the cause of death, which moreover would have had to have been drug-related cardiac or respiratory arrest. But the manner of death speaks to what agency or circumstances brought about the cause of death, in this case, the drug overdose.

Broadly speaking, the manner of death had to have been either accidental, or intentional -- with intent attributed to the victim (suicide) or to the intent of others (murder). There are nuances between these. For instance, an accident in a medical setting could have been due to negligence or even malpractice. The idea of facilitated suicide -- a scenario I previously floated in relation to the death of another Guantanamo purported suicide, that of Mohammed Salih Al Hanashi -- combines malicious intent by others with suicidal intent by a prisoner.

Of course, one possibility is that Latif was murdered outright, e.g. that someone came into his cell and forced him to take drugs, or that drugs were placed in his food, or forcibly injected. One problem with the long period that elasped with Latif's body probably not adequately preserved is that now for evidence of any struggle we will have to rely singly upon the military's autopsy report.

The idea of the military covertly administering drugs is not that outrageous. Recently, it was revealed that DoD had put drugs into the food of David Hicks, an Australian detainee released in 2007, before he was brought before a hearing at the U.S.-run Cuban prison camp.

Another possible mode of death might have been via what has come to be called accidental death via "polypharmacy." As critics of psychiatric practice have noted, drugs are often prescribed in too great a number, with some drugs prescribed to deal with side effects of other drugs, until the total number of drugs prescribed becomes dangerous, and the interaction between drugs prescribed unpredictable.

The Department of Defense has been criticized for just this kind of practice, as described in this February 2011 Psychology Today article by Dr. Allen Frances, "psychiatry professor emeritus and former chairman of psychiatry, Duke University who chaired the DSM-IV Task Force revision."

"Individual psychotropic drugs can have serious side effects -- in excessive combination they sometimes threaten respiratory and cardiac function in a potentially lethal way," Frances wrote. "And the whole is even more dangerous than the sum of its parts since the medications can interact to increase each other's blood levels. Prescription drugs are overtaking illegal drugs as the primary cause of accidental overdose and death."

Were Injections of "Chemical Restraints" Involved in Latif's "Overdose"?

In an October 18 story by Jason Leopold on the abuse Latif suffered at Guantanamo, Leopold reported on numerous instances of forcibly drugging of Latif by camp medical authorities. This drugging apparently included forced injections of "sedatives." The exact nature of the drugs are unknown, but an Inspector General report on use of "mind-altering" drugs on detainees "for purposes of interrogation," released via my FOIA request and analyzed by both Leopold and myself, noted that detainees at times were administered "chemical restraints."

I have made multiple requests to DoD officials to ask what drugs were used as chemical restraints. To date, no one from DoD has replied to my queries.

One of the few drugs mentioned in the IG report was Haldol, which was administered as an injection to  Guantanamo detainee Adel al-Nusairi (referred to as IG-02 in the report). According to the IG, haldol is a powerful antipsychotic medication, whose side effects include lethargy, tremors, anxiety, mood changes and "an inability to remain motionless," among other disturbing effects.

The government has used haldol injections in other detention settings as well, most notoriously by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency for purposes of deportation of immigrants. A May 13, 2008 article in the Washington Post described the dangers of using the drug:
In September, the Food and Drug Administration issued an alert citing "a number of case reports of sudden death" and other reports of dangerous changes in heart rhythm. It is, important, the FDA warned, to inject Haldol only into muscles, not veins, and to avoid doses that are too high.
Federal officials finally greatly reduced use of haldol for sedation of deportees in 2009, after much public criticism and threat of lawsuits. But it is unknown to what degree the drug or others like it are currently used at Guantanamo or other DoD detention settings.

Did Latif receive haldol injections, or any other kind of drug injection (as, for instance, risperidone) in the week or two prior to his death? We shouldn't have to wait years to get an answer to this question. Indeed, this case in particular cries out for a full, independent, public investigation.

Death Threats

The absurdity of conducting a military investigation in this instance is manifest when one considers that in the weeks prior to Latif's death he was threatened with death by one or more Guantanamo guards.

The full story about this was reported by Jason Leopold in his November 26 article, but essentially, as reconstructed via detainee accounts given to David Remes, Latif complained about not getting needed medications sometime in early August. In frustration he reportedly threw a rock at a guard tower, and thereby brought the wrath of the armed guard force down upon him and other detainees.

As Leopold reported it:
"The guards came into Camp 5 with guns, and beat up the detainees," another prisoner recalled. "Other soldiers surrounded the camp. [The Officer in Charge] came and told detainees, 'You are extremists and I'm going to deal with you in a harsh way. You intend to kill our soldiers; we'll do the same thing to you.'"
For whatever reason, Savage did not report this aspect of the story in his article about the drug overdose. One wonders if the New York Times reporter hasn't already decided the case is simply one of suicide, a scenario investigators are reportedly pursuing. Just the other day, the Times editorial board called Latif's death a "suicide."

Savage did not note that investigators were pursuing any other leads. No one is talking, either, about what the surveillance tapes of Latif would show, or whether the evidence in them rules out one theory regarding manner of death or another.

Too Many Suspicious Deaths

The death of Latif, the first purported "suicide" who supposedly did not hang or strangle himself, is nevertheless similar to the other suicides, and none more than that of Mohammed Al Hanashi. Both had made multiple suicide attempts and been at various times on "suicide watch." Both were said to be depressed at the time of their death, although their are contrary reports regarding both that they were not suicidal at the time of their death. Both were under video surveillance. Both were supposed trouble-makers, and both had been hunger strikers.

Then there is the 2007 "suicide" of Abdul Rahman Al Amri, also found in a solitary cell in Camp 5, with his hands tied behind his back. The three "suicides" of May 2006 were also found with hands tied and rags stuffed down their throats. At least one guard witnessed stranger transfers of three prisoners to a possible black site at the Guantanamo base, known as Camp No, as reported in an award-winning 2010 article by Scott Horton at Harpers, and examined further in a special investigation by Seton Hall School of Law.

The latest revelations seriously demand the calling of a special investigation. The Department of Defense, embroiled in numerous scandals over torture, extrajudicial killings, rendition, and corruption, cannot be trusted to run an investigation into these deaths. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service, who is in charge of the investigation, along with another investigation run out of Guantanamo's parent command at SOUTHCOM, has been involved over the years in interrogations of detainees and in intelligence operations. To leave the investigation to NCIS and SOUTHCOM is to leave the institutions involved to investigate themselves.

There have been many calls to shut down Guantanamo of late. A Government Accounting Office study released just today, and touted by Democratic Senator and Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Diane Feinstein, has indicated the closure of Guantanamo and transfer of prisoners to U.S. prisons is perfectly feasible. But would justice still come to those many, many prisoners already cleared for release? Or would the closure of Guantanamo spawn many more Guantanamos, or via use of indefinite detention, "Gitmo-ize" the U.S. prison system?

Maybe a real investigation into the death of Latif would help bring about a greater understanding of why Guantanamo is an abomination that must be shut down. If true, then Latif would not have died in vain, an anonymous innocent man ground down and snuffed out by a system so large and inhuman that it seemed no one could control it.

Crossposted at Firedoglake

Monday, November 26, 2012

New York Times Decides Guantanamo Detainee Committed Suicide

Crossposted from MyFDL/Firedoglake

Jason Leopold continues to do superb reporting on the mysterious death last September of Guantanamo detainee Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif. Earlier today (11/26), Leopold posted breaking news that a government autopsy report on Latif, not yet officially released, concludes that the 36-year-old prisoner died of suicide.

Leopold sourced the revelation to Yemeni government officials and "a US military investigator close to the case." The Department of Defense has not yet officially stated any cause of death for Latif, who was discovered inert in his cell at Guantanamo's Camp 5 on September 8.

Leopold wrote that a "spokesman for United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), Joint Task Force-Guantanamo's (JTF-GTMO) higher command" told Truthout that DoD would "issue a statement as soon as [Yemen] accepts [Latif's] remains." Just two days after Latif's death, a Guantanamo spokesman told Associated Press, "There is no apparent cause [of death], natural or self-inflicted."

But none of this stopped the New York Times from stating in an editorial yesterday (11/25) calling for Guantanamo's closure that Latif had in fact committed suicide. Coming out of nowhere, such a statement was, frankly, bizarre.

Here's what the Times wrote, some 12 hours before Leopold even posted his story at Truthout, and with no published source anywhere definitively reporting Latif's cause of death as suicide (bold emphasis added):
In September, a member of this stranded group, a Yemeni citizen named Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, killed himself after a federal judge’s ruling ordering his release was unfairly overturned by an appellate court. It was the kind of price a nation pays when it creates prisons like Guantánamo, beyond the reach of law and decency, a tragic reminder of the stain on American justice.
Narratives R Us

There is a lot wrong about the claims in the NYT op-ed, as much as I might agree with the overall thrust of the editorial about shutting down Guantanamo. The Times editors may have thought the latest death of a prisoner at Guantanamo highlighted the crime of keeping Guantanamo open. And they are right about that, but their conclusion -- their narrative of Latif's death -- closes off inquiry into what actually occurred, and in doing that they are not acting as a watchdog upon possible government abuse.

First of all, there is no affirmative statement by the government that Latif's cause of death was suicide. In fact, as Leopold points out in his article, all the earlier statements from DoD led one to believe that suicide was not a cause of death. The only recent article to claim otherwise was by Leopold, and it was not published until many hours after the NYT made their claim.

Secondarily, not only does the New York Times supposedly know how Latif died, they also imply they know why he killed himself, i.e., he "killed himself after a federal judge’s ruling ordering his release was unfairly overturned by an appellate court."

Well, yes, he did die after the appellate court ruling -- nearly eleven months afterward, as the ruling by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia came in October 2011. A subsequent appeal by Latif's attorneys to the U.S. Supreme Court was rejected last June, also approximately three months before Latif died.

Since no one reads articles very carefully, and it is enough to spread a particular narrative in mainstream media sources to manufacture a version of Truth, the NYT does its readers a disservice by producing a bogus narrative of the death of Adnan Latif. According to the Times, Latif killed himself, and it was likely because his court case was overturned.

To be fair to the Times, there were stories in the press that speculated upon just such a scenario, as the Reprieve spokesperson in this Alternet article from last September appeared to do. In addition, the Swiss chapter of Amnesty International wrote about the Latif death on November 1, and indicated that the Guantanamo prisoner had died of suicide. ("Le suicide du détenu yéménite Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif en septembre 2012 nous rappelle la cruauté de ce régime de détention qui permet une détention illimitée et illégale.").

But statements by human rights groups are not the same as statements by the editorial board of the New York Times. One wonders what led them to assert that Latif had died from suicide, when no public source, indeed no story in their own paper had reported the same, until Truthout published Leopold's story nearly 12 hours later.

"Questions Remain"

Leopold's story is subheaded, "Questions Remain." Indeed they do.

The Truthout story draws upon eyewitness stories from a number of detainees as reported to human rights attorney David Remes. While Truthout withheld detainees' names to prevent possible retribution by Guantanamo authorities, former British resident Shaker Aamer gave permission for his name to be attached to his own statements about Latif's death.

Aamer, who is the subject of a major campaign to secure his release from the U.S. prison camp, told Remes that, among other things, Latif had been on hunger strike just before he died. He had been moved into Camp 5 only two days before he was found dead.

While readers should turn to Jason's article to read his complete story, it is worth noting the barebones of the revelations here, as it's unlikely you'll get them in the mainstream media any time soon.

According to Aamer and other detainees, Latif had gotten into an argument with guards in early August, after they failed to pass on a request from Latif about not getting his medications. Latif reportedly threw a rock at a guard tower and broke one of the spotlights.

Leopold's story explains what happened next:

The incident took place during Ramadan and resulted in dozens of soldiers being called into the rec area, some of who rolled up in Hummers, fired their weapons into the ground and threatened to kill Latif, according to several prisoners who were present.

"The guards came into Camp 5 with guns, and beat up the detainees," another prisoner recalled. "Other soldiers surrounded the camp. [The Officer in Charge] came and told detainees, 'You are extremists and I'm going to deal with you in a harsh way. You intend to kill our soldiers; we'll do the same thing to you.'"

While the New York Times pushes a narrative that links Latif's death to judicial decisions that happened many months before, I'd suggest that you don't have to be a fan of the mystery genre to know that if someone is threatened with being killed and then ends up dead in mysterious circumstances only a few weeks later, you've got something that needs investigation. But such investigation should not come from the same institution whose personnel made the death threats.

In fact, the seven alleged suicides at Guantanamo, and nine deaths overall since 2002, call out for an independent investigation. (I'd note that I also revealed evidence in a government document that there were earlier deaths of detainees at Guantanamo in early 2002. These, too, should be investigated.)

As reported in my Truthout story on two earlier Guantanamo "suicides," that of Abdul Rahman Al Amri in May 2007 and Mohammad Ahmed Abdullah Saleh Al Hanashi in June 2009, like Latif both men died in Camp 5. The circumstances of their deaths were also strange. Al Amri was discovered with his hands tied behind his back. Al Hanashi's ligature (the means whereby he supposedly strangled himself) was never provided to autopsy doctors. It took years to get the autopsy reports on these prisoners, and the NCIS investigations have never been released.

In January, 2010, Scott Horton published a lengthy exposé at Harpers that seriously questioned the government's narrative about the deaths of three detainees on June 9, 2006. Like Al Amri, these detainees were also found with their hands tied behind their backs. They had cloth rags stuck down their throats in what UC Davis researcher Almerindo Ojeda has speculated could have been a form of "dryboarding." Yet the government still claims these deaths were suicide, and much of the mainstream media has defended the government's position.

The New York Times should be calling for an independent investigation into the death of Adnan Latif and the other supposed Guantanamo "suicides," and not constructing a dubious, unsourced narrative that discourages further inquiry.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Survivors File UN Complaint Against Canada for Failing to Prosecute George W. Bush for Torture

The following was posted today at Center for Constitutional Rights, and reposted here for its inherent interest, and with gratitude to Center for Constitutional Rights and the Canadian Centre for International Justice, and the four men pursuing their complaint, for continuing to stand for justice and accountability for state crimes.
November 14, 2012, Vancouver and New York— Today, four torture survivors filed a complaint against Canada with the United Nations Committee against Torture for the country’s failure to investigate and prosecute former President George W. Bush during his visit to British Columbia last year. As a signatory to the Convention against Torture, Canada has an obligation to investigate and prosecute a torture suspect on its soil. This is the first time a complaint concerning torture allegations against a high-level U.S. official has been filed with the U.N. Committee. The Canadian Centre for International Justice (CCIJ) and the U.S.-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed the complaint on the men’s behalf.

“Canada has the jurisdiction and the obligation to prosecute a torture suspect present in Canada, including a former head of state, and even one from a powerful country,” said Matt Eisenbrandt, CCIJ’s Legal Director. “Canada’s failure to conduct a criminal investigation and prosecution against Mr. Bush when there was overwhelming evidence against him constitutes a clear violation of its international obligations and its own policy not to be a safe haven for torturers.”

The four men – Hassan bin Attash, Sami el-Hajj, Muhammed Khan Tumani and Murat Kurnaz – found their long quest for justice stymied in October 2011. Canada’s Attorney General refused to conduct a criminal investigation against Mr. Bush, and the Attorney General of British Columbia swiftly intervened to shut down a private criminal prosecution submitted to a provincial court in her jurisdiction during Mr. Bush’s visit. This occurred despite the groups’ submission of a 69-page draft indictment and approximately 4000 pages of evidence against Bush consisting of extensive reports and investigations conducted by multiple U.S. agencies and the United Nations.

The Committee against Torture can require Canada to explain the actions that led to the case being closed without any investigation and can then issue a decision on whether Canada has breached its obligations under the convention. If the committee finds Canada in violation, it can specify appropriate remedial measures.

“Through this process, the world can learn whether Canada’s actions were grounded in law or in politics. Canada’s refusal to investigate and prosecute George W. Bush marked a low-point in the ongoing struggle to end impunity for torturers and denied these men the opportunity to achieve some measure of justice,” said Katherine Gallagher, Senior Staff Attorney at CCR and legal representative for the men.“They now call upon the Committee to send a clear message that states must uphold their obligations under the Convention against Torture and cannot allow other factors – including political considerations – to interfere with the commitment to end impunity for torturers.”

Ratified by 153 countries around the world, the U.N. Convention Against Torture requires states to investigate alleged torturers present on their soil and submit them for prosecution—or extradite them to another country for prosecution. Canada implemented this provision of the Convention into its domestic criminal code and explicitly authorizes prosecution for torture occurring outside Canadian borders. Canada, along with 55 other countries, allows individuals to file petitions with the U.N. Committee for alleged breaches of the Convention; the United States has not signed on to this provision.

In both Afghanistan and Guantánamo, the four men who submitted the complaint survived inhumane treatment including beatings, being hung from walls or ceilings, sleep, food and water deprivation, and exposure to extreme temperatures. U.S. officials eventually released Kurnaz after five years, and both el-Hajj, a reporter with Al-Jazeera, and Khan Tumani, 17 at the time of his detention, after approximately seven years, without ever bringing charges against them. Bin Attash, only 16 when he was detained, remains at Guantánamo, though he has never been formally charged with any wrongdoing.

Earlier this year, CCIJ and CCR submitted a report about the Bush torture case to the Committee against Torture during an examination of Canada’s compliance with the Convention. The Committee, in its concluding observations, called on the Canadian government to “take all necessary measures with a view to ensuring the exercise of the universal jurisdiction over persons responsible for acts of torture, including foreign perpetrators who are temporarily present in Canada.”

In February 2011, the Center for Constitutional Rights, on behalf of two survivors and supported by CCIJ and other human rights organizations, attempted to initiate criminal proceedings against Bush ahead of a scheduled visit to Switzerland. Bush cancelled the trip after news of the prosecution, and the apparent unwillingness of Swiss authorities to stop it, became known.

Read the complaint at CCR’s case page.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Where's the "Pathway" for Closure of Guantanamo?

Last Friday, November 9, Elisa Massimino, President and CEO of Human Rights First (HRF), hosted a press call with retired Rear Admiral Don Guter. HRF, along with a number of other human rights and legal groups, are calling upon President Barack Obama to fulfill his January 2009 pledge to close Guantanamo's detention facility.

Admiral Guter was the Navy's Judge Advocate General in 2000-2002. Last January, along with 14 other high-ranking former officers, Guter signed an open letter to President Obama calling for the immediate closure of Guantanamo.

The retired military officers were willing to put the blame on Obama's failure to keep his promise on a recalcitrant Congress.

"We recognize the political opposition you have faced in attempting to honor your commitment," Guter and the others wrote. "Congress has repeatedly restricted your ability to transfer detainees held there who have been cleared for release. Congress has also restricted your authority to bring criminal suspects held at Guantanamo to justice in our time-honored federal criminal courts. However, despite these restrictions, we are asking you to act within the discretion available to you to move our nation forward in closing Guantanamo once and for all."

But according to a question I posed to Guter last Friday, neither Obama nor anyone in his administration even bothered to reply to the 15 former "high-ranking former officers," which included General Joseph Hoar (USMC, ret.), former Commander in Chief of U.S. Central Command, and Major General Antonio Taguba, who headed the Army's investigation into the Abu Ghraib torture scandal.

But this didn't deter Admiral Guter, who maintains that Guantanamo is "still the symbol of the torture and the other horrific acts that took place down there, and still a symbol of delayed justice which we’re still experiencing." He added that Guantanamo's ongoing detention program has become a "recruiting tool" for U.S. enemies abroad. [Quote updated on 11/14 from an earlier version of this article, thanks to a transcript of the press call provided by HRF]

A Pathway?

Both Guter and Massimino maintained that there was a "pathway" for the closure of Guantanamo and the release of the 86 cleared detainees. But they would not be more specific about what it would be. Massimino indicated that a "policy blueprint" on the topic would be released during an HRF summit in the the first week of December.

I asked whether such a "pathway" would include the use of recent changes in the NDAA guidelines that would allow the Secretary of Defense to issue waivers that would guarantee the necessary security assurances for release. (For those who want Shaker Aamer released, for instance, such an action, long desired, is only a Leon Panetta signature away.)

It seemed that HRF's "pathway" would include such "flexibility in the waiver process", but more specifics were frustratingly withheld, no doubt awaiting the full roll-out of the programmatic call next month. However, Massimino did indicate that HRF will ask Obama to "task someone" to work specifically on the Guantanamo issue.

Despite the perspicacity of HRF and Admiral Guter in sticking with the Guantanamo issue, the reliance on faith in President Obama appears to be misplaced. Not only has he ignored those who have implored him on the issue in the past two years (including Admiral Guter himself), but his administration continues to do what it can to go after whistleblowers on torture (like John Kiriakou), who file suit against administration officials for torture (the latest defeat was in the Vance-Ertel suit against Rumsfeld), and press the Bush-era military commissions invention, only slightly modified from that of the previous administration.

No Accountability for Torture

The list of those who have escaped accountability for torture is getting to be a very long one, as attorney Jesselyn Radack wrote in an article recently about the Kiriakou guilty plea, noting the cover-ups have  spanned two administrations. (I'd note that her list mostly comes from the CIA and DoJ, but there are plenty of DoD operatives who could have been mentioned, too.)
Jose Rodriguez, Enrique "Ricky" Prado, Deuce Martinez, Alfreda Bikowsky, all of the lawyers who said it was legal, including my law school contemporary John Yoo (enjoying his tenured professorship) and now-federal judge Jay Bybee, twisted psychiatrists, including criminal contractors James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, not to mention all of the names we still don't know of the anonymous masked brutes who kidnapped, rendered, beat, waterboarded, and deprived prisoners of the basic human dignities mandated by the Geneva Conventions.
Nor is it clear that a closure of Guantanamo -- should it indeed come -- wouldn't be primarily to cover-up on-going U.S. interrogation and detention crimes at Bagram, or other U.S. black sites from Somalia and Libya to Afghanistan. Indeed, Moon of Alabama has tied the current David Petraeus scandal and resignation to revelations about a CIA detention site in Benghazi, Libya.

But the clearest sign of political weakness on the torture issue lies in the relative disinterest in the topic by the vast majority of the press. During the press call with HRF, mine was the only question by the press. I can't know how many were present during the press call, but I wouldn't be shocked if the turnout was very low.

So, I don't have much faith in the Obama administration doing the right thing. But maybe HRF, Guter, and others will be successful in the long run. Unfortunately, I believe it will take a massive social struggle to change the torture policy of the U.S., as it has long been linked to a military and political policy of support for dictatorial regimes abroad, to such a degree that the problem has become systemic.

The U.S. cannot give up its torture habit, one that goes back decades now, way before Bush and Obama, even if Guter and his co-thinkers believe they can make U.S. military practice more ethical. I wish them luck, but I just don't have the requisite faith they have.

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