Wednesday, August 14, 2013


From a time when "America" meant "discoveries - new worlds on earth, in the sky, or in the minds of men."

Composer Edgar Varèse composed Amériques, a monumental though relatively brief symphonic work, between 1918 and 1921, revising it (according to the piece's Wikipedia page) in 1927.

Listen for the sirens! Think of "Rite of Spring" in Manhattan.

Direct YouTube link

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Japanese WWII Torture Document Eerily Reminiscent of US Torture Program

The following is taken from a 63 year old book published in the early days of the Cold War. Titled Materials on the Trial of Former Serviceman of the Japanese Army Charged with Manufacturing and Employing Bacteriological Weapons (Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1950), the book contains trial summaries and testimony from the Khabarovsk war crimes trial in December 1949.

Derided as just another Stalinist show trial at the time, historians have since confirmed the evidence regarding the crimes prosecuted, including deadly biological experiments on prisoners by special units of the Japanese Imperial Army, the most famous of which was Unit 731.

The selection below is one of the exhibits contained in the book, collected in a section labeled “Documentary Evidence.” The book itself has been out of print for decades, and is generally unavailable, except via some few libraries and antiquarian bookstores. The selection included here is on the Japanese Army use of torture. The reader will notice that the Japanese Army demonstrated many of the same techniques and concerns the U.S. showed when it was implementing its own torture program under the CIA and the Department of Defense.

The Japanese torture program included, as described here, use of stress positions, physical attack, and a form of waterboarding. The interrogators were instructed to be aware of possible false information by prisoners in order to get “relief from suffering.” They appeared to also be concerned in the truthfulness of information obtained, and the possibility of deception.

Moreover, the Japanese were quite worried about others knowing about the torture. While they do not outright call for the murder of prisoners, one is left to guess at what “measures must be taken” so that prisoners did not talk of the torture “afterwards.”

The material from the Khabarovsk trial is consistent with that published in a report by the Supreme Commander of Allied Powers on “Japanese Methods of Prisoner of War Interrogation” (June 1, 1946). Techniques described there include: beatings of various sorts (derided, though, as “the most clumsy method”); threats of “murder, torture, starving, deprivation of sleep, solitary confinement, etc.”; psychological threats; water torture, which sometimes resulted in fatalities; attaching a prisoner's thumbs to a “motor car which proceeds to pull him around in a circle until he falls exhausted,” and other tortures. Some Japanese soldiers and officers were prosecuted for war crimes after the war for such inhumane and criminal conduct.

What Made the Khabarovsk Trial Special

What makes the selection from the Khabarovsk trial unique is the degree to which the document discusses the importance of hiding the torture, and how to deal with deception. Interestingly, there is no discussion of producing false confessions.

It is noteworthy, too, to understand that thousands of prisoners who were sent to Unit 731 had also been, or were interrogated and/or tortured, at the site where biological experiments on them were done. All the prisoners were killed after the experiments were completed. The results of the experiments were operationalized in biological warfare campaigns by the Japanese in China that killed, recent estimates claim, perhaps as many as half a million people.

In future stories, I will discuss at much greater length aspects of this material that has gone unreported for years. The reasons for such a lack of historical writing is not lack of interest, but the fact that what materials the Japanese did not destroy were kept classified by the Americans for decades as part of an amnesty deal made with the leaders of the Japanese biological warfare program. The deal included a transfer of data on the fatal human experiments to the U.S. Army and intelligence services. Both the Department of Defense and (most likely) the CIA were involved in the decision to give amnesty to the Unit 731 et al. criminals.

For more information on the deal made between the U.S. and the Japanese described here see Peter Williams and David Wallace, Unit 731: The Japanese Army Secret of Secrets, 1989, Hodder and Stoughton, London; Sheldon H. Harris, Factories of Death: Japanese Biological Warfare, 1932-1945, and the American Cover-up, rev. ed. 2002, Routledge, New York; and Daniel Barenblatt, A Plague Upon Humanity: the Secret Genocide of Axis Japan’s Germ Warfare, 2004, Harper, New York.

The Khabarovsk selection reprinted below appears on pages 235-237 of Materials. I have tried my best to reproduce the material as it is in the book. What is italic or bold here is italic or bold in the book. Extra spacing between letters is as in the printed material. Case has been preserved. Paragraph breaks are by extra lines, while in the book they are by indent.
File No. 48. Pages 90, 112, 113, 124, 125, 126. “Operation Officer's Guide (Part I).” From the files of the Mutankiang J.M.M. 
Translated from the Japanese  
S t r i c t l y  C o n f i d e n t i a l 
Received June 14, 1945
Inc. No. 9”
Page 90 
Copied by Unit
No. 471-MANSHU 
Page 112  
I n c l o s u re 
Fundamental Rules for Interrogating War Prisoners 
Page 113 
G e n e r a l  R u l e s 
1. The present rules relate to cases of interrogation with the view to obtaining information, but do not relate to the interrogation of criminals. 
2. Persons who have surrendered, deserters, captured enemy spies, those who illegally cross the frontier, crews of aircraft compelled to make a forced landing or of vessels compelled to come to our shores, escaped war prisoners who had formerly served in our army, the inhabitants of districts we have newly occupied, and also civilian refugees from the sphere of enemy influence, except on special matters, are interrogated in conformity with the methods of investigating and interrogating war prisoners.

Page 124 
62. Sometimes, depending on circumstances, it is advantageous to resort to torture, but often this may lead to harmful consequences, and therefore, before resorting to it, it is necessary to carefully consider whether this should be done or not. Furthermore, torture must be applied in such a way as not to lead to bad consequences for us. 
Page 125 
63. Torture, the infliction of physical suffering, must be sustained and continued in such a way that there shall be no other way of relief from suffering except by giving truthful information. 
Torture is advantageous because of the speed with which it is possible with relative ease to compel persons of weak will to give truthful testimony, but there is the danger that, in order to relieve himself from suffering, or in order to please the interrogator, the person interrogated will, on the contrary, distort the truth. 
In the case of persons of strong will, torture may strengthen their will to resist and leave ill-feeling against the empire after the interrogation. 
64. In relation to persons of weak will, torture is usually applied in those cases when the person interrogated does not speak the truth in the face of evidence, but there is full reason to suppose that this person will speak frankly if torture is applied. 
65. It is necessary to bear in mind that the methods of torture must be such as can be easily applied, as will sustain suffering without rousing feelings of pity, and as will not leave either wounds or scars. However, in those cases when it is necessary to create apprehension of death, the harm caused the person interrogated can be ignored, but this must be done in such a way as not to make it impossible to continue the interrogation. 
The following examples of torture may be given: 
1. Compelling the person to sit up straight and motionless. 
2. Putting pencils between the fingers not far from their bases and tying the tops of the fingers with string and moving them. 
3. Putting the person interrogated on his back (it is advisable to raise the feet a little) and dripping water into the nose and mouth simultaneously. 
4. Putting the interrogated person on his side and stamping on his ankle. 
5. Compelling the interrogated person to stand under a shelf that is too low to enable him to stand straight. 
66. In a case when a wound is accidentally inflicted on the person interrogated, it is necessary, taking into account the general situation and the interests of our country, to take resolute measures, taking full responsibility for same. 
67. On receiving testimony as a result of applying torture, it must be ascertained whether this testimony is the result of a desire to avoid further suffering and to please the interrogator; in such cases, some corroboration of the truth of the testimony is necessary. 
Page 126 
68. After the application of torture, it is necessary to convince the person who had undergone torture that the torture applied to him was quite a natural measure, or to take such measures as will induce him out of a sense of pride, sense of honor, etc, not to speak of it afterwards. In the case of persons from whom this cannot be expected, measures must be taken as in the case of those upon whom accidental wounds have been inflicted. 
69. Nobody must know about the application of torture except the persons concerned with this. Under no circumstances must other prisoners know about it. It is very important to take measures to prevent shrieks from being heard.* 
Translated by Senior Interpreter, Master of Historical Sciences
Signed: (PODPALOVA) 
*The rest is omitted. – Trans.

Health Care Professionals Urge Obama to End Forced-Feeding of Guantanamo Hunger Strikers

The following is a press release from Psychologists for Social Responsibility (PsySR), who gathered hundreds of signature and the support of other human rights associations to appeal to the President to stop the forced-feeding of hunger strikers at Guantanamo. The forced-feeding policy by the Department of Defense is blatantly against the policy of health organizations around the world, including the American Medical Association, the World Medical Association (see their Declaration of Tokyo), and the British Medical Association.

DoD is on a propaganda campaign to promote their policy (see here and here). But as this UK Guardian article notes, "Force-feeding policies have never succeeded."
Force-feeding is not a new concern. It fell rapidly out of fashion in 1917 after Irish republican Thomas Ashe unexpectedly died after being fed, and again in the 1970s following IRA hunger striker Michael Gaughan's controversial death. Then, as now, medical professionals and human rights activists raised concern about the dubious use of the stomach tube to suppress hunger strikers. The World Medical Organisation's 1975 condemnation of force-feeding as torturous and degrading seemed to signal an end to the practice. Indeed, one of the key reasons why Thatcher was left with few options but to allow IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands and his fellow prisoners to starve – in the face of politically damaging controversy – was because she knew that force-feeding was no longer ethically viable.
What follows is PsySR's press release:
On August 12th, over 400 health care professionals and human rights leaders sent an urgent appeal to President Obama to order Guantánamo detention camp officials to stop force-feeding hunger strikers, immediately release the detainees approved for release, and make closing Guantánamo his first priority. Now in its seventh month, the hunger strike included 106 detainees at its peak, with as many as 46 of them force-fed.

The letter states that force-feeding mentally competent adults is a violation of medical and nursing ethics, and emphasizes that the method of force feeding in Guantánamo is “exceptionally brutal.” In describing the procedure in which the detainee is forcefully extracted from the cell by several soldiers and strapped into a restraint chair for up to two hours, the letter also notes that “Men weakened by significant weight loss are particularly at risk for serious injury during this regimen.”

Sponsored by Psychologists for Social Responsibility and signed by ten additional organizations, including the Center for Constitutional Rights and Physicians for Human Rights, the letter focuses on the ethical and professional dilemmas of Guantánamo health personnel who force-feed the detainees:

“Health care professionals, including those in the military, must maintain their licenses in good standing, and to do so they must follow standards of good ethical practice. This is not what is happening during the hunger strike.”

Because information is classified at Guantánamo, doctors, nurses and psychologists cannot honor their ethical obligations to confer with independent experts in such dilemmas, and are “constrained from securing the support of their professional colleagues if they experience reprisals for registering a complaint or refusing to participate further.”

The signers urge President Obama to “act immediately before more prisoners die” and argue that as Commander-in-Chief he has the power to immediately stop the force-feeding, release the detainees approved for release, and make closing Guantánamo his top priority.

The full text of the letter with the list of all signers is available online at

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Will Bogdan's Claims of Insufficient Staffing Cause Al Qaeda to Attack Guantanamo?

Jason Leopold, who has been filing requests for government documents like there is no tomorrow, apparently caught Department of Defense censors with their pants down. The result is a rare look into the kind of political shenanigans DoD uses to justify its policies at Guantanamo.

Leopold had requested a copy of the declaration by JTF-GTMO Detention Group (JDG) chief Colonel John Bogdan filed in the litigation surrounding the controversial groin and genital searches of detainees at Guantanamo. He received a redacted version on August 3. But Leopold noticed that the redactions didn't match those of an earlier release of the document in July.

The practice of the groin and genital searches -- including before and after visits to attorneys, to make family telephone calls, etc. -- was overturned by Judge Royce Lamberth in a stinging ruling last month. But the government appealed that ruling and an appeals court reversed Lamberth's opinion pending a full government appeal. The appeals court relied heavily on declarations made by both Bogdan and his US Southern Command superior officer, Marine General John F. Kelly.

Last month I examined the issues behind Kelly's declaration. But Bogdan's declaration was unaccountably sealed. Three days after the appeals court ruling, Leopold filed suit for Bogdan's declaration.

As Leopold described it in an August 6 article at Al Jazeera (emphasis in original):
In response to the court filing, the government on Friday released a partially redacted version of Bogdan's declaration, and argued that the blacked-out passages in the document should remain secret - because they contained sensitive "operational-security information" about Guantanamo.

But it appears government lawyers were unaware that another version of Bogdan's declaration - one that contained a different set of redactions - was publicly released last month, in documents filed with the federal appeals court when the government asked Lamberth's decision to be put on hold.

Redacted passages that the government says needs to remain secret are unredacted in the earlier version filed on the public record as part of the government's appeal. At the same time, some unredacted passages in the declaration submitted on Friday are redacted in the public version of Bogdan's declaration filed with the appeals court last month.
Leopold's Al Jazeera article examines some of the differing redactions, and in general I agree with Steven Aftergood's comments in the story regarding "the subjective nature of the redaction process." However, a close read of all the redactions turns up a couple of odd new attempts at censorship by DoD of some of Bogdan's statements, one of which in particular deserves a closer look.

Insufficient Staffing for Detainee "Movements"?

In a portion of his declaration explaining to the court why Guantanamo commanders cannot consider allowing attorneys to visit their clients at either Camps 5 or 6 -- they currently meet at Camp Echo, about which more below -- Bogdan made a remarkable claim (emphasis added): "As it currently stands, JTF-GTMO cannot support all daily movements with current staff levels, so movements must be prioritized."

The "movements" concern prisoner movements outside their cell to anywhere else in the prison -- to another cell, to see their attorney, to make a call to their family, to go to the hospital or clinic, etc. For an unspecified period Guantanamo authorities ran a "frequent flyer" program, transferring prisoners from cell to cell multiple times a week "to cause sleep deprivation and disorientation."

A SOUTHCOM report on the death of prisoner Adnan Latif last September revealed that the brain-damaged detainee from Yemen was “moved from camp to camp over 67 times" during his stay at Guantanamo. So the issue of movements is not one only related to camp operations, but to the abuse and maltreatment of prisoners there. Indeed, some of these "movements" are initiated by violent beatings by so-called Emergency Reaction Forces.

Bogdan's declaration regarding insufficient staffing levels at Guantanamo was part of the initial release of his sworn declaration last month, but it was censored in the August 3 release to Leopold. The statement was overlooked after the first release, but the retrospective redaction has brought attention to Bogdan's claim.

In the government's response to Leopold's suit, defending the censorship of portions of Bogdan's unclassified declaration, the government claims the redactions concern "procedures and rationales contained in the declaration [which] constitute sensitive information, the public disclosure of which will threaten the operational security and force protection of the Guantanamo facility."

Indeed, the government goes so far as to claim the recent jail breaks at Abu Ghraib and in Pakistan speak to the dangers of a similar Al Qaeda attack on Guantanamo. While over ten years ago Al Qaeda was allegedly able to pull off the suicide bombing of the USS Cole in the port of Aden, but it is very difficult to see how Al Qeada or anyone could attack or pull off a prison break at Guantanamo.

According to Bogdan, the security has been so tight at the camp that if a detainee had been able to meet with an attorney at Camp 6, such a meeting would be forced to end if the detainee had to go to the bathroom. (The government tried to retrospectively censor this fact, too.)

But that was not the case at Camp Echo, and it's ultimately at Camp Echo where meetings with detainees and their attorneys must take place, according to camp officials. The claims about poor staffing levels are very convenient in pushing all meetings to Camp Echo (a claim that did not pass muster with Judge Lamberth, who said in his ruling that accommodations could be made at Camps 5 and/or 6, and the supposed need for lots of searches ameliorated).

I'd guess the poor staffing argument was not something Guantanamo wished to be public, especially at the same time they are pushing as propaganda the very low probability chance of Al Qaeda somehow invading Guantanamo (as if Guantanamo were somehow located somewhere akin to urban Baghdad).

Camp Echo Set Up for... Eavesdropping

According to Bogdan's declaration:
Camp Echo is specifically set up and designated to facilitate meetings with detainees, including legal visits, in a secure and safe environment. The meeting rooms at Camp Echo are specifically designed for attorney meetings and can accommodate up to five people, including the detainee. For example, Camp Echo meeting rooms have restroom facilities for the detainee, which are not available in the rooms at Camp 6.
But Camp Echo was the focus of a big controversy last Spring, when it was discovered that "smoke detectors" in the attorney-client meeting rooms at Camp Echo were in fact "high-tech audio surveillance and monitoring equipment."

According to a subsequent report by the Center for Policy and Research (CPR) at Seton Hall University School of Law, "Following the public discovery of the listening devices, Army Colonel John Bogdan ordered the use of audio in Echo II to be disconnected, but not dismantled." The rooms in question were the same rooms earlier used by the FBI, CIA and other agencies in the interrogation of the so-called "high-value detainees."

In a meeting on the matter at the military commissions, Bogdan "confirmed that there was one infrared camera mounted on the wall opposite 'from where the detainee would be locked in when there was not a meeting,' and another encased point-tilt-zoom camera mounted in a corner." Moreover, at least one video surveillance camera was so sensitive it was "capable of zooming to read 'very tiny writing' on a document used during an attorney-client discussion."

Can attorneys or detainees trust that such monitoring of privileged meetings isn't still taking place? As CPR pointed out in their report, "written Standard Operating Procedures 'neither permit nor forbid' audio monitoring."

In his declaration, Bogdan said he started to implement the new groin/genital search policy in December 2012. In that same month, according to the CPR report, he authorized an intelligence directorate request for an upgrade of the video surveillance cameras at Camp Echo “from an analog to a digital capacity.” Bogdan's story of what he knew and when about the audio and video surveillance doesn't hold water, but for a detailed examination, check out the Seton Hall report.

In summary, it would appear that DoD is trying to hide its argument about supposed staffing difficulties at Guantanamo -- arguments it surely must make to Congress, by the way -- in order to buttress its claim that the only place detainees can meet with attorneys is at Camp Echo, where, conveniently enough, they have bugged all the meeting rooms. They are holding to their arguments despite the fact a federal judge found them seriously wanting.

DoD believes its ace in the hole is the claim of dangerous attacks from Al Qaeda. It's the same message they are playing in the mainstream press, used to justify more funding for anti-terror programs, the ongoing crackdown on whistleblowers like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, and to hold off any release of prisoners from Guantanamo Bay.

Nothing about DoD's arguments make any sense. The SOUTHCOM report on the death of Adnan Latif, used to justify the groin and genital search policy, is riddled with holes. Moreover, as Jason Leopold, the most consistent reporter challenging DoD's spin on Guantanamo, has noted (see here and here), the entire regime at the Cuban-sited prison appears to be in a near shambles: SOPs not followed, personnel not trained, accountability totally absent.

The onerous search policy at Guantanamo appears to be mostly a clumsy bureaucratic maneuver to blame the detainees at Guantanamo for the mistakes and failures of command. Any military officer or soldier should be ashamed of such an action. The nation should be ashamed. Meanwhile, dozens of detainees at the facility remain on hunger strike, many of them still force-fed, despite the condemnations of national and world health organizations and human rights groups.

Only a full, transparent, and wide-ranging investigation into Guantanamo and other U.S. detention and interrogation sites -- including an investigation of actions at this point under the Obama Administration -- will provide the opportunity of knowing the truth behind all the spin and lies coming out of the Pentagon and CIA.

Cross-posted from The Dissenter/FDL

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