Tuesday, May 30, 2017

10 Yr. Anniversary of Gitmo Detainee's Death, New Documents Show Suicide Improbable

Ten years ago today, Abdul Rahman Al Amri was found dead in Cell 211, B Block, upper tier, at Guantanamo's Camp Delta's Camp 5. The Saudi detainee was found hanging from an improvised rope attached to the air vent just under the ceiling, about nine feet up. Al Amri was 5'5" tall.

Al Amri was found with his hands tied "snugly" behind his back. He had no history of suicide attempts, and was considered a "detainee of interest." He weighed only 125 pounds.

The autopsy tested for the presence of antimalarial drugs, even though there was no malaria at Guantanamo. Al Amri had been a prisoner there for five years. He had never seen an attorney, but new documents I've received show he had papers that supposedly contained attorney-client communications. Those papers have not been released.

But NCIS has released a new trove of documents to me via a years-long FOIA request. I will be soon posting those publicly, as well as updating my analysis of those documents in my book, Cover-up at Guantanamo.

The new documents confirm what I already suspected, that Al Amri did not die a suicide. In fact, the prisoner, subject to checks every three minutes, and with his room bugged, if not under video surveillance, would have taken a long time to create and set-up his suicide apparatus, according to the NCIS investigator who examined the death scene.

As this investigator wrote, noting the complex fashion in which the rope was attached to the air vent:
The attachment of the cloth to this grate would have been time consuming as the cloth appeared to have been weaved through ten holes to assure that it would support a weighted object. It was difficult to ascertain how the cloth attachment was facilitated through gross scene examination. A request was made of this facility to have the grate removed for further inspection and study. The height of the grate on the wall was at a location in which the weaving necessary to attach the cloth to the grate would have been challenging for a shorter detainee. (Note: the detainee had been measured at a height of 66" at the time of the autopsy examination [5' 5" tall].) Standing on the nearby toilet or sink would allow this access but it would put the person at an angle in which further support would have been required through balancing with a hand or upper body.... There was no indication of recent use of the sink or toilet to climb as dust was found on the top surface of both the sink and toilet....
There will be much more to say about this and other new facts about Al Amri's death in the coming weeks. But it is not too late to remember his death, and the fact that his death and others at Guantanamo have never been independently investigated. I believe that when I explain all that is to be revealed about Al Amri's death, calls for a new investigation should be made.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Department of Justice Official Releases Letter Admitting U.S. Amnesty of Japan’s Unit 731 War Criminals

[The following is a portion of an article published initially at Medium.com. The length of the article (over 7000 words) precludes my reposting the full essay here. But approximately half is posted below. Please follow this link to read the entire work.]

Upon my request, both the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Simon Wiesenthal Center have released copies of a December 1998 letter from DOJ official Eli Rosenbaum to Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. In the letter, Rosenbaum admitted to Cooper that after World War II the United States government had classified records pertaining to a Japanese military unit that engaged in biological warfare experimentation and field trials on humans.

The letter, one of two released to this author, confirmed the U.S. "essentially assisted Japan in covering up the atrocities perpetrated by the unit.”

In 1998, Rosenbaum was director of DOJ’s Office of Special Investigations (OSI), while Rabbi Cooper was associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center. The occasion for the correspondence was the Wiesenthal Center’s sponsorship of a “Trans-Pacific Video-Conference on Japanese Wartime Atrocities,” held at the Center’s own Museum of Tolerance on August 16, 1998.[1]

Reported briefly in the press at the time [2], Rosenbaum’s letter of December 17, 1998 ended any doubts that the U.S. government had given scientists and military personnel associated with the notorious Japanese biological warfare program of the 1930s-1940s “immunity [from prosecution at the International Military Tribunal, Far East] in return for their human experimentation research data.”[3]

This appears to have been the first time that any U.S. government official admitted publicly and officially that the U.S. had proposed an amnesty for the members of Japan’s Unit 731 and assorted components, known to have murdered thousands of prisoners in illegal biological experiments, and hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians in biological warfare operations predominantly in China, but also the Soviet Union, from 1939 until nearly the end of World War II.

While Rosenbaum’s letter was quoted in the press, and in a 2002 Congressional Research Service report, the letter itself, and a November 1998 letter to Cooper also on the subject of Japan’s war crimes, were never released publicly. These letters are now available with the publication of this article, along with supporting documentation that until now was also not available.

This article looks at some of the salient issues in regards to aspects of these new documents, including the motivation for the U.S. amnesty action, the question of experimentation on U.S. and allied prisoners of war (and its possible cover-up), and the question of assigning culpability to those involved. The article concludes with remarks on these matters by both Rosenbaum and Cooper, who were interviewed for this article in Spring 2013. (The delay in publishing this information was occasioned by personal matters.)

Unit 731

Beginning with John Powell’s 1980 article, “Japan’s Germ Warfare: The US Coverup of a War Crime,” and a subsequent article in the October 1981 Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, “A Hidden Chapter in History”, revelations concerning long-hidden or suppressed aspects of Japanese war crimes began to surface in the U.S. and Western press. Powell shocked the American public by writing about and producing documentary evidence of a cover-up of “Japan’s use of biological warfare against China and the Soviet Union.”[4]

The primary Japanese military unit associated with the biological warfare research and production of weaponry was known as Unit 731, although there were a number of other military units also involved. Powell (1981) wrote, “The American government’s participation in the cover-up, it is now disclosed, stemmed from Washington’s desire to secure exclusive possession of Japan’s expertise in using germs as lethal weapons.”

The original promise of amnesty for information was made after a discussion some months after the end of World War II between the Ft. Detrick’s Colonel Murray Sanders and General Douglas MacArthur, according to numerous accounts of Unit 731’s history. The finalization of such a deal, however, took a few years, and was not without controversy within government circles.

Powell (1980) quoted a July 1, 1947 memo from two U.S. doctors associated with bacteriological research that Japanese researchers had thousands of slides of human tissues taken from their experiments on prisoners. The slides and reports from the Unit 731 researchers were available if the U.S. could provide assurances the Japanese doctors and scientists would be saved from war crimes prosecution. The two doctors, Edward Wetter and H. I. Stubblefield argued that since "any 'war crimes' trial would completely reveal such data to all nations, it is felt that such publicity must be avoided in the interests of defense and national security of the U.S."

The vagueness of the language – “it is felt” – appears to indicate their message was something discussed comprehensively in their circle, in particular by scientists from the Army’s Ft. Detrick, which was the center of a major crash program in biological warfare research begun during the war, and intelligence officers.[5]  Ft. Detrick personnel had been in charge of the debriefing of the Unit 731 doctors and scientists, while various documents speak to the sharing of such information with intelligence agencies.

According to Powell, Wetter and Stubblefield furthermore indicated “the knowledge gained by the Japanese from their experiments ‘will be of great value to the U.S. BW research program’ and added: ‘The value to the U.S. of Japanese BW data is of such importance to national security as to far outweigh the value accruing from war crimes prosecution.’”

The furor over Powell’s revelations peaked in the mid-1980s with public controversies over Japanese biological warfare (BW) experiments on U.S. and allied prisoners of wars. Congressional investigators ignored evidence of such experiments on U.S. POWs. It wasn’t until the publication of Linda Goetz Holmes’s book, Guests of the Emperor: The Secret History of Japan's Mukden POW Camp (Naval Institute Press, June 2010) that any mainstream historian accepted such experiments even took place. The entire episode is still ignored in the press accounts of World War II history.

Subsequently, the scandal around Unit 731 appeared to die down publicly, until it was revived approximately a decade later. In 1995, there were two major narratives published on Unit 731 and the U.S. immunity deal. One was an article by Nicolas Kristof in the New York Times. The other was historian Sheldon Harris’s book, Factories of Death: Japanese Biological Warfare, 1932-45, and the American Cover-up.[6]  The publication and controversy surrounding the publication of Iris Chang’s book, The Rape of Nanking, in November 1997, also brought greater attention to the issue of Japanese atrocities during World War II.

Amnesty to Protect Collaboration and to Protect U.S. Biowar “Expertise”

The supporting documentation for this article includes two memoranda for the record from the early 1980s by Norman Covert, then Chief of Public Affairs and historian for the U.S. Army at Ft. Detrick, Maryland. Rosenbaum’s December 17 letter had quoted liberally from the latter of these two memoranda.[7]  While it is worth considering the portions Rosenbaum did not quote, the selection revealed to Rabbi Cooper, taken from Covert’s May 5, 1982 Memorandum for the Record, explained the U.S. rationale for the Unit 731 amnesty:
The Joint Chiefs of Staff decided to keep Top Secret any information about the Japanese Biological Warfare Program. The Joint State, War, Navy Coordinating Committee expressed its desire that the information be retained in US hands exclusively and certainly it should be kept from the Soviet Union....

In the [June 26, 1947] memorandum written by Dr. Edward Wetter and Mr. H. I. Stubblefield[8] for the State, War, Navy Coordinating Committee for the Far East, the decision not to prosecute LTG [Lieutenant General Shiro] Ishii [founder and leader of Unit 731 and the biological warfare program] was discussed. “An agreement with Ishii and his associates that information given by them on the Japanese BW program will be retained in intelligence channels is equivalent to an agreement that this government will not prosecute any of those involved in BW activities in which war crimes were committed.”

.... Scientists in the US program said the information was not of significant value, but it was the first data in which human subjects were described. It indicated the Japanese program reached a level of expertise in 1939 that was never advanced because of lack of resources. Any prosecution of LTG Ishii and his associates would have exposed the Japanese capability in addition to US expertise. It would have been difficult to retain such information in US-only hands in such a case. The Joint Chiefs of Staff and SCAP [Supreme Command Allied Powers] agreed there would be little gained by such prosecution and deferred, offering LTG Ishii immunity in exchange for detailed information. [bold added for emphasis]
The Covert memorandum was certainly a kind of spin, although Mr. Covert himself may not have been aware of the full extent of U.S. crimes. Even so, he admitted to this author in an interview for this article that at the time he wrote the memos he was concerned mainly with “protecting Ft. Detrick[‘s]” reputation. The May 5 memo, and an earlier one Covert wrote on November 17, 1981, were a response to media attention following the Powell disclosures. The November 17 memo was undertaken as a rewrite of the May 5 memo for the purpose of submission to the Secretary of the Army.

“News media was beating me to death on that,” Covert said, referring to the strong response to the Powell articles. “The Memorandum for the Record was to cover your ass, a record of what I had done.”

Covert added there had also been “several legislative requests” for more information on the Unit 731 material as well. He also recalled that the Department of Justice had also contacted him on one occasion during this period, although he did not remember the details. Rosenbaum indicated in his interview that DOJ had likely been involved in some capacity in the postwar discussions surrounding the granting of amnesty to Ishii and associates.

The question of the value of the Japanese data and biological samples is a matter of conjecture, while the controversy over the use of such data (and similar data from the Nazi concentration camp experiments), including use of operational knowledge in purported U.S. germ warfare attacks on North Korea and China during the Korean War, is a separate, though related issue.[9]  At one point, Covert said U.S. scientists found the Japanese research “not of significant value.” He appeared to have gotten this information from speaking to Ft. Detrick scientists still resident in the Frederick, Virginia area. In addition, Covert appeared to give little credence to evidence that came from Soviet sources.

But elsewhere, writing about Ft. Detrick representative Dr. Norbert Fell's interrogation of Shiro Ishii, Covert wrote in his November 17, 1981 memo, "The data on human testing appeared to have significant value to the U.S. BW Research programs at Camp Detrick." Some months later, in his May 5, 1982 memo, Covert concluded, “It is certain the Japanese had a full-scale BW effort and achieved a level of expertise working with many traditional BW agents.”

A later report by Doctors Edwin Hill and Joseph Victor, also from Ft. Detrick, was quite direct when considering the value of getting the Unit 731 data. “Such information could not be obtained in our own laboratories because of scruples attached to human experimentation,” they wrote.[10]

To conclude the discussion on the value of Unit 731’s data, it is worth noting a May 1947 memo from MacArthur’s office to the War Department and Major General Alden Wiatt of the Chemical Warfare Service on the BW human experiments, “confirmed tacitly by Ishii” to interrogators. The memo was obtained by author William Triplett, and also describes the intersection of the amnesty agreement with unnamed intelligence agencies:

"Data already obtained from Ishii and his colleagues have proven to be of great value in confirming, supplementing and completing several phases of U.S. research in BW, and may suggest new fields for future research.... For all practical purposes an agreement with Ishii and his associates that information given by them on the Japanese BW program will be retained in intelligence channels is equivalent to an agreement that this Government will not prosecute any of those involved in BW activities in which war crimes were committed."[11]

MacArthur’s command told the War Department, “valuable technical BW information as to results of human experiments and research in BW for crop destruction probably can be obtained….”

Ft. Detrick’s Norbert Fell resumed interrogations of Shiro Ishii two days after this memo was sent....

[To see the rest of this article, click through to read at Medium.com - Relevant footnotes for portion published here are posted below - JK]

[1] China News Daily, Aug. 14, 1998, http://www.cnd.org/CND-US/CND-US.98/CND-US.98-08-14.html. CNET reported on the conference at the time: URL http://news.cnet.com/2100-1023-214541.html. See also the original announcement of the event by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, archived online at http://web.archive.org/web/19981203135255/http://events.broadcast.com/events/swc/nanjingmassacre/ (all accessed May 14, 2017).

[2] See Stars and Stripes, week of March 15 – 28, 1999, vol. 122, no. 6, reposted online at http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Plains/5850/deathcamp.html (accessed May 14, 2017).

Reference was also made in a Congressional Research Service report by Gary K. Reynolds in December 2002, “U.S. Prisoners of War and Civilian American Citizens Captured and Interned by Japan in World War II: the Issue of Compensation by Japan,” online at http://web.archive.org/web/20080406073324/http://www.history.navy.mil/library/online/usprisoners_japancomp.htm (accessed May 14, 2017).

[3] Letter, Eli Rosenbaum to Abraham Cooper, December 17, 1998.

[4] Powell’s 1980 article was published in the Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars, “Japan’s Germ Warfare: The US Coverup of a War Crime” (Oct.-Dec. 1980, vol. 12, no. 4.) See URL: http://criticalasianstudies.org/assets/files/bcas/v12n04.pdf (accessed May 14, 2017).

Powell’s 1981 article is available online, reproduced as part of the Congressional Record on November 10, 1999, http://www.fas.org/sgp/news/1999/11/feinstein.html (accessed May 14, 2017) Powell died in Dec. 2008.

In the middle 1970s, John Saar at the Washington Post wrote a story, “Japan Accused of WW II Germ Deaths” (Nov. 19, 1976), that described a Japanese documentary by Haruko Yoshinaga, aired by the Tokyo Broadcasting System on Unit 731. “Japanese scientists killed at least 3,000 Chinese prisoners in World War II in bacteriological warfare experiments and escaped prosecution by sharing the findings with US occupation forces…. Press officers at the US Defense and Justice Departments said they had no information on the charges but would investigate,” Saar wrote. (See URL: http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1499&dat=19761119&id=5E0aAAAAIBAJ&sjid=XCkEAAAAIBAJ&pg=6053,6138361 - accessed May 14, 2017) But no one in the Western press pursued the story further until Powell published his first article four years later.

The impact of Powell’s expose can be gauged by the fact that 60 Minutes interviewed Powell for an on-air segment, “War Crime,” on April 4, 1982. The transcript for this episode is available beginning on pg. 352 in this large PDF file online: URL http://philippine-defenders.lib.wv.us/pdf/bios/sandy_and_search_for_truth.pdf.

Morley Safer narrated: "During World War II, the Japanese military experimented with germ warfare. Their guinea pigs were Chinese, Russian and American prisoners of war. For a variety of reasons, the American government kept it all a secret."

[5] The U.S. World War II program in both chemical and biological warfare is discussed in Robert Harris and Jeremy Paxman, A Higher Form of Killing: The Secret History of Chemical and Biological Warfare, Random House, 2002.

[6] Nicolas D. Kristof, “Unmasking Horror -- A special report. Japan Confronting Gruesome War Atrocity,” New York Times, March 17, 1995, URL: http://www.nytimes.com/1995/03/17/world/unmasking-horror-a-special-report-japan-confronting-gruesome-war-atrocity.html (accessed May 14, 2017).

Routledge published an expanded, revised version of Factories of Death in 2002. Harris died a few months later.

[7] My thanks to Mr. Norman Covert for sharing certain documents. The attempt to obtain the documents through official channels is a story in itself. A DoD spokesman had referred my query to Fort Detrick. Ft. Detrick’s FOIA office referred me to the National Archives. But the documents did not apparently exist there either. They may or may not constitute documents that Mr. Covert claims were destroyed by order of Ft. Detrick’s commanding officer in 1998.

[8] “Mr. H. I. Stubblefield” was in fact Dr. Henry I. Stubblefield, a bacteriologist who we know, at least in 1954, was on the Chemical Corps Advisory Council, according to an in-house history of Ft. Detrick written by Norman Covert. See URL: http://www.detrick.army.mil/cutting_edge/chapter09.cfm. Coincidentally, along with two other researchers, he had co-authored with Andrew C. Ivy an article in 1934, “Protective Action of Sodium Thiocyanate against Dysentery Toxin (Shiga): An Experimental Study in Dogs and Rabbits.” Ivy was later to be a major figure testifying on medical ethics at the Nuremberg trials.

According to Powell (1980), Dr. Wetter was at the time of the SWNCC memo “Panel Director” of the “Committee on Biological Warfare.” Powell does not say, but it appears likely this was the secret “DEF” committee, the third of three secret committees formed during the World War II years by the National Academy of Sciences and National Research Council. See URL: http://www.nasonline.org/about-nas/history/archives/collections/cbw-1941-1948.html (accessed May 14, 2017). Wetter later went to work as a civilian employee for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Development (http://www.archive.org/stream/officialregister1955unit/officialregister1955unit_djvu.txt). According to the 1955 Official Register of the United States, p. 114, Wetter worked in this office as “Executive Secretary, Committee and Panel on Special Operations.”

[9] See Till Bärnighausen, “Data generated in Japan’s biowarfare experiments on human victims in China, 1932–1945, and the ethics of using them,” Japan's Wartime Medical Atrocities: Comparative Inquiries in Science, History, and Ethics, Taylor and Francis, 2010.

On the Korean War allegations, see Stephen Endicott & Edward Hagerman, The United States and Biological Warfare: Secrets from the Early Cold War and Korea, Indiana University Press, 1998.

[10] Op. cit., Bärnighausen, p. 97.

[11] See William Triplett, Flowering of the Bamboo, Woodbine House, 1985, pp. 241-250.

[To see the rest of this article, click through to read at Medium.com]

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