“Dry Language, Dry Bones”

by matttbastard

Tom Hayden:

Antiseptic language is sometimes necessary in journalism and law to make objective evaluations. But it also can suppress moral and emotional responses to suffering and serve as a sedative in managing public opinion. Riveting stories of torture dungeons don’t rate much in the media in comparison to domestic violence between white Americans. For instance, clear evidence that Sunni children were being murdered by the Shi’a captors, persuasive to a top US military investigator, made it into the Salt Lake Tribune, but not much further. The US Judge Advocate happened to be from Utah, making it a local story.

Counterinsurgency often is framed as winning hearts and minds, not as crushing the alleged insurgents to protect the civilian population. In South Vietnam, that led to “strategic hamlets” and the Phoenix program. In Central America, it was death squads who killed priests, nuns and thousands of civilians. In both cases, American and world opinion was shocked.

In the case of Iraq, there is silence in the West.

h/t Nell in comments @ ObWi

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More Cobblestones on the Road to Hell

by matttbastard

Here in the Great White North, accountability is out and banality is in as The Nuremberg Defence seems to be enjoying a resurgence in respectability.

CBC News:

The actions of Canadian officials contributed indirectly to the torture of three Arab-Canadian men in Syria, a federal inquiry has concluded.

“I found no evidence that any of these officials were seeking to do anything other than carry out conscientiously the duties and responsibilities of the institutions of which they were a part,” former Supreme Court of Canada justice Frank Iacobucci concluded in his report, made public Tuesday, 22 months after the inquiry began.

The probe focused on whether the detentions of Abdullah Almalki, Muayyed Nureddin and Ahmad El Maati resulted from the actions of CSIS, the RCMP and the department of Foreign Affairs and whether Canadian consular officials acted appropriately in the cases.

“It is neither necessary nor appropriate that I make findings concerning the actions of any individual Canadian official, and I have not done so,” Iacobucci wrote.

More from The Toronto Star:

The Iacobucci report concludes that all three men were detained and suffered mistreatment that amounted to torture as defined in the United Nations convention banning torture.

El Maati, Almalki and Nureddin were, separately, detained and imprisoned in 2001, 2002, and 2003 respectively while travelling in Syria.

All were interrogated and, Iacobucci concluded, tortured at the same Syrian military prison as Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian who was deported by U.S. authorities to Syria.

El Maati was also sent to Egypt where Iacobucci accepts he underwent further torture.

The men claimed their interrogators relied on information that could only have been gleaned from Canadian authorities, and that Canadian security and police agencies were complicit in their mistreatment.

But Iacobucci stops well short of indicting the Canadian officials for complicity.

And what do the Little Eichmanns in Canada’s New Government™ have to say about the matter?

Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day declined to apologize, telling reporters, “This government can’t take responsibility for processes in place under a previous government.”

He claimed the procedures and “deficiencies” identified in this and the previous Arar inquiry have been “vastly improved,” and suggested that if the reforms his government had made were in place at the time, the incidents might not have occurred.

But Day did not single out any agency or officials for blame. He pointed to the Iacobucci report which said people were carrying out “conscientiously” the duties of their institutions.

“It’s more a case of good people acting with deficient procedures and deficient policies.”

“Justice, truth, the value of a single human being”? Pfft–go back to your September 10th fantasy world, Haywood, and tell it to Jean and Paul. Partisanship über alles.

Related: Almalki, Nureddin and El Maati discuss how their lives have been upended by their horrific experiences, along with the sense of betrayal felt thanks to the (indirect!) actions of Canadian government officials; Amnesty International Canada condemns the inquiry, warning that the probe “extended secrecy to everything, not just the national security concerns” and, as a result, “[excluded] the suspects and public from the proceedings in their entirety“. The 544 page public (read: heavily redacted) version of the Iacobucci whitewash report is available here (PDF)

Update: More from Alison @ The Beav

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Judge Orders Release of Unlawfully Held Uighur Prisoners

by matttbastard

Well, it’s about goddamn time:

In a dramatic setback for the Bush administration, a federal judge ordered the U.S. government Tuesday to immediately transfer to the U.S. and release 17 Chinese-born Muslims detained for seven years at Guantanamo.

Reading his decision from the bench, Judge Ricardo Urbina declared the continued detention of the group from the ethnic Uighur minority to be “unlawful” and ordered the government to transfer the detainees to the U.S. by Friday.

The decision marked the first time a court has ordered the release of Guantanamo detainees into the U.S.

[…]

Dozens of members of a Uighur-American organization attending the hearing reacted to his words with applause.

“The American system has given us justice,” said Rebia Kadeer, president of the World Uighur Congress.

While I am relieved that the Uighur prisoners have finally been released, I have little confidence that the Bush admin will, for once, heed Judge Urbina’s warning “not to attempt to circumvent [the Uighur’s] release once they arrive in the U.S. by detaining them on immigration holds.” Using the past 8 long years as a benchmark, it seems the one thing you can always count on from the Bush/Cheney White House is a demonstrative, at times spiteful, contempt for the rule of law. According to a Bloomberg News report on the ruling, the Bush admin claimed “it has wartime authority to hold the men indefinitely even if they aren’t enemy combatants [emph. mine].”

Indeed, as noted by Matt Corley of Think Progress, “NBC News Justice Correspondent Pete Williams reports that the Bush administration doesn’t want the detainees coming to the U.S. because “that sets a legal precedent.””

Williams:

[T]his is a big deal because for the first time in the six plus years that Guantanamo Bay has been a detainee center for enemy combatants picked up overseas a federal judge has ordered that some of them should be released and released into the U.S., a step that the Justice Department and the Bush administration have continually opposed.

[…]

And you know, that does raise a larger question about Guantanamo Bay because as the U.S. tries to get other countries around the world to accept some of the detainees that the U.S. itself believes should no longer be held there. Many of those countries are saying, “hey, you set up Guantanamo Bay, you, you know, you should take some of them too.” So this is a very key issue in the history of Guantanamo Bay.

According to Bloomberg News, there are “an estimated 225 detainees still at Guantanamo Bay,” none of whom, it’s safe to say, the Bush admin would want seeking sanctuary in the US (and, potentially, speaking to US media outlets about what happened to them during their Gitmo tenure.)  I find it hard to imagine we’ll see a humble concession to this court-ordered check on executive authority, based on, as skdadl puts it, “the continuing perversity of the Bush administration in its insistence before the courts that the president’s political decisions about justice trump the powers of the judiciary”.  Still, one can’t help but hope that, finally, some small inkling of justice has been achieved for these 17 victims of imperial hubris and willful indifference.

Related: Background on the illegally detained Uighur prisoners from Hilzoy, The Washington Post (h/t skdadl), Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch, David Bario, and Justin Rood, who cites a Justice Department report (PDF) that claims “U.S. military personnel at Guantanamo Bay allegedly softened up [the] detainees at the request of Chinese intelligence officials who had come to the island facility to interrogate the men — or they allowed the Chinese to dole out the treatment themselves”.  The Center for Constitutional Rights has more on foreign interrogators at Guantanamo.

Also see this recent HRW report on remaining Guantanamo prisoners, Locked up Alone: Detention Conditions and Mental Health at Guantanamo.

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You Keep Using That Word…

by matttbastard

The NY Times reports today that, after some delay while US officials tried to, as reported this past January in the NYT, ““transition out” of the Bagram detention center”, the US will be building a new all-but-permanent detention facility in Afghanistan:

The proposed detention center would replace the cavernous, makeshift American prison on the Bagram military base north of Kabul, which is now typically packed with about 630 prisoners, compared with the 270 held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

(Yes, that Bagram military base.)

Military officials have long been aware of serious problems [*cough*] with the existing detention center in Afghanistan, the Bagram Theater Internment Facility. After the prison was set up in early 2002, it became a primary site for screening prisoners captured in the fighting. Harsh interrogation methods and sleep deprivation were used widely, and two Afghan detainees died there in December 2002, after being repeatedly struck by American soldiers.

Yep, nothing says “corporate em ess em” quite like anodyne euphemisms and amoral utilization of the passive voice. “Harsh interrogation techniques and sleep deprevation.” Oh, and, out of the blue, those two detainees coincidently just happened to die.

After being “repeatedly struck”.

By American soldiers.

Correlation != causation, natch.

Conditions and treatment have improved markedly since then, but hundreds of Afghans and other men are still held in wire-mesh pens surrounded by coils of razor wire. There are only minimal areas for the prisoners to exercise, and kitchen, shower and bathroom space is also inadequate.

Hmm, the International Committee of the Red Cross wasn’t exactly brimming with praise this past January regarding the “marked improvement” in conditions and treatment at Bagram. Some folks are just never satisfied. But, hey, at least the US took the constructive criticism to heart.

Faced with that, American officials said they wanted to replace the Bagram prison, a converted aircraft hangar that still holds some of the decrepit aircraft-repair machinery left by the Soviet troops who occupied the country in the 1980s. In its place the United States will build what officials described as a more modern and humane detention center that would usually accommodate about 600 detainees — or as many as 1,100 in a surge — and cost more than $60 million.

“Our existing theater internment facility is deteriorating,” said Sandra L. Hodgkinson, the senior Pentagon official for detention policy, in a telephone interview. “It was renovated to do a temporary mission. There is a sense that this is the right time to build a new facility.”

American officials also acknowledged that there are serious health risks to detainees and American military personnel who work at the Bagram prison, because of their exposure to heavy metals from the aircraft-repair machinery and asbestos.

“It’s just not suitable,” another Pentagon official said. “At some point, you have to say, ‘That’s it. This place was not made to keep people there indefinitely.’ ”

Yes, so, the answer then is, obviously, to build a *ahem* more “humane” facility designed to, um, keep people there indefinitely:

The Pentagon is planning to use $60 million in emergency construction funds this fiscal year to build a complex of 6 to 10 semi-permanent structures resembling Quonset huts, each the size of a football field, a Defense Department official said. The structures will have more natural light, and each will have its own recreation area. There will be a half-dozen other buildings for administration, medical care and other purposes, the official said.

A luxury resort! It appears that the Pentagon is finally going to import the “beautiful, sunny Guantanamo Bay” experience to Central Asia. With a few bargain discounts, that is:

Military personnel who know both Bagram and Guantánamo describe the Afghan site, 40 miles north of Kabul, as far more spartan. Bagram prisoners have fewer privileges, less ability to contest their detention and no access to lawyers.

Some detainees have been held without charge for more than five years, officials said. As of April, about 10 juveniles were being held at Bagram, according to a recent American report to a United Nations committee.

Apparently designating a detention facility as “humane” doesn’t preclude the acknowledgment of basic human rights. A 2007 report published by The New Republic provides more details on the legal limbo detainees in Bagram find themselves in:

Prisoners don’t even have the limited access to lawyers available to prisoners in Guantánamo. Nor do they have the right to Combatant Status Review Tribunals, which Guantánamo detainees won in the 2004 Supreme Court ruling in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld. Instead, if a combat commander chooses, he can convene an Enemy Combatant Review Board (ECRB), at which the detainee has no right to a personal advocate, no chance to speak in his own defense, and no opportunity to review the evidence against him. The detainee isn’t even allowed to attend. And, thanks to such limited access to justice, many former detainees say they have no idea why they were either detained or released.

DJ rewind:

“It’s just not suitable,” another Pentagon official said. “At some point, you have to say, ‘That’s it. This place was not made to keep people there indefinitely.’ ”

Well, at least they’ve seen fit to–ahem–humanely remedy that particular problem.

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On Jack Bauer and US Interrogation Policy

by matttbastard

I know this has already been revealed by Philippe Sands in the April May issue of Vanity Fair. However, after reading this excerpt from Sands’ upcoming book, Torture Team: Deception, Cruelty And The Compromise Of Law, I still can’t fathom the callous indifference of the sick fucking bastards who drew up the blueprints for US torture policy:

[Major General Michael E Dunlavey, former head of military interrogations at Guantánamo] told me that at the end of September a group of the most senior Washington lawyers visited Guantánamo, including David Addington, the vice president’s lawyer, Gonzales and Haynes. “They brought ideas with them which had been given from sources in DC.” When the new techniques were more or less finalised, Dunlavey needed them to be approved by Lieutenant Colonel Diane Beaver, his staff judge advocate in Guantánamo. “We had talked and talked, brainstormed, then we drew up a list,” he said. The list was passed on to Diane Beaver.”

[…]

Beaver told me she arrived in Guantánamo in June 2002. In September that year there was a series of brainstorming meetings, some of which were led by Beaver, to gather possible new interrogation techniques. Ideas came from all over the place, she said. Discussion was wide-ranging. Beaver mentioned one source that I didn’t immediately follow up with her: “24 – Jack Bauer.”

It was only when I got home that I realised she was referring to the main character in Fox’s hugely popular TV series, 24. Bauer is a fictitious member of the Counter Terrorism Unit in LA who helped to prevent many terror attacks on the US; for him, torture and even killing are justifiable means to achieve the desired result. Just about every episode had a torture scene in which aggressive techniques of interrogations were used to obtain information.

Jack Bauer had many friends at Guantánamo Bay, Beaver said, “he gave people lots of ideas.” She believed the series contributed to an environment in which those at Guantánamo were encouraged to see themselves as being on the frontline – and to go further than they otherwise might.

Under Beaver’s guidance, a list of ideas slowly emerged. Potential techniques included taking the detainees out of their usual environment, so they didn’t know where they were or where they were going; the use of hoods and goggles; the use of sexual tension, which was “culturally taboo, disrespectful, humiliating and potentially unexpected”; creating psychological drama. Beaver recalled that smothering was thought to be particularly effective, and that Dunlavey, who’d been in Vietnam, was in favour because he knew it worked.

The younger men would get particularly agitated, excited even: “You could almost see their dicks getting hard as they got new ideas.” A wan smile crossed Beaver’s face. “And I said to myself, you know what, I don’t have a dick to get hard. I can stay detached.”

Beaver confirmed what Dunlavey had told me, that a delegation of senior lawyers came down to Guantánamo well before the list of techniques was sent up to Washington. They talked to the intelligence people, they even watched some interrogations. The message from the visitors was that they should do “whatever needed to be done”, meaning a green light from the very top – from the lawyers for Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the CIA.

“Jack Bauer had many friends at Guantánamo Bay, Beaver said, “he gave people lots of ideas. “”

“You could almost see their dicks getting hard as they got new ideas.”

“[W]hatever needed to be done”.

International law and years of precedent, casually tossed under the post-9/11 bus by junior sadists (after being given the “green light from the very top”) obsessed with a fictional fucking TV show; words fail me.

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Quote of the Day: Redefining What’s Possible

by matttbastard

One of the great dangers of the Bush administration is that it will permanently alter our sense of what is possible or acceptable. You can see an analog of this when people say things like: Bush won’t be able to do X, or: he will have to do Y, where these statements do not refer to physical necessity or impossibility. (E.g., if memory serves, when the surge began, some Republicans said: if it doesn’t work, Bush will have to withdraw.) The sense in which people who say such things think that Bush “has to” or “can’t” do something or other is just that there are certain things we do not believe that any President would do, and others we think he must do. There are lines we assume he would never cross.

But this administration does not recognize the existence of any such lines. They do not “have to” withdraw just because none of their plans have worked, the army is breaking, and the war has next to no popular support. They would “have to” withdraw only if someone put a gun to their collective heads and forced them to. They do not “have to” obey the law or the Constitution: they will only if they are literally compelled to. Likewise, they do not “have to” respect even the most basic principles of decency and humanity, even when obligated to do so by US law and treaties we have signed, which are, according to the Constitution, the law of the land. Neither moral suasion nor legal obligation seem to matter to them. The only sense in which they “have to” do anything is the sense involving physical necessity.

[…]

The Bush administration threatens us with the catastrophe of losing our sense that there are things the government cannot do every time they do one of those things. I never, ever want to go along with their redefinition of what is possible, which is why I refuse to stop being outraged when something like this happens.

– Hilzoy, Approving Torture: Better Late Than Never?

Related: Scott Horton on “The Torture Team”; Philippe Sands examines “how the torture at Guantánamo began, and how it spread”; Philip Gourevitch and Errol Morris profile Sabrina Harman, “[t]he woman behind the camera at Abu Ghraib”; Jeremy Waldon reviews Cass Sunstein’s Worst Case Scenarios; and David Bromwich looks at “Euphemism and American Violence”.

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Quote of the Day: Make Their Ears Bleed

by matttbastard

Enough of this bullshit and enough of keeping the eye off the prize. Worrying about the election is shit at the moment; it will happen regardless, and even if a Democrat wins, we’re going to have to worry about restoring credibility in government. This utter bullshit about democracy and freedom in the middle east has got to fucking stop until we address the sheer blasphemy that was done in the name of our supposedly moral country.

Keep screaming it until their damn ears bleed: Bush and his cabinet approved torture.

– Space Cowboy, Scream It from the Highest Mountain: “DO SOMETHING!

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‘A green light from the very top.’

by matttbastard

“After a short while, gentlemen, we shall all meet again. Such is the fate of all men.” It was as though in those last minutes he was summing up the lessons that this long course in human wickedness had taught us — the lesson of the fearsome, word-and-thought-defying banality of evil.

– Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem

More from Marty Lederman on the so-called March 14th memo.

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‘Top Down Quality Control’

by matttbastard

From the ACLU:

Mehboob Ahmad is a 35-year-old citizen of Afghanistan. Ahmad was detained by U.S. military for approximately five months from June to November 2003. He was held at various locations in Afghanistan, including the Gardez firebase and the Bagram Air Base. During his detention, Ahmad was tortured and subjected to otherwise cruel and degrading treatment by U.S. military personnel.

More than a year since his release, Ahmad still suffers from leg pain and sometimes cannot move his limbs when he awakes, as a result of the physical abuse and torture he suffered while in U.S. custody. Painful techniques used on Ahmad included hanging him upside-down from the ceiling with a chain, and repeatedly pushing and kicking him while he knelt on a wooden pole with his hands chained to the ceiling.

Ahmad was also sexually and psychologically traumatized by U.S. military personnel. He was forced to strip and stay naked for long periods of time, was probed anally and was threatened with a snarling and barking dog at close range. Interrogators taunted Ahmad by directing insults at his mother and sister and implying that soldiers would rape his wife. He was also threatened with transport to Guantánamo.

Like other detainees, Ahmad was subjected to extreme sensory deprivation and isolation. He was forced to wear sound-blocking earphones; he was forced to wear black, opaque goggles almost continuously for more than a month, and was not allowed to speak with other detainees for the five months that he was in custody.

FlashbackJane Mayer on the CIA’s secret interrogation program:

As the C.I.A. captured and interrogated other Al Qaeda figures, it established a protocol of psychological coercion. The program tied together many strands of the agency’s secret history of Cold War-era experiments in behavioral science. (In June, the C.I.A. declassified long-held secret documents known as the Family Jewels, which shed light on C.I.A. drug experiments on rats and monkeys, and on the infamous case of Frank R. Olson, an agency employee who leaped to his death from a hotel window in 1953, nine days after he was unwittingly drugged with LSD.) The C.I.A.’s most useful research focussed on the surprisingly powerful effects of psychological manipulations, such as extreme sensory deprivation. According to Alfred McCoy, a history professor at the University of Wisconsin, in Madison, who has written a history of the C.I.A.’s experiments in coercing subjects, the agency learned that “if subjects are confined without light, odors, sound, or any fixed references of time and place, very deep breakdowns can be provoked.”

Agency scientists found that in just a few hours some subjects suspended in water tanks—or confined in isolated rooms wearing blacked-out goggles and earmuffs—regressed to semi-psychotic states. Moreover, McCoy said, detainees become so desperate for human interaction that “they bond with the interrogator like a father, or like a drowning man having a lifesaver thrown at him. If you deprive people of all their senses, they’ll turn to you like their daddy.” McCoy added that “after the Cold War we put away those tools. There was bipartisan reform. We backed away from those dark days. Then, under the pressure of the war on terror, they didn’t just bring back the old psychological techniques—they perfected them.”

The C.I.A.’s interrogation program is remarkable for its mechanistic aura. “It’s one of the most sophisticated, refined programs of torture ever,” an outside expert familiar with the protocol said. “At every stage, there was a rigid attention to detail. Procedure was adhered to almost to the letter. There was top-down quality control, and such a set routine that you get to the point where you know what each detainee is going to say, because you’ve heard it before. It was almost automated. People were utterly dehumanized. People fell apart. It was the intentional and systematic infliction of great suffering masquerading as a legal process. It is just chilling.”

[…]

Among the few C.I.A. officials who knew the details of the detention and interrogation program, there was a tense debate about where to draw the line in terms of treatment. John Brennan, [former CIA director George] Tenet’s former chief of staff, said, “It all comes down to individual moral barometers.” Waterboarding, in particular, troubled many officials, from both a moral and a legal perspective. Until 2002, when Bush Administration lawyers asserted that waterboarding was a permissible interrogation technique for “enemy combatants,” it was classified as a form of torture, and treated as a serious criminal offense. American soldiers were court-martialled for waterboarding captives as recently as the Vietnam War.

Yeah, but will any of it lead to organ failure? Survey says: “We do not torture.”

Related: Frontline on “The Torture Question”; Dan Froomkin on the implications of statements regarding the CIA’s secret interrogation program made by the president during the now-infamous ABC interview:

If you consider what the government did to be torture, which is a crime according to U.S. and international law, Bush’s statement shifts his role from being an accessory after the fact to being part of a conspiracy to commit.

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Before the Memos

by matttbastard

Flashback: On Murat Kurnaz:

Murat Kurnaz was picked up in Pakistan in December 2001, before then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales signed off on the torture memo. Kurnaz and hundreds of others were subjected to “illegal torture” (what a concept) before Bybee and Yoo drafted a memo that would protect the torturers from prosecution. The expanded legal definition of torture in their memo doesn’t provide cover for those agents who tortured Kurnaz immediately after he was detained.

“The beatings began as soon as I was turned over to the Americans,” Kurnaz said. Once in the Americans’ hands, he was transferred to a camp at Kandahar, in Afghanistan, where suspected terrorists were held in tents. His account of his torture at the hands of the Americans–in his book and in interviews–is clear-eyed and consistent. He has repeated it in testimony before a committee of the German parliament, where he was described as a “very credible witness.”

In the prison camp in Kandahar, Kurnaz said, he was hoisted on chains and was forced to hang by his hands while he was being interrogated. He was left hanging for “hours and days” after the interrogators left. An American physician in camouflage would come and check his vital signs to determine if he could withstand more enhanced interrogation.

The doctor’s house call must have failed Kurnaz’s neighbor in the next room. “They were hanging me and pulled me up higher than the other times. I could see the man in the other room. He was hanging, too. Maybe they lifted him higher that time, too, I don’t know. I had heard him moaning and breathing; this is the first time I saw him. He was dead. The color of his body was changed and I could see he was dead.”

Kurnaz said he was also subjected to waterboarding and electric shock. And that beatings were routine and constant. He theorizes that much of the torture was a result of the failure of the American soldiers and agents to capture any real terrorists in the initial sweeps. (He was told that he was sold to the Americans for $3,000 by Pakistani police, who identified him as a terrorist.) “They didn’t have any big fish. And they thought that by torture they could get one of us to say something. ‘I know Osama’ or something like that. Then they could say they had a big fish.”

Ah, the good old days, back when torture was still fucking illegal.

*blink*

Background: more on Kurnaz from Der Spiegel (and here) and CBS News (h/t Kevin Drum).

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