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Obama Has Decriminalized Torture: Do Americans Care?

7:07 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

From President Barack Obama’s inauguration to now, he has treated the issue of torture and the legalization of this supreme violation of human rights as an inconvenience. Obama has kept the possibility of holding former Bush Administration officials accountable for torture shrouded in remarks that contain platitudes on nobody being above the rule of law, yet, in those same remarks, he has shifted the responsibility to people like Attorney General Eric J. Holder to prosecute Bush officials, effectively freeing him of any obligation or liability that might stem from having to launch an investigation.

A new report from Human Rights Watch, “Getting Away with Torture: The Bush Administration and Mistreatment of Detainees,” provides opportunity to reflect on the reality that Bush Administration officials committed and effectively legalized torture and the Obama Administration, in its failure to hold these officials accountable, has in a way decriminalized torture.

As a number of news organizations and blogs have noted, the critical thing about the report is that it appears to give up on any possibility of a thorough investigation being launched by the Obama Administration. It encourages “judicial systems in foreign states to pursue investigations” and prosecute “under the doctrines of ‘universal jurisdiction’ and ‘passive personality’ jurisdiction. Under the principle of international that states have an interest in bringing to justice “perpetrators of particular crimes of international concern.” And, it notes that under the Geneva Conventions of 1949, which the US has ratified, “grave breaches” including “willful killing; torture or inhuman treatment; willfully causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or health; and willfully depriving a prisoner of war or other protected person of the rights of fair and regular trial” puts an obligation on countries that have signed to search for those alleged to have committed “grave breaches” and even push for extradition of officials suspected of violations.

While urging foreign countries to prosecute may show human rights groups are desperate, that human rights groups are now pursuing this as an option says a lot about America’s contempt for the rule of law. Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch explained on Democracy Now! torture is the “intentional infliction of severe pain and suffering, whether physical or mental.” Mock executions, like waterboarding, have been prosecuted by the US previously. But, the political class and establishment lawyers argue that prosecuting violations under the law will “politicize criminal law.” Or, they display as much interest in addressing the misconduct as those who know the war in Libya is a downright illegal war.

Those who were opposed to Bush Administration policies of torture, like human rights groups and lawyers, have been understandably disappointed with the Obama Administration. It has failed to close Guantanamo, indicated support for indefinite detention of terror suspects without a trial, bowed to the rancor of neoconservatives and decided to prosecute terror suspects with military commissions, refused to release “torture photos” and chosen to not charge any former CIA officials with the destruction of interrogation tapes.

Human rights groups have been very patient with the administration. Not only has the Obama Administration failed to uphold its duty to investigate and prosecute Bush officials under signed treaties like the Convention against Torture but it has let Bush officials tour around with their memoirs—books which contain prideful admissions of torture.

When Osama bin Laden was killed in a targeted operation, the administration put up with people like former Vice President Dick Cheney, who suggested torture had likely helped the Obama Administration kill him. And, with the news that the Justice Department was dropping ninety-nine of the one hundred and one cases against the CIA for abuse and torture, Bush officials were effectively absolved of any real threat of prosecution from the Obama Administration.

Jeff Kaye draws attention to how the “fight for transparency” makes this renewed push for prosecutions important. Kaye highlights how the Department of Defense is now considering a new policy for unclassified information that would enable less openness and more secrecy. This proposal is to be expected from an administration that has derailed torture lawsuits by invoking “states secrets” privileges. For example, in Mohamed v. Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc., in a suit brought by five survivors of the CIA’s rendition program, the ACLU reports, the Obama Administration argued against a lower court ruling, claimed the “case could not be litigated without the disclosure of state secrets.”

What’s more striking is how this report further demonstrates the US has no culture of accountability for those in power who do not commit crimes that involve sexual misbehavior. Probe after probe and investigation after investigation can produce pages of evidence that would fill an entire room. Recommendations on what to do and blueprints for moving forward can be drafted. Nobody in Washington wants to be bothered with the business of correcting injustice.

Today, President Obama could call for a criminal investigation into US government detention practices, as recommended in the HRW report. But, in America, those guilty of crimes in the national security establishment are permitted to commit crimes so long as it appears it happened while trying to protect America from terrorism. They can trash people’s civil liberties, torture people and violate treaties that are law and get away with it just like bank executives on Wall Street can get away with collapsing the US economy.

The effect of not investigating and prosecuting torture is not only that laws are violated but that torture becomes normalized. A rot spreads throughout the American population as Americans find power should be granted the benefit of the doubt and be allowed to torture terror suspects. Ignoring the number of people detained by the US, who are innocent and have no relationship to any terror group, they remember the mythology of 9/11 that has been seared into their brain by leaders like President Bush and President Obama, who countlessly retell the story of 9/11 in war speeches, and see no problem dehumanizing people.

Torture legalized as a tool for those carrying out “counterterrorism operations” becomes legitimate for use throughout America. Guards in Abu Ghraib, Bagram and Guantanamo Bay, who tortured detainees, can come home and become guards at prisons like the Pelican Bay prison and torture prisoners by subjecting them to solitary confinement in a prison-within-the-prison called the Security Housing Unit or the SHU. They can get away with using interrogation techniques, which are tantamount to torture, on political prisoners like Bradley Manning, the alleged military whistleblower to WikiLeaks.

As reported yesterday, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez has been restricted from having access to detainees in the US so he can conduct inquiries into torture or inhumane treatment. Mendez reports:

I am assured by the US Government that Mr. Manning’s prison regime and confinement is markedly better than it was when he was in Quantico. However, in addition to obtaining first hand information on my own about his new conditions of confinement, I need to ascertain whether the conditions he was subjected to for several months in Quantico amounted to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. For that, it is imperative that I talk to Mr. Manning under conditions where I can be assured that he is being absolutely candid.

The US Department of Defense has said they would allow Mendez to visit but that he would not be able to have an unmonitored visit, violating “long-standing rules that the UN applies to prison visits.” Mendez reluctantly agreed to a monitored visit, but Manning declined to agree to speaking to Mendez while under close watch by any agents or guards. Now, Mendez concludes the US may no longer wish to allow him to visit detainees in any US prisons if he makes a country visit to the United States.

This prevention of access is not unique to the Obama Administration, as the Bush Administration also put unacceptable conditions on UN visits to Guantanamo Bay. This is part of the “new normal,” an era where officials who commit crimes are shielded from accountability for engaging in warrantless wiretapping, torture, or rendition; state secrets are invoked to prevent transparency; detainees are denied habeas corpus; prisons like Guantanamo and Bagram (along with black prison sites that likely still exist) continue to hold detainees perhaps indefinitely; navy ships hold prisoners that can no longer be sent to Guantanamo because there will be public outrage; the right to target and kill U.S. civilians and bypass due process is asserted; and military commissions or “kangaroo courts” force detainees into Kafkaesque proceedings that make it nearly impossible to not be found guilty.

America purports to have moral authority in the world to push for prosecutions for crimes in Third World countries. It condemns Middle Eastern and African countries (excluding Israel), which do not allow access to their countries for investigations of human rights violations. But, it does not investigate and prosecute its own officials, who are responsible for committing and legalizing torture.

The country appears to care little when it is suggested that what happened under Bush could happen again because all too many fail to see how shopping around for legal arguments to create justification for torture or “enhanced interrogation techniques” was wrong. The idea of moving forward instead of looking backward to hold Bush officials accountable enchants the population. And so, the population presses on without collectively confronting the system that has been put in place over the past ten years.

In Court, ACLU Defends US Citizen Detained & Threatened by FBI with Torture

3:31 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Amir Meshal (photo: The Public Record)

The ACLU was in court today to defend a US citizen, who was illegally detained and mistreated by US officials in Kenya and Ethiopia. The citizen, Amir Meshal, a man from New Jersey, was in Mogadishu, Somalia, studying Islam in December 2006 when violence erupted. He fled to Kenya in a boat, spent three weeks in a forest looking for shelter and assistance and was arrested by the joint US-Kenyan-Ethiopian task force.

After arrest, he fell victim to rendition and wound up back in Somalia and then Ethiopia. As the ACLU’s filed complaint reads, over four months and three days, “He was detained in three different countries without ever being charged, without ever being granted access to counsel and without ever being presented before a judicial officer.”

The complaint further alleges Meshal was interrogated “more than thirty times by US officials who failed to adhere to the most elementary requirements of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments and the Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991.” During interrogations, Meshal was threatened with torture, forced disappearance and forms of serious harm in an effort to coerce him to admit to committing a crime. His detention was also at the “behest of US officials,” with their participation and a result of conspiracy with the FBI and other foreign officials.

The lawsuit filed in 2009 charges two Supervising Special Agents of the FBI, Chris Higgenbotham and Steve Hersem, were both involved in “investigating non-Somalis apprehended along the Somali-Kenyan border in a joint US-Kenyan-Ethiopian operation” in December 2006 and violated Meshal’s rights. The lawsuit also charges that ten other individuals, John Does 1-10, were involved in the violation of Meshal’s rights as well.

Meshal was arrested on January 24, 2007, with four other men in a forest in Kenya He was surrounded by “thirty heavily armed Kenyan soldiers” who apprehended him and “stripped him to his underwear” and tightly bound his hands behind his back with a rope. A soldier asked him to identify himself and seized his US passport, social security card and $800 in cash. He was taken to a village called Kiunga, where seven or eight Kenyans interrogated him.
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Judge on Suspicionless Laptop Searches & Seizures: Better Off Leaving Devices at Home

7:00 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

A federal judge on Friday heard a lawsuit filed by the ACLU, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) against the government’s assertion that it has the authority to search, seize and copy laptops, cell phones, cameras and other devices of people at America’s borders even if there is no suspicion of wrongdoing.

Specifically, the hearing was on whether the government’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit against laptop search policies at the border was legitimate.

District Judge Edward Korman weakly defended a person’s right to not be subjected to unreasonable searches or seizures, suggesting, according to Reuters, “Travelers who want to keep U.S. border agents from seeing sensitive documents on their laptops and cell phones may be better off leaving those devices at home.”

He added, “There are lots of burdens people are subject to in order to protect their security and the security of others.” And, “It may become impossible to conduct such searches if you’re going to set up evidentiary standards.”

Not only does this indicate contempt for the notion of privacy but it also shows an appalling acceptance of warrantless searches of people’s personal property.

The government’s attorney, Marcia Sowles, argued, “Border searches are reasonable by nature, because you’re protecting the borders.” In essence, whatever rights you think you have do not exist at America’s borders.

After maintaining that carrying confidential documents on personal devices was “risky business,” after citing TSA pat-down searches in airports to further justify his deference to power, Judge Korman did not rule on the motion to dismiss.

The case, filed in 2010, deals specifically with an incident that happened on May 1, 2010. Twenty-six year old US-French dual citizen Pascal Abidor, then a graduate student in Islamic Studies at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, boarded an Amtrak train to New York City to visit family. He didn’t realize that he would be refused the right to keep the contents of his electronic devices private and was carrying his laptop, digital camera, two cell phones and an external hard drive.

As the ACLU lawsuit describes, at 11 am, the train reached the inspection point at the border of Quebec and New York. US Customs and Border Protection(CBP) Officer Tulip boarded the train. Abidor gave the officer “his customs declaration and US passport,” explained why he was living in Canada, answered the officer’s question when asked where he had traveled last year (Jordan and Lebanon) and showed his French passport to the officer.

Abidor’s cooperation wasn’t good enough. Officer Tulip directed Abidor to go to “the café car of the train for further inspection.”

In the café car, the officer removed Abidor’s laptop from his bag, turned it on and began to browse the contents. He was asked about personal pictures and images of Hamas and Hezbollah rallies he had for research purposes, as he was writing a paper on the modern history of Shiites in Lebanon for his Ph. D degree.

A few more questions were asked of him before he was patted down by a male officer, who had him put his hands against the wall and then proceeded to apply “a strong amount of pressure to his groin and genitals in various angles.” He was put in handcuffs and carried off the train and put in a detention cell for further questioning.

Abidor was detained for three hours. An FBI agent (also with the CBP) asked him to further explain why he was interested in the modern history of Shiites in Lebanon. Meanwhile, “officers from CBP and/or other government agencies searched through various files on his laptop” and looked at an iMovie Project of his entitled, “My Great Movie” and an Adobe PDF document that contained “citations for his dissertation.”

He was released five hours after being detained at the border. His laptop was not returned. He was not allowed to take his external hard drive with him. The sole copies of his academic work, which he had worked on throughout the past years, were in the possession of government agents. When he told officers he would be traveling to the UK and France to do more research and needed access to the devices, they didn’t care. So, Abidor left, “frightened, disturbed and severely upset” and spent the next ten days struggling to sleep, experiencing panic attacks from the state of anxiety he had plunged into as a result of this incident.

A key reason for opposing any justification for this new claimed government authority to search and seize property without suspicion is that people like Abidor will likely spend the rest of their lives being stopped and harassed at airports. On July 8, 2010, after returning from his research trip in the UK and France, Abidor was pulled aside and asked about what happened last time he was stopped by a CBP officer at the Newark airport. He was asked how he paid for traveling, about his girlfriend, whether he was a Muslim and what languages he spoke, all information that he should not be asked to give unless it can help with a criminal investigation.

This is what has happened with Jacob Appelbaum, who works on the Tor Project and was a volunteer for WikiLeaks. Appelbaum now sends messages on Twitter ahead of his travel to let people know he is looking forward to more harassment.

It’s also what has happened with David House, co-founder of the Bradley Manning Support Network. In November 2010, Department of Homeland Security agents stopped House at O’Hare International airport as he was returning from Mexico.

The agents asked House about his political activities and beliefs. His laptop computer, camera and a USB drive were all seized. The ACLU came to House’s defense, sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security and managed to get House his seized laptop, camera and USB drive returned to him but not until the government authorities had seven weeks to browse through, copy and share whatever they wanted to from the devices with anyone in any agency in government.

As Salon.com blogger Glenn Greenwald has said, “Without any form of judicial oversight or search warrant,” authorities literally go through and do this routinely. “It’s a form of pure harassment.”

Attorney for the ACLU, Catherine Crump, represented Abidor in court arguing, “lawyers, journalists and other professionals often carry ‘their whole lives’ on their laptops” and the unreasonable searches and seizures can “violate protected professional information, such as the names of news sources or notes from attorney-client meetings.”

I spoke with Crump at a Netroots Nation 2011 conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota in June and this is what she had to say about the government’s new claimed authority to seize laptops:

Report Shreds Argument Tasers Result in Less Use of Lethal Force by Arizona Police

7:36 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

(photo: hradcanska)

ACLU of Arizona Report Finds Arizona Law Enforcement Lacks Guidelines for Taser Use on Children & Pregnant Women

Law enforcement and correctional agencies in Arizona, the state where TASER International has its corporate headquarters, often use Tasers “preemptively” against citizens, according to a recent ACLU of Arizona report. Even if citizens do not present an imminent safety threat to officers, officers will use the Taser. They’ll also use it “offensively as a pain compliance tool,” a use TASER International anticipates in its training material and agency policies.

The report, which the ACLU of Arizona claims is the “most comprehensive survey of Taser use by law enforcement agencies in Arizona to date,” illuminates the following key findings: Tasers are widespread among law enforcement, providing officers with Tasers does not guarantee lower levels of use of lethal force, officers often receive inconsistent guidance on when it’s appropriate to use a Taser, agencies lack clear guidance on Taser safety including the use of Tasers against vulnerable populations, law enforcement is too reliant on TASER International for training and agencies lack data collection and other mechanisms for monitoring Taser use.

The ACLU of Arizona recommends the implementation of a “strong accountability mechanism” for Taser use that would include data collection. It suggests law enforcement re-assess where the use of a Taser should be on the “use-of-force continuum.” Furthermore, it calls for more regular training on Taser use and the establishment of a statewide body to review Taser use and develop policies and training resources for law enforcement.

The finding that Taser proponents are completely off when they argue in favor of Tasers because deployment of lethal force will decline is perhaps the most significant finding of the report. The report calls attentions to the fact that “TASER’s marketing campaign has always been that Tasers are a safe alternative to the use of lethal force. Indeed, the company’s slogan, ‘Saving Lives Every Day,’ is emblazoned on its corporate headquarters in Scottsdale.”

Taser shocks have most often been used in the place of “less-lethal uses of force, such as baton strikes, chemical sprays, and the like” and situations when “situations where lethal force would not be justified (i.e., in the absence of an immediate threat to officer or public safety).”

After completing an analysis of Phoenix Police Department use-of-force reports, The Arizona Republic found 377 incidents involving the use of a Taser. In nearly nine out of ten of the incidents, the subjects had posed no imminent threat to officers with any weapons. For example: “A shoplifter who stole four cans of soup from a Food City, and fled on a bike who was shocked as officers dragged him to the ground; a 15-year-old boy at Alhambra High School who was shocked in the back as officers attempted to arrest him on a marijuana charge; and an intoxicated man who ignored commands to leave a bar and was shocked in the back as he walked away.”

ACLU of Arizona notes TASER International has insisted its weapons are “non-lethal.” A file released by LulzSecurity, a computer hacker group that recently released data from the Arizona Department of Public Safety, shows since the release of an October 12 training bulletin from TASER International, law enforcement has been aware they should not be aiming Tasers at any person’s chest.

In the bulletin, TASER International suggests the 50,000-volt weapon could possibly lead to someone going into cardiac arrest. Officers in Phoenix adopted the new guidelines immediately, although Mark Spencer of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association did not initially instruct line officers on the development. Instead, Spencer only had praise for Tasers as he said, “It really minimizes harm, not only to officers but to suspects.”

TASER International, after issuing the bulletin, worked to spin the findings saying, “We have not stated that the Taser causes (cardiac) events in this bulletin, only that the refined target zones avoid any potential controversy on this topic.”

To the question of whether law enforcement could still deploy a TASER into a subject’s chest, TASER’s position was that officers should not “intentionally” target “when possible.” The recommendation, according to TASER, would go a long way toward “reducing risk management issues and avoiding litigation.” (What, in emails released by LulzSec, could be characterized as a policy of CYA.)

The TASER weapon’s propellant was changed from gunpowder to nitrogen in 1994, according to the ACLU report. This allowed TASER International to escape regulation from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and made it possible to “aggressively market the weapon as an alternative to lethal force” and escape testing of the product by the Consumer Products Safety Commission.

Vulnerable people, such as children, elderly, pregnant women and those with heart problems, are widely understood to be at risk of death or injury if they are subjected to the voltage of a Taser. The ACLU report shows the alarming reality that much of Arizona law enforcement lacks guidelines on what to do if faced with a “vulnerable” person.

Ten agencies were found to be silent whether to Tase pregnant women. Only four agencies explicitly ban tasing pregnant women. Twelve agencies were found to be silent on the tasing of children or the elderly. Only one agency explicitly prohibited tasing young or elderly people. And, eleven out of ten agencies had no policy on using a Taser on a subject multiple times, an action that has been seen as a key factor behind ECW-induced deaths.

Of particular interest to those who have followed the story of the SB1070 law and the issue of immigration in Arizona is the fact that Maricopa County, where the anti-immigrant Sheriff Joe Arpaio is in charge, has developed no policies or guidelines on when and when not to deploy a Taser in high-risk situations. Maricopa County is the only police department with over 500 sworn officers that did not offer its own training in addition to TASER International’s training. This is especially troubling given the fact that an Amnesty International 127-page report found Maricopa County had the highest number of reported deaths from Taser use in the United States.

Taser use has been posing increased liability for law enforcement. As of September 2010, five deaths from Taser use were occurring on average each month.

Courts have found Tasers constitute the use of “excessive force” and thus violate the Fourth Amendment, provided the Taser was used in an instance when its deployment was unjustified. Victims of Taser use can seek compensation but only if an agency’s use guidelines are deficient and if training is so poor that it could be considered “deliberately indifferent.

Memphis, Tennessee, San Francisco, California and Las Vegas, Nevada, have all opted to ban the use of Tasers.

To date, ACLU’s work on Taser use has been mostly on a state-by-state basis without a federal campaign. The report clearly demonstrates the risks posed by Tasers. More importantly, it shows the growing private influence of TASER International and how law enforcement has become dependent on using Tasers to make police work much easier, even if that means putting a person at risk of death or injury and violating the rights of an individual.

[A side note: A Los Angeles City Council voted in May 2010 to bar official travel to Arizona and consider the termination of contracts with businesses as part of a boycott in response to the SB1070 law. The Council made one exception: it would not cut off business with TASER International because, according to a councilman, “various local public safety agencies need its stun guns and no other company can provide the service satisfactorily.]

Indefinite Detention of Guantanamo Detainees to Be Long-Term U.S. Policy

9:43 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola


Street art of a hooded detainee at Guantanamo Bay by The 2 Tone Man

The Obama Administration will be making indefinite detention a more institutionalized part of U.S. policy in the so-called war on terrorism. An executive order to set up a “parole board” to periodically “review evidence” against “prisoners” being held at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba is being discussed and is expected to be signed by Obama next year.

ProPublica and the Washington Post were the first to report on the executive order. ProPublica suggests “the White House alone” would “manage a review process for those it chooses to hold without charge or trial.” The order, “being drafted jointly by White House staff in the National Security council and the White House counsel, will offer detainees in this category a minimal review every six months and then a more lengthy annual review. Detainees will have access to an attorney, to some evidence against them and the ability to challenge their continued detention.”

The New York Times notes, “The proposal would replace the ‘annual review boards’ that the Bush administration had used to revisit its decision to hold each prisoner. Under that system, which the Obama administration shut down, a panel of military officers periodically reviewed the accusations against and talked to each prisoner who wanted to participate. The prisoners were not represented by lawyers. Officers then decided whether a prisoner was still a threat or should be released.”

In contrast, the new system would supposedly afford detainees more opportunities to challenge their detention.

The move toward a system of indefinite detention is undoubtedly a response to the Obama Administration’s failure to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, as Obama committed his Administration to doing when he signed an executive order during his first days as president. But, that isn’t the only reason for this move. ProPublica claims, the drafting of this order also “stems from the president’s embrace of indefinite detention and his assertion that the congressional authorization for military force, passed after the 2001 terrorist attacks, allows for such detention.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reported on Obama’s disappointing approval of indefinite detention in a report it released this year titled, “Establishing the New Normal.” From the report, which detailed the Administration’s efforts and struggle to close Guantanamo, it noted:

“Of far greater significance than the administration’s failure to meet its own one-year deadline is its embrace of the theory underlying the Guantanamo detention regime: that the Executive Branch can detain militarily–without charge or trial–terrorism suspects captured far from a conventional battlefield. President Obama first expressly endorsed this claim of authority in May of 2009, in a major speech at the National Archives. The President stated that the Guantanamo detainees whome the administration deemed dangerous, but who “could not be prosecuted” because of a lack of reliable evidence, would be held indefinitely without trial, and he proposed that Congress provide legislative authority for a new detention regime. Although, to its credit the administration has now publicly stated that it will not support any new legislation expanding detention authority, it has continued to assert, in habeas corpus proceeding involving Guantanamo and Bagram detainees, a dangerously overbroad authority to detain civilian terrorism suspects militarily. And its task force has identified 48 Guantanamo detainees who will be held indefinitely without charge or trial…”

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) has posted a “habeas scorecard” (habeas corpus is due process, a right to petition a court to determine whether or not you should be released from prison custody). The scorecard “provides an overview of habeas case outcomes for men who have been illegally detained at the detention facility in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.” The numerical summary as of November 2, 2010, was: total habeas cases decided: 56; habeas cases granted: 37; habeas cases denied: 19; habeas granted and released: 23; habeas granted and still detained: 14; current Guantanamo population: 174.

In the Boumediene v. Bush/Al Odah v. United States decision, handed down on June 12, 2008, the detainees were determined to have a right to habeas corpus, the right to challenge their detention before a neutral judge in a real court. This right, which was granted to detainees, was something the detainees had been struggling to get recognized since 2002. It was outlined by Justice Anthony Kennedy that “the underlying purpose of habeas corpus” was “to allow the courts to act as a check against the abuse of Executive Power.”

As CCR notes in a factsheet posted on its website, “In 2004, in Rasul v. Bush, the Supreme Court upheld the detainees’ statutory right to habeas corpus, and in 2006, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the high court rejected the Bush administration’s framework for military commissions and upheld the rights of the detainees under the Geneva Conventions.”

Time and time again, courts have upheld the rights of detainees to an extent that has been uncomfortable for political leaders in this country. This executive order appears to indicate a move toward developing an extralegal system for handling detainees that would limit the amount of political dilemmas leaders experience. It appears the order would set up a board that would operate outside of the purview of the courts. It would limit the likelihood that courts would create news when they go against the conventional political wisdom of officials in the Executive Branch and actually uphold civil liberties by deciding in favor of detainees.

What would the impact be on trials like the one now-convicted Ahmed Ghailani enjoyed? That trial showed that justice can work. But, the judge threw out multiple charges because those charges rested on evidence that had been illicitly obtained. Would this remove the necessity to hold civilian trials for these detainees?

This would also make it more possible to admit evidence obtained by torture into proceedings meant to determine whether to release a detainee or not. When considering how the Obama Administration has been strongly urged to not resettle detainees by political leaders in Congress, it is likely any board handling detainee matters would err on the side of caution and find any way to keep the detainee in detention. Instances where the board was faced with letting detainees be released would undoubtedly present quandaries for any administration.

It seems like the establishment of this board would further politicize a matter of justice and law that should be handled outside of the realm of politics. Placing control of a board in the hands of the Executive Branch would make it vulnerable to elections and majority opinion polls. It would put power in the hands of people who often practice politics of the possible and seek to cut corners when faced with legal matters because they desire certain outcomes that won’t put their brand as leaders at risk.

Not only does it appear that President Obama does not have the authority to argue for the institutionalization of indefinite detention in U.S. policy, but it also seems this is a move, which demonstrates the Obama Administration wants to limit the “bungling” of detainee cases, which has often happened as a result of a crazy little thing called the rule of law.

Wars, Torture & Other Aspects of the New Normal Won Big in the Midterm Election

6:55 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

(Photo by Truthout.org)

During the election, the Tea Party received an inordinate amount of coverage. Campaign spending gained a significant amount of attention with some liberals putting a focus on organizations like the Chamber of Commerce and its commitment to spend tens of millions defeating Democratic candidates. Jobs and the economy, Americans were told, was the top issue.

Within the pomp and circumstance of the election, there was little to no talk about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. There was little conversation about the torture. And, there was little discussion of how policies, which encourage violations of American civil liberties, have been systematized.

What the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has called “The New Normal” received little attention. In fact, one key senator, Democratic Senator Russ Feingold, who earned a reputation for being a stalwart defender of civil liberties and who was the only senator to read the PATRIOT Act and vote against it, lost to Republican Ron Johnson, a man who thinks the PATRIOT Act is a good tool for law enforcement.

President Obama escalated the war in Afghanistan sending at least 30,000 troops to fuel a “surge” or measured cleansing of regions in Afghanistan to “secure” the country. That deepened a commitment to a war, which the WikiLeaks’ “Afghan War Logs,” revealed in July has been rife with war crimes: a Task Force 373 US-assassination squad known as “the Secret Hunters” going around and hunting down “targets for death or detention without trial,” CIA paramilitaries in Afghanistan contributing many unreported civilian deaths, and coverups of the Taliban’s use of portable heat-seeking missiles along with Pakistan’s funneling of military aid to the Taliban.

Night raids continue in Afghanistan. US and Afghan forces terrorize Afghanis as they break into their homes and make them more afraid of pro-government forces than the Taliban. Raids go wrong and wind up killing pregnant women. The forces detain Afghanis only to wind up returning them to the homes they took them from (sometimes). The damage is done; that family is one step closer to being an insurgent or resistance fighter who oppose the US-NATO occupation of Afghanistan.

But, despite all of that, Afghanistan received little attention. Few candidates bothered to mention the ongoing war that can now inarguably be called Obama’s Vietnam. Little attempts were made to even connect the spending on Afghanistan to record deficits in the US. The war in Afghanistan won big.

In Iraq, troops were withdrawn. The charade of moving the combat brigades likely pushed candidates up for election (and voters) to think the Iraq war was over. But, fifty thousand troops remain and so do tens of thousands of mercenary contractors and hundreds of people in Iraq continue to be killed as the country plunges deeper into a sectarian war that the US presence only helps to exacerbate.

WikiLeaks released the Iraq War Logs, the biggest military leak in US history. Put out on a Friday, the timing of the WikiLeaks team’s leak was poorly timed, but not even over the weekend in the immediate aftermath of the leak was there a flurry of discussion in the news. And, in what miniscule coverage the leak had, most news hosts and journalists opted to talk about how the US could combat WikiLeaks and whether there was anything new in the leaked documents or not instead of seriously addressing the contents of the leaks.

The leak revealed the US had been using an “El Salvador Option,” which involved giving Iraqi police or security forces the right to detain, interrogate, and torture detainees in whatever way they deemed fit. The lack of oversight was not necessary because the terrorism of communities would frighten civilians and dissuade insurgency and rebellion. The US would even turn detainees over to battalions like the Wolf Brigade, which were known for torture, and threaten detainees during interrogation with turning them over to the Wolf Brigade if they didn’t provide actionable intelligence that could be used to capture “terrorists.”

An order discovered called “Frago 242″ indicated the US had a procedure for ignoring torture if committed by Iraqi police or security forces. Such revelations spurred the UN and European leaders like Nick Clegg to take the possibility of complicity in torture seriously. Not in America. US leaders brushed the leaked documents aside as if they were of no consequence and they attacked WikiLeaks.

That was nothing to be surprised about because the Obama Administration set a standard of going after whistleblowers. The New York Times reported in June, “In 17 months in office, President Obama has already outdone every previous president in pursuing leak prosecutions. His administration has taken actions that might have provoked sharp political criticism for his predecessor, George W. Bush , who was often in public fights with the press.” The administration has gone after people like James Risen, author of State of War , for leaking “classified information on a bungled attempt to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program.”

Not even the idea of funding human needs instead of wars that are wasting blood and treasure entered debates on the campaign trail. Timid or outright spineless Democrats could not be bothered to respond to people who saw the wars as an issue in the election. They didn’t want to say something that would embolden their Republican opponent (or they continue to support the wars and found it to be best to be quiet on the issue). So, the Iraq War won big too.

Guantanamo Bay supporters, people who value the role the prison has played in torture and abuse of detainees which has tarnished America’s image and resulted in routine violations of human rights, won big. The prison, which President Obama pledged to close in January 2009, did not come up for discussion. A show trial involving a detainee, who came to be known as the “Gitmo Child” because he was fifteen when detained, never entered debates during the election either.

Here was a detainee, Omar Khadr, who allegedly threw a grenade during a firefight in Afghanistan in 2002. He was captured and detained. When interrogated, he was tortured and abused. One interrogator threatened him with a “fictitious” tale of gang rape, saying this had happened to another Afghan youth who had been sent to another American prison. And, a witness for the prosecution claimed to have seen Khadr “with his arms outstretched above eye level, wrists chained to the walls of a five-foot-square cell, hooded and weeping.”

In a battle, Khadr’s act went before a military jury and was charged with a war crime. The court ruled Khadr’s confessions during interrogations that involved abuse and torture could be admitted into the trial as evidence. The trial progressed and Khadr wound up caving, pleading guilty, and being sentenced to 40 years (he’s expected to only serve 8 years).

And, those who wish to see the Bagram prison remain open, a prison that some have called worse than Guantanamo. The once-secret prison was reported by BBC to have detainees being subjected to sleep deprivation, beatings (one detainee detailed losing a row of teeth), humiliated (one detainee made to dance every time he wanted to use the toilet), subjected to sensory deprivation, and refused the right to a lawyer.

Of course, this practice of detaining, interrogating and torturing does not enter the immediate lives of ninety-nine percent of Americans. They are able to tune it out so easily and, especially in this election when the media never asked about matters of national security and terrorism and what candidates would do about so-called “enemy combatants,” Americans are able to have no conscience or empathy toward what the US has done to captured humans from the Middle East. They were able to be wholly concerned about jobs and their position in the U.S. economy and not have their mind clouded with information about US atrocities committed in the “war on terrorism.”

Plus, if Americans haven’t worried about it by now, they may not have to worry about whether it is worth caring about detentions, interrogations and torture or not. A federal court has determined the government can keep what happens at Bagram secret.

The increased use of drones in Pakistan (where no official declaration of war has been made) was not up for debate, even though one in three killed are believed to be civilians. The abuse of power that comes with asserting that a government has the right to engage in targeted killing of a U.S. citizen without granting that individual due process. (*For more on the legal ramifications, read this previous post from Salon.com writer Glenn Greenwald.)

Matters related to warrantless wiretapping were not up for discussion, even though a New York Times report indicated the Obama Administration will be seeking approval from Congress during the 112th Congress to “expand” wiretapping by “overhauling the law requiring telecommunications companies to ensure their networks can be wiretapped.” The Administration would like the telecommunications companies to strengthen their “compliance” with laws so that government can more easily collect information. Claiming “modernization,” the Administration intends to get away with another “far-reaching alteration” of America’s surveillance laws.

Instances of government spying were of no concern to candidates in the election. For example, Pennsylvania Homeland Security monitored residents’ tweets. The constitutionality of such spying was not up for discussion.

Probably, it’s no wonder these issues weren’t raised. The PATRIOT Act was extended in February of this year. There was no reason to revisit issues of privacy.

Finally, despite evidence of crimes, accountability and justice did not enter the debate. The prospect of a Department of Justice that actually prosecutes criminal activity and reigns in lawlessness was not considered. Rather, the Department of Justice continued to hold to a standard of defending and protecting unlawful behavior.

The UN, which urged the Obama Administration to address the way in which torture was allowed in Iraq after the Iraq War Logs showed the US was complicit, was ignored. The Obama Administration and political leaders haven’t got time to look back and save America from falling deeper into a pit of moral bankruptcy. They believe in moving forward, which means excusing America’s actions no matter what those actions have done to humanity.

And, they don’t want anyone in the press or public to stall efforts to move forward by disseminating information Americans have the right to either. Despite conventional wisdom, federal agencies under the Obama Administration have actually used exemptions to block more Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests than federal agencies under the Bush Administration did in its final year.

Just as the midterm elections ended and Republicans rode a tidal wave of fear that propelled them to victories throughout the US, former president George W. Bush released his memoir. In it, he boasts about having no regrets about waterboarding. His admission of committing what amounts to a war crime when you examine international law should motivate someone to subpoena Bush for an investigation.

Not in this society: violating the law is now a cause of pride, especially if you were President of the United States and did it to save a nation from “terrorism.” Build a library and maybe revitalize or create a think tank that can dedicate itself to the Orwellian venture of rewriting history and creating justifications for activities that used to be prohibited by law. The Washington Consensus needs help from people willing to work for the Ministry of Truth. I mean, former President Bush’s library.

Brace yourself, America. Not discussing wars means the “war on terror” expands in Yemen and has repercussions that could radicalize and create more terrorism for the world. It means craven warmongers like Sen. Lindsay Graham have the opportunity to earn greater legitimacy as they call for war with Iran and some sort of “confrontation with China.” (All Americans should shudder at the thought of what might be going through Graham’s twisted brain when he calls for what one can only assume would be a Gulf of Tonkin-esque provocation.)

Not discussing torture and loss of civil liberties means that more and more aspects of live in American society face control and intrusion from government. Giving this up to halt terrorism may seem acceptable to some, but in a free society, those who give up liberty for safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. Americans in favor of torture and PATRIOT Act measures only empower authoritarian forces that could swell and come under the control of, dare I say it, people like Sarah Palin or some other Tea Party Republican leader some day and wreak fascist havoc on this country doing damage far worse than what the Bush Administration did.

Americans have a republic, if they can keep it. And right now, the voice of Americans opposed to the concentration of executive power in government — what could be called the emboldening of the imperial presidency — is horrifically silent. These issues should matter yet, right now, those in power have succeeded in convincing Americans war, torture, violations of civil liberties, etc are of no significance.

9/11 No Longer Brings Us Together, We Must Reassess How It Defines This Country

2:34 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

 

http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4113/4952003798_0094e1bde8.jpg

 Photo by cliff1066

Nicholas D. Kristof, columnist for the New York Times, writes of the “healers of 9/11” and how Susan Retik, a Jewish woman “has pursued perhaps the most unexpected and inspiring American response to the 9/11 attacks.” Ms. Retik, a Jewish woman, who lost her husband in the attacks, noted how Afghanis would turn into widows as a result of the American war in Afghanistan and she started Beyond the 11th, an education and poverty-alleviation project. And, she ended up partnering up with another woman, Patti Quigley, who lost her husband in the attacks too.

For the past years, there have many individual stories like this that remind one how many Americans listen to their heart and soul and now deep down inside how to make a difference. Unfortunately, the shock and awe of the September 11th attacks, nine years later, still holds this nation captive. Many of the nation’s leaders still hold the power to invoke 9/11 and elicit a reaction of complacence or complicity. And, in fact, 9/11 is one reason why there is a dark continuity between the Obama Administration and the eight years of the Bush Administration. 

As Americans see pastors intent on making statements on the so-called dangers of Islam, as we see our nation’s own religious clerics seek to hold an entire religion responsible for the death of thousands of Americans nine years ago, let us not forget that Obama continued the "us vs. them" thinking by saying in his Inaugural Address, “the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America – they will be met."

As Americans see Republican leaders endorse and participate in protests against planned constructions of centers for religious worship, as Americans see Democrats allow a vacuum to persist which allows for hate and bigotry to spread like a virus, let us remember that President Obama also said in his Inaugural Address, “That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred.”

Those quotes should not dissuade people like Ms. Retik or Ms. Quigley from taking individual action but rather should call into question the very idea that, nine years later, America remains under threat from any kind of far-reaching network at all.

There is a power in the unity that we all shared when we all grieved and were hurt by September 11th. But, the problem is that unity inevitably has grown into a unity of fear when what Americans really need is a unity of reconciliation. There is a need for Americans to find the courage to not forget but forgive. And, unfortunately, there is still an amount of reflection needed because this nation is still somewhere between anger and depression when it comes to handling the grief experienced. 

It is important to remember how Americans responded with disbelief, horror, and fear and then were propagandized into supporting a war in Iraq along with a war in Afghanistan, how Americans encouraged friends and family to enlist in the military and defend our country from any future 9/11s, how Bush didn’t ask Americans to make sacrifices but told Americans to instead go shopping., and how this event has allowed for the rolling back of civil liberties to go on.

This nation’s understanding of terrorism continues to stop and begin at 9/11,  a convenient reality that government leaders have used to prosecute wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, expand the power of the Executive Branch, and bolster American superpower.

The trampling of civil liberties has been permitted by America largely because many have bought into the idea that there are networks of fanatical enemies out there tirelessly plotting the death and destruction of America, who hate America for its freedom. Americans have allowed terrorism to be personified and now increasingly associate terrorism with Muslims even though all humans could potentially pose a terrorist threat to mankind. The arousal of primal fear from conjured perception and the fact that those who have been imprisoned, abused, tortured, and denied rights don’t look like “real Americans” has pushed America closer and closer to the world one reads about on the pages of George Orwell’s 1984.

As the ACLU has valiantly worked to demonstrate to Americans, 9/11 has produced the context that America lives in a “new normal.” Not only does that mean when we need to go somewhere in an airplane we have to go hours early to take off our belts, shoes, empty our pockets, and dispose of our water bottles and soaps, shampoos, conditioners, hairsprays and any other substance that might be a liquid or powder before boarding, but it also means that a world climate exists where individuals are shielded from accountability for engaging in warrantless wiretapping, torture, or rendition; state secrets are invoked to prevent transparency; detainees are denied habeas corpus; prisons like Guantanamo and Bagram (along with black prison sites that likely still exist) continue to hold detainees perhaps indefinitely; the right to target and kill U.S. civilians and bypass due process is asserted; and military commissions or “kangaroo courts” force detainees into Kafkaesque proceedings that make it nearly impossible to not be found guilty.

Nine years later, does it not sound ridiculous that a whole country was under the spell of the mantra “we’re fighting the terrorists there so we don’t have to fight them here”? Does it not seem insane that since 9/11 America has only given the “terrorists” what they wanted—a battle against them on their terrain, a global, amorphous and cosmic war, which this nation continues to perpetrate and kill thousands and thousands of people each year?

This anniversary, as Americans face the confluence of a planned Koran burning (since called off but now possibly on hold), violent demonstrations of groups in the Muslim World inflamed by a fundamentalist pastor’s plan to burn Korans, the continued outrage among some Americans toward Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s plan to build an Islamic community center near Ground Zero, and Eid al-Fitr, the end of the holy month of Ramadan, why not consider the following:

Why not note how many are discussing what it means to be “sensitive” to the Muslim World and whether Americans should be sensitive or not and admit that if America is going to have this kind of discussion as a result of planned Koran burnings and proposed “mosque” projects then Americans should also discuss whether torture, rendition, indefinite detention, wars, and occupations in the Middle East are “sensitive” and whether they pose national security risks to Americans?

Why not note the fierce urgency of now that calls upon us to reject the narrative of a “clash of civilizations”? Why not reject both fundamentalist religious forces, Christian and Islamic, which promote implicitly and explicitly a toxic climate through harsh rhetoric and support for violence?

Why not come to an agreement that we will no longer stand for people who exploit 9/11 to make money like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck are doing on this anniversary or to advance a career in politics? 

Why not take a deep breath and admit Sharia Law is not creeping into America and it has never creeped and will never creep—at least the kind of Sharia Law Americans now talk of being afraid of—because America is not a Third World country (for now)? (And, if any repressive Law is going to creep into America, it will be Palin Law [which just happens to share some similarities with Sharia Law].)

This anniversary let’s be more afraid that America has a democratic republic largely unresponsive to the people that a huge portion of the population is disenchanted with even though it permits electoral participation every two or four years. Let’s be concerned that this country and its leaders continue to dither and stall on domestic and international actions that must be taken to give this country and its people the change it needs to continue to prosper and survive in the 21st Century and the world is waiting on America to be the shining example its leaders claim America to be in speeches.

Finally, let’s not only be more open about the fact that America commits actions it probably shouldn’t, which provoke Islamic fundamentalists, but also admit September 11th has become a yoke around the neck of America. Failure to remove it and make peace with whatever demons Americans think were responsible for the attacks will only continue to imperil us all.

UPDATE 1 

Do any Americans remember how there was a list circulated of songs radio stations were encouraged not to play in the aftermath of 9/11? Songs like Kool & The Gang’s "Celebration" were played and upset callers who claimed radio stations were being insensitive. 

Well, in memory of Clear Channel’s advisory list to radio stations, here’s "War," a song neoconservatives probably asked Clear Channel to put on the list. 

Guantanamo Detainees Know America’s New Normal Far Too Well

10:44 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola


Flickr Photo by Peter Burgess

Mentally Ill Detainee Ordered to Be Released in 2004 Still at Guantanamo

Carol Rosenberg, a journalist for the Miami Herald and one of the few journalists who continue to follow operations and proceedings at the Guantanamo Bay prison reports "an emotionally ill detainee still being held at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was first recommended for release by the Pentagon in 2004."

Rosenberg writes:

"Despite the Pentagon’s recommendation, it wasn’t until 2007 that the Bush administration adopted the military assessment and put Adnan Abdul Latif, now about 34, on an approved transfer list. By then, however, the issue of transferring prisoners to Yemen, Osama bin Laden’s ancestral homeland, was mired in a diplomatic standoff over whether the Arabian Peninsula nation could provide security assurances and rehabilitate suspected radicalized Guantanamo detainees.

U.S. District Court Judge Henry Kennedy disclosed the timeline in a heavily censored 28-page ruling made public on Monday night that ordered Latif set free. Latif is the 38th Guantanamo captive to be found by a federal judge to be illegally detained at the remote U.S. Navy base."

Ordered to be released by Kennedy on July 21, the Justice Department has been deciding whether to appeal the decision.

Latif’s lawyer, David Remes, says "why they continue to defend holding him is unfathomable" and contends, "Adnan’s case reflects the Obama administration’s complete failure to bring the Guantanamo litigation under control."

The detention of Latif is yet another incredibly disturbing indictment of a system developed to aid U.S prosecution of the "war on terror." Andy Worthington, author of The Guantanamo Files, detailed Latif’s capture:

"26-year old Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif (identified by the Pentagon Ab Aljallil Allal or Allal Ab Aljallil Abd Al Rahman Abd) stated that he had sustained a serious head injury in an automobile accident in 1994, and had spent years trying to find affordable medical treatment. After being told about the health-care office of a Pakistani aid worker in Afghanistan who would treat him, he said that he traveled to Afghanistan in 2001, and explained that, when the US-led invasion began, he fled to the border town of Khost and then made his way into Pakistan, where he was arrested by Pakistani forces, along with about 30 other Arabic-looking men. He told his lawyer, Marc Falkoff, that he later learned that each of them had been turned over to the US military for a bounty of $5000.

In his tribunal at Guantánamo, Latif appeared bewildered, refuting what he believed was an allegation that he came from a place called al-Qaeda by saying, "I am from Orday City in Yemen, not a city in al-Qaeda. My city is very far away from the city of al-Qaeda," which perhaps reinforces his claim that he had traveled to Afghanistan to receive treatment for a fractured skull."

In a recent post, Worthington illuminates his attorney, Marc Falkoff’s, reaction to the "unclassified summary of evidence"

"[W]hen I first saw the accusations, I thought they looked serious [but] when I looked at the government’s evidence, I was amazed. There was nothing there. Nothing at all trustworthy. Nothing that could be admitted into evidence in a court of law. Nothing that was remotely persuasive, even leaving legal niceties aside." At most, he added, "there was incredibly unreliable hearsay, often taken from other detainees who were — in the words of a military representative — "known liars,’ or else whom we now know to have been tortured."

Latif’s detention has driven him mad and turned him into a hazard to himself. An appeal issued in May 2009 by Amnesty International, as Worthington notes, described a "suicide attempt that took place on May 10, 2009, when he cut one of his wrists during a meeting" with Remes, his attorney.

"After the incident, Remes explained that Latif "chipped off a piece of the stiff veneer on the underside of our conference table and used it to saw into a vein in his left wrist " As he sawed, he drained his blood into a plastic container and, shortly before it was time for me to leave, he hurled the blood at me from the container." As Amnesty also explained, "A spokesman at Guantánamo confirmed the incident took place but said it could not be classified as a suicide attempt."

Amnesty also noted that Latif had been "held in solitary confinement in the psychiatric ward at Guantánamo since at least November 2008," and that he told his lawyers that "when he is awake he sees ghosts in the darkness, hears frightening voices and suffers from nightmares when he is asleep." He also told his lawyers that he had "ingested all sorts of materials including garbage bags, urine cups, prayer beads, a water bottle and a screw," that he had "eaten his own excrement and smeared it on his body" and that he had "used his own excrement to cover the walls of his cell door, the camera on the ceiling of his cell and the air vent in his cell."

In addition, Amnesty noted that Latif reportedly suffered from "a number of physical health problems, including a fractured cheekbone, a shattered eardrum, blindness in one eye, a dislocated shoulder blade, and a possibly dislocated knee." Latif also said that he suffered "constant throat and stomach pain which [made] it difficult for him to eat," but that, instead of dealing with this in an appropriate manner, the authorities strapped him in a restraint chair and force-fed him up to three times a day through a tube pushed up his nose into his stomach"

Rosenberg reports that recently Latif met his lawyer in "a padded green garment held together by Velcro called a "suicide smock." He had "been stripped of his underwear," and put into this "smock" which have been display for "reporters during camp tours." And, the "5-feet-4-inches" detainee" is now 93 pounds having lost more than twenty pounds since his arrival at the prison in January 2002.

As reported by AP in May 2009, after Latif’s suicide attempt, "the military says many incidents are not actual suicide attempts but merely "self-harm incidents" intended to gain attention."

The only problem with that argument is that "self-harm" is haram, which means it is not allowed in Islam. Muslims do not think their body is theirs. It belongs to Allah. If they do not treat their body properly, their body will be a testimony against their day of judgment before Allah. Latif’s desecration of his body affirms his attorney’s belief that Latif "sees death as his only way out."

Scott Horton with Harper’s Magazine has written about how the "suicides" are likely part of a cover-up of military wrongdoing at Guantanamo.

Latif’s case is but another example of what "the New Normal" does to human beings who get caught up in its inner workings. While presidential candidate Barack Obama said, after a Supreme Court ruling on June 12, 2008, that detainees held in Guantanamo Bay have a constitutional right to challenge their detention, "Today’s Supreme Court decision ensures that we can protect our nation and bring terrorists to justice, while also protecting our core values. The Court’s decision is a rejection of the Bush Administration’s attempt to create a legal black hole at Guantanamo – yet another failed policy supported by John McCain," President Obama has continued to attempt to create "a legal black hole at Guantanamo."

As the ACLU noted in their condemning report, "Establishing a New Normal":

"It was a promising beginning, but eighteen months [since Obama's Inauguration] Guantanamo is still open and some 180 prisoners remain there. The administration is not solely responsible for missing this one-year deadline; Congress has obstructed any possible relocation of even indisputably innocent detainees like the Chines Uighurs to the United States, thereby rendering diplomatic efforts to relocate detainees in Europe and elsewhere more difficult. And the administration deserves credit for releasing some 67 detainees from Guantanamo. But the Obama administration’s decision to halt all detainee releases to Yemen–even when the detainees have been cleared for release after years of harsh detention–has been a major factor in the prison’s remaining open; a majority of the remaining detainees are Yemeni. Moreover, the administration bears responsibility for opposing in court the release of detainees against whom the government has scant evidence of wrongdoing.

A FEW NOTES ON THE NEW NORMAL

Whether it’s the case of Latif or the case of 15-year old Omar Khadr, who was threatened with gang rape if he didn’t confess to committing a war crime, or the case of Canadian Maher Arar, who was interrogated and tortured (beaten with an electrical cable), or countless others who pursue release from detention because there is no evidence against them, the U.S. continues to have a moral imperative to close Guantanamo (and other prisons).

The system of detention and the Kafkaesque legal system detainees are being put through serves as a way of entrenching America in a permanent state of war. It strengthens this idea that some humans, in this global war, are less free than others.

If we think the uproar against the "Ground Zero Mosque" in this country upsets the Muslim World, we should shudder at the thought of what radical effect America’s extralegal system for detainees has had on Muslims. Not only should America make peace with Islam and uphold religious tolerance by allowing mosques to be built in America, but it should also end the factory of crimes against humanity that is Guantanamo Bay Prison.

More on How Physicians Became Torture Doctors for CIA

9:01 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

 

 

 

A good amount of documentation on the involvement of psychologists in the torture and abuse of detainees or “terror suspects.” And, a new study provides even more revelations on the involvement of physicians making it increasingly clear that medical professionals put limits on ethical standards they were expected to follow in order to help the CIA interrogate detainees.

 

The study, titled “Roles of CIA Physicians in Enhanced Interrogation and Torture of Detainees,” authored by Leonard S. Rubinstein, the president of Physicians for Human Rights, and Brigadier General (ret.) Stephen N. Xenakis, a former Army psychiatrists (who is now with the Center for Public Health and Human Rights), utilizes a previously secret document from 2004 and lays out the “guidelines for detainee interrogation” that physicians, psychologists, and other health care professionals developed and followed so they could serve the CIA.

 

Guidelines indicate the doctors, who were working for the CIA’s Office of Medical Services, conducted medical evaluations [experimentations] on detainees “before and during interrogations” and waterboarding “required the presence of a physician.”

 

Physicians documented the effects of “enhanced interrogation techniques” [torture] like waterboarding and decided waterboarding “created risks of drowning, hypothermia, aspiration pneumonia, or laryngospasm.” They ignored “clinical experience/research” and assured lawyers “there was no ‘medical reason’ to believe that waterboarding [would] lead to physical pain.”

 

It was established that “cramped confinement could result in deep vein thrombosis” and death could result from “lengthy exposure to cold water.” And, the physicians, psychologists, and other health care professionals working for the CIA developed “limitations” so that techniques like waterboarding, cramped confinement, sensory deprivation, stress positions, etc could be used on detainees.

 

Limitations included: “exposure to specified temperature either up to time of hypothermia would develop or on evidence of hypothermia,” dietary restrictions up to “body weight loss of 10% or evidence of significant malnutrition,” “exposure to noise just under decibel levels associated with hearing loss,” up to 48 hours of exposure to stress positions “provided hands were no higher than the head” of a detainee, and no more than eight consecutive hours or eighteen hours per day of “confinement in a box.”

 

Much of this took place after 2003, after a CIA Inspector General investigation of “enhanced interrogation techniques” [torture], OMS physicians were asked to provide “opinions to the agency and lawyers on whether techniques used would be expected to cause severe pain or suffering and thus constitute torture.” Slowly, OMS physicians’ work for the CIA transformed into work, which violated “ethical standards,” prohibiting physicians from using “medical skills to facilitate torture or be present when torture is taking place.”

 

The physicians consulted directly with Department of Justice lawyers and were asked to provide legal cover by supporting “legal decisions” that “interrogators who applied enhanced interrogation techniques neither inflicted sever mental or physical pain or anguish and thus did not commit torture.” For techniques like sleep deprivation, they claimed the use thereof “could not lead to profound disruption in the detainees’ senses or personality (the legal definition of psychological torture).”

 

As suggested in the opening paragraph, it has been evident that physicians and psychologists have been involved in torture for some time, especially since Wikileaks leaked the Guantanamo Standard Operating Procedures Manual in November 2007.

 

The manual indicated that, “incoming prisoners were to be held in near-isolation for the first [four] weeks to foster dependence on interrogators and `enhance and exploit the disorientation and disorganization felt by a newly arrived detainee in the interrogation process.’” It outlines how isolation was to be used on detainees, a technique Physicians for Human Rights said can lead to symptoms of “`bewilderment, anxiety, frustration, dejection, boredom, obsessive thoughts or ruminations, depression, and, in some cases, hallucination’” and, if prolonged, could result in “increased stress, abnormal neuroendocrine function, changes in blood pressure and inflammatory stress responses.”

 

Then, it was known those involved understood how they could be prosecuted for violating international law. As an April 16, 2003, memo from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld explained 

"Caution: the use of isolation as an interrogation technique requires detailed implementation instructions, including specific guidelines regarding the length of isolation, medical and psychological review, and approvals for extension of the length of by the appropriate level in the chain of command. This technique is not know to have been generally used for interrogation purposes for longer than 30 days. Those nations that believe that detainees are subject to POW protections may view use of this technique as inconsistent with the requirements of Geneva III, Article 13 which provides that POWs must be protected against acts of intimidation; Article 14 which provides that POWs are entitled to respect for their person; Article 34 which prohibits coercion and Article 126 which ensures access and basic standards of treatment. Although the provisions of Geneva are not applicable to the interrogation of unlawful combatants, consideration should be given to these views prior to application of this technique."

  

The report is yet another indication of the need for more investigation, accountability, and reform from the Obama Administration. Yet, as demonstrated by a comprehensive report ("Establishing the New Normal") from the ACLU, the Obama Administration has avoided its obligation to accountability for torture and chosen to follow the dangerous mantra of “looking forward, not back,” a false choice because, as the ACLU states in the report:

 

“a strong democracy rests not on the goodwill of its leaders but on the impartial enforcement of laws. Sanctioning impunity for government officials who authorized torture sends a problematic message to the world, invites abuses by future administrations, and further undermines the rule of law that is the basis of any democracy.”

 

What’s It Gonna Take for America to Shut Down the Prisons at Guantanamo?

9:33 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

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Flickr Photo by Damon Lynch| This is a picture from an Amnesty International "Close Gitmo" demonstration outside the US Embassy at Grosvenor Square in London on January 11, 2008. It had been six years since the U.S. authorities first transported ‘war on terror’ detainees to Guantanamo


When we consider the indignity and inhumane treatment that detainees at Guantanamo have experienced and the torture and abuse which has surely inflamed Islamists who fill the ranks of al-Qaeda-like networks, what is our nation’s collective reaction? How do we respond? Does the thought of Guantanamo even matter to us?

Do the thoughts of detainees at Guantanamo being subjected to acts that we Americans would probably think could only occur to victims of crimes depicted in Law & Order:SVU or CSI affect anyone? Have we any empathy for those who have not been afforded a trial, or, if innocent, not been released?

Eight years ago, the first detainees arrived at Guantanamo Bay. They arrived dressed in "turquoise blue face masks, orange ski caps and fluorescent orange jumpsuits, their hands in manacles." They were not considered prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention.

Over the course of the past eight years, there have been countless reports of abuse and violations of the law. Guantanamo has provided Americans with an example of the behavior and operations of American forces at other prison sites all over the world that should be far from acceptable.

Days after being inaugurated, Obama issued three executive orders that banned the use of enhanced interrogation techniques (Cheney’s euphemism for torture), pledged to close Guantanamo, and began a review of all pending cases at Guantanamo.

This press event could be considered a publicity stunt that was designed to stave off angry human rights, civil rights, and/or civil liberties advocates who had been ramping up pressure on Obama throughout his presidential campaign so that he would make a promise to close Guantanamo once he got into office. Fortunately, those angry groups did not let up. On top of right wing hysteria and Cheney’s national security speaking tour, the groups forced Obama to further explain how he would take action on Guantanamo in a press event in May 2009.

During the event, Obama declared, "instead of bringing terrorists to justice, efforts at prosecution met setbacks, cases lingered on, and in 2006 the Supreme Court invalidated the entire system." He also stated, "Guantanamo set back the moral authority that is America’s strongest currency in the world."

Obama further explained:

"Instead of building a durable framework for the struggle against al Qaeda that drew upon our deeply held values and traditions, our government was defending positions that undermined the rule of law. Indeed, part of the rationale for establishing Guantanamo in the first place was the misplaced notion that a prison there would be beyond the law – a proposition that the Supreme Court soundly rejected. Meanwhile, instead of serving as a tool to counter-terrorism, Guantanamo became a symbol that helped al Qaeda recruit terrorists to its cause. Indeed, the existence of Guantanamo likely created more terrorists around the world than it ever detained.

So the record is clear: rather than keep us safer, the prison at Guantanamo has weakened American national security. It is a rallying cry for our enemies. It sets back the willingness of our allies to work with us in fighting an enemy that operates in scores of countries. By any measure, the costs of keeping it open far exceed the complications involved in closing it. That is why I argued that it should be closed throughout my campaign. And that is why I ordered it closed within one year."

But, once he took on this issue, it became clear that he would not seek to mold consensus or work to alleviate the disinformed fears of Americans who are afraid of the "terrorists" being held at Guantanamo. It became clear he would not consistently challenge conventional wisdom that Guantanamo was making our country safer (even though he said something along this line in his speech on national security).

Democrats and Obama allowed the issue of health care reform to subjugate the urgency to close Guantanamo. They allowed fears of releasing detainees who might go back home and engage in violence against America dominate the conversation. And, they allowed the idea of transporting detainees out of Guantanamo to a facility somewhere in the U.S. to become a not in my backyard ordeal for representatives, senators, and their respective constituents while at the same time exhibiting a disappointing willingness to use indefinite detention or preventive detention to address issues posed by Guantanamo detainees.

Now, it seems highly unlikely that Obama will be closing the Guantanamo facility anytime soon. Even as news seeps out that what had been thought to be suicides at Guantanamo were probably homicides, the media has collectively allowed the election of Republican Scott Brown to the seat in Massachusetts that Ted Kennedy once held to be more significant than news of possible murder at Guantanamo.

Even if detainees are moved to a facility in Thompson, IL and a Gitmo-North prison is effectively established, Guantanamo Bay will likely remain open. Haitians who flee the devastation from a 7.0 earthquake and hope to get to America will be captured at sea and "housed" at Guantanamo. So, the facility will continue to act as a camp for containing human beings that America does not want to get in the way.

The best chance wrongfully detained human beings at Guantanamo have for escaping the Kafkaesque trial process they face as "terror suspects" lies in the hands of those who hear the stories of detainees who have been held at Guantanamo and shudder and then act.

For example, published recently in The Guardian is the story of British resident Omar Deghayes who was imprisoned in Guantanamo and subjected to brutal torture, which resulted in the loss of sight in one eye.

Deghayes chose to protest along with other prisoners a form of humiliation he and others were being subjected—a form of humiliation that "involved being forced to take off their trousers and walk round in their pants." A group of guards noted the protest and entered the cell to punish him. He was held down and bound with chains.

"I didn’t realise what was going on until the guy had pushed his fingers inside my eyes and I could feel the coldness of his fingers. Then I realised he was trying to gouge out my eyes," Deghayes says. He wanted to scream in agony, but was determined not to give his torturers the satisfaction. Then the officer standing over him instructed the eye-stabber to push harder. "When he pulled his hands out, I remember I couldn’t see anything I’d lost sight completely in both eyes." Deghayes was dumped in a cell, fluid streaming from his eyes."

Deghayes was released two years ago (which indicates that he never posed any threat to America or Americans at all). And, the fact that Barack Obama has not closed the facility, even though 12 months ago he pledged to close it, haunts him. The horrifying and terrifying thought of what might be happening to 200 other detainees at Guantanamo troubles him greatly.

Today, January 21, 2010, is a Day of Action to #CloseGitmo. For those who desire to see justice and accountability and for those who have suffered brutality at the hands of guards at Guantanamo, the ACLU, Amnesty International, and many other organizations like World Can’t Wait and Witness Against Torture will be flooding Twitter with messages about Guantanamo, torture, habeas corpus rights, etc.

Facebook statuses will be donated and social networking sites will be dominated with discussion concerning the need to close Guantanamo.

Actions will also take place in D.C. Veterans affiliated with VoteVets.org will likely be there to lend their support to the need to shut down the prison facilities at Guantanamo.

For the laws that continue to be broken even though Obama pledged to ensure policies and practice were no longer in violation of domestic or international law…

For the lives that have been destroyed as a result of being held at Guantanamo without charge, trial, or, if innocent, any prospect of release…

And, for the promises that have not been kept by the Obama Administration, this virtual and non-virtual Day of Action is a response to the lip service that Obama has paid human rights advocates and concerned citizens. It is a demand for concrete action now, action which those who have been held at Guantanamo and those who are being held at Guantanamo deserve.

For information which may help you formulate a blog posting or diary that could lend support to discussions during this Day of Action, visit the ACLU’s website, Close Gitmo. Also, check out reports and information posted on Amnesty USA’s page on Guantanamo.