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Why the U.S. Wants Military Commission Show Trials for 9/11 Suspects

5:17 pm in Military, Terrorism, Torture by Jeff Kaye

A number of commentators have replied to Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement today that five suspects in the 9/11 attacks, including alleged Al Qaeda mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, will not be tried in civilian courts for the terrorist attacks almost ten years ago, but will be tried by President Obama’s revamped military commissions tribunals. What no commentator has stated thus far is the plain truth that the commissions’ main purpose is to produce government propaganda, not justice. These are meant to be show trials, part of an overarching plan of “exploitation” of prisoners, which includes, besides a misguided attempt by some to gain intelligence data, the inducement of false confessions and the recruitment of informants via torture. The aim behind all this is political: to mobilize the U.S. population for imperialist war adventures abroad, and political repression and economic austerity at home.

Holder claims he wanted civilian trials that would “prove the defendants’ guilt while adhering to the bedrock traditions and values of our laws.” The Attorney General blamed Congress for passing restrictions on bringing Guantanamo prisoners to the United States for making civilian trials inside the United States impossible. Marcy Wheeler has noted that the Congressional restrictions related to the Department of Defense, not the Department of Justice, and there is plenty of reason to believe the Obama administration could have pressed politicians on this issue, but chose not to. (Others see it differently.)

Human rights organizations have responded with dismay, if not outrage. Center for Constitutional Rights, whose attorneys have been active in the legal defense of a number of Guantanamo prisoners, stated, “The announcement underscores the fact that decisions about whether to try detainees in federal court or by military commission are purely political. The decision is clearly driven not by the nature of the alleged offense, or where and when it was committed, but by the unpopularity of the detainee and the political culture in Washington.” CCR also compared the precedent-setting behavior to “Egypt’s apparent plans to use military trials for protesters at Tahir Square.”

Human Rights First spokesperson Daphne Eviatar said, “Decisions on where to prosecute suspected terrorists should be made based on careful legal analysis, not on politics. This purely political decision risks making a second-class justice system a permanent feature U.S. national security policy – a mistake that flies in the face of core American values and would undermine U.S. standing around the world.”

Most organizations stressed the fact that this was an about-face for the Obama administration. Indeed, one of the oldest human rights organizations in the United States, Human Rights Watch, called the decision a “blow to justice.” HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth said, “The military commissions system is flawed beyond repair. By resurrecting this failed Bush administration idea, President Obama is backtracking dangerously on his reform agenda.”

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers statement concentrated on the faults of the military commissions themselves, headlining their press release, “At Guantanamo, “Detainees Are Presumed Guilty”:

“Despite some cosmetic changes since the Bush-era commissions, the commission rules still permit the government to introduce secret evidence, hearsay and statements obtained through coercion,” said the association’s Executive Director, Norman Reimer. “NACDL maintains that the rules and procedures for these commission trials raise serious questions about the government’s commitment to constitutional principles upon which our country was founded. “

Anthony Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU, echoed this today when he called the military commissions “rife with constitutional and procedural problems,” noting the outstanding cases “are sure to be subject to continuous legal challenges and delays, and their outcomes will not be seen as legitimate.”

The Origins of the Military Commissions

CCR, HRF, HRW, and NACDL are all correct, so far as they go. It is evident to many observers that only peculiar military exigency, backed by facts, could allow for military tribunals, as the Supreme Court’s 2006 Hamden decision made clear. It is a matter of historical record that the Bush-era military commissions policy, adopted by President Barack Obama, was initially pushed by former CIA employees William Barr and David Addington, with the encouragement of former Vice President Dick Cheney, along with other “War Council” participants John Yoo, Defense Department counsel under Donald Rumsfeld, William Haynes, and Bush lawyers Alberto Gonzales and Timothy Flanigan.

At the same time the military commissions proposal was initiated, via a military order by Bush, the Bush administration was stripping detainees of Geneva Conventions protections, as well as implementing a program of torture, with Haynes soliciting the Pentagon’s Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) as early as December 2001 for techniques used in the “exploitation” of prisoners.

In a recent article by Jason Leopold and Jeffrey Kaye, it was shown that the JPRA program that was “reverse-engineered” was Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) course SV-91, “Special Survival for Special Mission Units,” whose mission was to train U.S. military and intelligence personnel to withstand torture meant to “exploit” them for enemy purposes. Those purposes went far beyond the gathering of intelligence. As then-SERE psychologist Bruce Jessen, who was later to work as a contract psychologist and interrogator for the CIA beginning in 2002, noted in notes for SV-91 written in 1989:

“From the moment you are detained (if some kind of exploitation is your Detainer’s goal) everything your Detainer does will be contrived to bring about these factors: CONTROL, DEPENDENCY, COMPLIANCE AND COOPERATION,” Jessen wrote. “Your detainer will work to take away your sense of control. This will be done mostly by removing external control (i.e., sleep, food, communication, personal routines etc. )…Your detainer wants you to feel ‘EVERYTHING’ is dependent on him, from the smallest detail, (food, sleep, human interaction), to your release or your very life … Your detainer wants you to comply with everything he wishes. He will attempt to make everything from personal comfort to your release unavoidably connected to compliance in your mind.”

Jessen wrote that cooperation is the “end goal” of the detainer, who wants the detainee “to see that [the detainer] has ‘total’ control of you because you are completely dependent on him, and thus you must comply with his wishes. Therefore, it is absolutely inevitable that you must cooperate with him in some way (propaganda, special favors, confession, etc.).”

A former colleague of Dr. Jessen, and along with him a founder of the SV-91 SERE class, former Captain Michael Kearns told Leopold and Kaye:

“What I think is important to note, as an ex-SERE Resistance to Interrogation instructor, is the focus of Jessen’s instruction. It is exploitation, not specifically interrogation. And this is not a picayune issue, because if one were to ‘reverse-engineer’ a course on resistance to exploitation then what one would get is a plan to exploit prisoners, not interrogate them. The CIA/DoD torture program appears to have the same goals as the terrorist organizations or enemy governments for which SV-91 and other SERE courses were created to defend against: the full exploitation of the prisoner in his intelligence, propaganda, or other needs held by the detaining power, such as the recruitment of informers and double agents. Those aspects of the US detainee program have not generally been discussed as part of the torture story in the American press.”

The Stalinist governments of the USSR and East Europe used to make a great practice of show trials, one of the most famous being the trial of Hungarian Cardinal Mindszenty. Arthur Koestler’s famous book Darkness at Noon is about the show trial and confession of an “old Bolshevik” under Stalin’s regime. Such show trials still occur in many parts of the world, from China and Vietnam, to Indonesia, Burma, Iran, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, and the list could go on and on.

That list now includes the United States, where most recently, former child prisoner Omar Khadr was tried in a military commission, pleading guilty with a coerced confession, after years of torture and imprisonment in solitary confinement, his penalty phase of the military tribunal amounting to a show trial, complete with psychiatric “expert” testimony about Khadr’s supposed propensity for “terrorism.” The result? A 40-year sentence for the young man who never spent a free day as an adult, part of a staged deal with the U.S. military prosecutors, who presumably will release Khadr to Canadian authorities in a year or so, where he will continue to be imprisoned, pending any appeals there. But the penalty “trial” got a lot of press, and the U.S. was able to garner a propaganda “victory.”

Without Accountability, Whither America?

The United States is only a small step away from some kind of dictatorship. This may sound like hyperbole to some, but the lack of a clear and strong opposition to military and intelligence community institutional pressures has driven the Obama administration to the right even of the Bush administration on matters of secrecy and executive power. Proposals for “terrorist” or “national security” courts continue to be seriously considered, while the public uproar over the use of torture on prisoners has died down ever since Barack Obama told his Democratic Party followers not to “look back,” and made clear that accountability for war crimes would not happen on his watch. Meanwhile, tremendous inroads are made on privacy rights, while surveillance of private citizens, strip searches at airports, seizures of personal computers, and gathering of personal data from emails and phone calls are now everyday occurrences.

As a result, Obama has been the active creature of militarist forces within the government, and on point after point, has given way to lobbying by the military and intelligence establishments, themselves beholden to a power elite that holds the economic reins of the country, from oil to finance, in their hands. Obama’s role is most evident in his recent military actions against Libya.

The courts, too, have stepped back from their gesture towards judicial independence under Bush, with the Supreme Court ruling today that it would not hear three Guantánamo detainee cases, appeals on rejected habeas reviews regarding Fawzi Khalid Abdullah Fahad Al Odah, Ghaleb Nassar Al-Bihani and Adham Mohammed Ali Awad. While the cases concerned issues surrounding use of hearsay, other evidentiary standards, the role of international law, and the right to a meaningful challenge to detention, the Court gave no explanation for denial of cert. Courthouse News noted, by the way, that new Justice Elena Kagan “does not appear to have recused herself from consideration of two of the cases because of her prior work as U.S. Solicitor General.”

Meanwhile, some anti-torture activists are trying to pursue accountability the best they can, going after the licensure status of mental health professionals who participated in the Bush torture regime. Complaints against former Guantanamo Chief Psychologist Larry James and CIA contract interrogator James Mitchell have not gotten very far, with their cases dismissed.

Another case against former Major John Leso, a psychologist working for the DoD Behavioral Science Consultation Team at Guantanamo, who in 2002 helped write an interrogation protocol that relied in part on SERE “reverse-engineered” torture techniques, was also dismissed, but according to Raw Story, this Tuesday the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) and the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) will ask the New York Supreme Court to reconsider the decision of the New York State Office of Professional Discipline (OPD) not to investigate the misconduct complaint against Leso.

The issue of the military commissions must be considered in the context of its embedded existence as part of a full-scale exploitation plan upon prisoners, implemented as part of a war policy with strong imperialist ambitions, initiated by the United States in the aftermath of 9/11. The agitation for such a war preceded 9/11. The terrorist attack set lose this militarist policy, whose appurtenances — military tribunals, exploitation of prisoners, psychological warfare, secret prisons, false confessions, experimental torture programs, and unchecked executive power — threaten to end the semblance of democracy in the United States once and for all.

Psychologizing Bruce Ivins: Who are the Amerithrax Behavioral Analysis Experts?

8:12 pm in Terrorism by Jeff Kaye

The investigation by the “Amerithrax Expert Behavioral Analysis Panel” on “the mental health issues” of accused anthrax mailer Dr. Bruce Ivins purports to have been undertaken with “no predispositions regarding Dr. Ivin’s guilt or innocence.” Yet the report (PDF here of the released partial redacted version) says the Panel’s review of sealed psychiatric records “does support the Department of Justice’s (DOJ’s) determination that he was responsible.

In a separate article by Marcy Wheeler earlier today, she points out that the report totally accepts the allegation that the anthrax spores originated from flask RMR-1029, and that therefore Ivins had “the motivation and the means” to carry out the attack. Of course, as Wheeler notes, the National Academy of Sciences recently said that there is insufficient scientific evidence to back up DOJ’s conclusion regarding this. (Jim White also wrote about the NAS report when it first came out.) Wheeler’s article also points out other inconsistencies and illogical aspects of the Panel’s report.

I wish to concentrate a bit more on the idea this panel had no “predispositions.” Unfortunately, just as the released summary leaves out over 250 pages of the report, including its case narrative and “behavioral analysis and interpretation”, that unreleased portion also leaves out the biographies included about the Panel’s members. As a result, the lack of presented evidence makes it extremely difficult to comment about the conclusions noted in the Executive Summary regarding Ivins’ supposed penchant for “revenge”, his purported tendencies towards exploitation and manipulation (as they allege), his being “skilled in deceit”, his “obsessions,” his “strange and traumatic childhood,” and “his desperate need for personal validation,” among other post hoc conclusions made by the Panel’s authors.

While the lack of evidence makes it difficult to swallow what sounds like character assassination, we do at least have the list of panel members by which to examine the neutral disinterest the forensic psychiatric examination should demand of those who are investigating the background of Dr. Ivins. Instead, what a brief review of the panel’s bona fides reveals is an overwhelming stacking of this “expert” panel by doctors and others who are deeply beholden to government interests, and in particular to security agencies, including those involved in bioterrorism security. For such individuals, it is difficult to see that they would buck the position of the FBI and DOJ that Ivins was guilty.

Who are the Behavioral Experts?

As an article at the Los Angeles Times points out, without further elaborating, they weren’t all behavioral experts:

The behavioral panel was formed in late 2009 at the suggestion of Saathoff, people familiar with the matter said. Saathoff appointed the remaining panelists: five other psychiatrists, two officials from the American Red Cross and a physician-toxicologist.

The addition of the Red Cross members is curious, especially since Ivins is accused of joining the Red Cross at the time of the anthrax mailings to gain self-importance as an anthrax expert, and to appear “as a prophet and as a defender of the nation” to a woman he was reportedly obsessed with. Indeed, the report has a nine-page appendix dedicated to Ivins and the Red Cross, which has not been published publicly.(continued)
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U.S.-backed Yemen Govt Massacres Three Dozen Demonstrators, Hundreds Wounded

8:55 am in Countries in Conflict, Terrorism by Jeff Kaye

In news coming out of Yemen, the UK Guardian is reporting that “soldiers and plain-clothed government loyalists opened fired on protesters trying to march through the Yemeni capital” Sana’a earlier today, killing “at least” 35 people, including a child, and wounding hundreds.

Witnesses say the first shots were fired by security forces trying to disperse the protesters and they were joined by plain-clothed men who fired on the demonstrators with Kalashnikovs from the roofs of nearby houses….

“They shot people in the back of the head as they were running away,” said Mohammed al-Jamil, an Indian doctor treating the wounded. “Whoever did this wanted these people to die.”

The violent attack on demonstrators, who have been protesting the rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, is not the first, but it is the most deadly in recent weeks in this country which fought a bloody civil war in the 1990s. The opposition is a disparate group of Islamists, socialists, Houthi, tribalists, and southern secessionists who seek a return to the days when South Yemen ruled itself. Al Qaeda has pledged support to the opposition, but has not been welcomed by the latter.

Just a week ago, the U.S. gave strong support to a supposed “reform” initiative proposed by Saleh (emphasis added):

“The idea of the president’s downfall is not a real solution to the country’s woes,” U.S. Ambassador Gerald Feierstein said in an interview with the state daily al-Syasiah….

Meanwhile, EU called for all Yemeni political parties to positively respond to the Thursday’s reform initiative of President Saleh, urging them to engage in an open and constructive dialogue….

The government said that while security forces are busy protecting the protests, al-Qaida wing on Friday gunned down four more policemen on a patrol vehicle in southeast province of Hadramout, bringing the death toll of security and army personnel targeted by the terrorist group to 20 since Feb. 11.

US President Barack Obama’s top anti-terror advisor John Brennan on Friday called Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh to welcome his pledge to devolve power and urged the opposition to support the plan.

The Saleh government’s lies about protecting protesters has been met by the truth of many dead. Xinhua is reporting this morning 41 dead, including a child, and more than 200 wounded.

This blood is partly on the hands of U.S. and EU leaders who are propping up a murderous, corrupt dictator — including by drone assassinations — while claiming the mantle of justice while attacking another dictator in Libya. The main difference? Libya has a lot of oil, while Yemen is running out of oil.

The cynicism of the Obama administration knows no bounds. Will the American press, which follows the rulers of America like a puppy dog, raise a fuss over this atrocity? Not while U.S. forces are operating in Yemen, and the administration screams about terrorists. While Al Qaeda is present in Yemen, the vast majority of the protesters have legitimate grievances, if not at times at odds with each other, as the opposition is quite fractious.

So while the eyes of the world are on Libya and the Japanese nuclear reactors, U.S. ally Saleh is given the green light to shoot protesters down in the street.

Where is the conscience of this country? Has militarism and fear completely taken hold so that, as I imagine the Pentagon and intelligence community believe at this point, the U.S. Executive Branch can do whatever they want, that there are no real consequences?

Dr. Welner Defends His Testimony in Khadr Trial, Spreads Administration Propaganda on Detainee “Recidivism”

9:17 pm in Military, Terrorism, Torture by Jeff Kaye

On Christmas Eve, the Washington Post published an op-ed by forensic psychiatrist Michael Welner, “What I really said about radical jihadism.” Dr. Welner achieved some notoriety for his testimony in the sentencing phase of the trial of fomer child soldier and Guantanamo prisoner, Omar Khadr. Mr. Khadr was the first former child soldier tried for war crimes by the United States in living memory. Sentenced to forty years in prison, due to a stipulation that was part of a plea bargain that garnered a confession from the formerly tortured Khadr, his sentence has been reduced to eight years, some at Guantanamo, where he remains imprisoned in solitary confinement, and some in Canada, upon a presumed repatriation at some point in the future.

As I pointed out at the time, even before he testified, Dr. Welner was telling Steven Edwards of the Canadian National Post that the young Khadr had failed to “publicly repudiat[e] al Qaida, as civilized Muslims should.” Nor was Dr. Welner above a sly comparison of the young Omar Khadr, who has spent his entire brief adulthood in U.S. custody, with America’s arch enemy (and former ally) Osama bin Laden.

“When one leaps to the conclusion about Omar Khadr’s future because he is friendly, one might recall that Osama bin Laden has always been described as gentle, likeable and charming,” New York-based Welner told Postmedia News.

The “Context” of “Radical Jihadism”

In a December 5 op-ed, also for the Washington Post, “Radical jihadism is not a mental disorder,” retired Brigadier General (and child and adolescent psychiatrist) Stephen N. Xenakis, critiqued Welner’s testimony at trial. Xenakis himself was a member of the Khadr defense team, and spent approximately 200 hours in clinical meetings with Mr. Khadr. While he was on the witness list for the sentencing phase of the military commissions trial, Dr. Xenakis never testified. (Andrea Prasow’s theory for the failure to testify, posted at The Jurist, strikes me as more likely than Xenakis’s own statement that the defense thought Omar Khadr’s own testimony more powerful than that of his mental health witnesses.)

In his op-ed, Dr. Xenakis wrote:

“In my professional opinion, Omar Khadr is at a high risk of dangerousness as a radical jihadist,” Welner said. Based on hundreds of hours of reviewing records and interviewing witnesses, and 7 to 8 hours of examining the prisoner, the doctor said he concluded that Khadr was a radical jihadist who was at risk of inspiring others to violent acts in the future.

Dr. Welner was nonplussed, replying that Xenakis had “mischaracterized” his testimony. “Assessing risk of dangerous jihadist activity borrows from clinical understandings about criminal and violent recidivism,” Welner wrote, “but it must reflect the context of actual jihadist violence or an individual’s ability to facilitate that violence.” He added that his risk assessment on Mr. Khadr relied upon “statistical base rates” and cited a recent report from the director of national intelligence which noted that “the figures of released Guantanamo detainees who return to active battle have climbed sharply from just 6 percent in 2008 to 25 percent.”

Lies, damned lies, and statistics

Now, Dr. Welner never bothers to mention that at the time of trial, the latest figures on recidivism from Guantanamo detainees was around 5%, as reported by the Department of Defense, as was finally conceded by the New York Times in an article in June 2009, after considerable controversy about over-reporting recidivism statistics. The Times noted that discrepancies which led them to report the figure as a higher 1-in-7 recidivism rate were due to adding in those detainees identified as “suspected of engaging in terrorism.” (See also this May 2009 article by Lara Jakes in USA Today, which directly reports the Pentagon as giving a 5 percent recidivism rate.)

But even the latter figure is extremely questionable, as an earlier report by Professor Mark Denbeaux, attorneys Joshua Denbeaux and R.David Gratz, and researchers from the Seton Hall Law Center for Policy and Research proved in a scholarly examination of government recidivism claims published last year. The Seton Hall report demonstrates shoddy record-keeping by the Pentagon (at least two reported recidivist “terrorists” were never even at Guantanamo; some of those released took up arms against Morocco, Russia, and Turkey, but not the United States). More egregiously, former detainees are described as “returning to the fight” solely because they engaged in “anti-U.S. propaganda.”

Many of the same problems occur in the report, “Summary of the Reengagement of Detainees Formerly Held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba” (PDF), released earlier this month. The report claims that of the released detainees, “[t]he Intelligence Community assesses that 81 (13.5 percent) are confirmed and 69 (11.5 percent) are suspected of reengaging in terrorist or insurgent activities after transfer.” Suspicion of terrorist activities doesn’t rely anymore on engagement in “anti-U.S. propaganda,” but is predicated upon “[p]lausible but unverified or single-source reporting” (emphasis added).

In a press release following the Pentagon’s latest release on “recidivism” figures for former Guantanamo detainees, Center for Constitutional Rights commented, the government “persists in using the language of ‘re-engagement’ to describe individuals, despite the fact that the majority of them should never have been detained in the first place and were known early on by the government to be innocent. It is not possible to return to the battlefield if you were never there in the first place.” Furthermore, “the latest report only summarizes its figures without actually naming any alleged recidivists or including any information that would enable meaningful scrutiny.”

Whatever the actual figures, and the Pentagon is hardly a trustworthy source, Dr. Welner doesn’t bother to mention that the “confirmed” figure is actually around 13 percent, not the 25 percent he cites. Of course, if Welner were honest, he would admit that he didn’t have any such figures at the time of his evaluation, and that the only figures then open to him were those of the approximately 5 percent reported earlier.

In addition, as a psychiatric professional, Dr. Welner must know that extrapolation of dangerousness from “clinical understandings about criminal and violent recidivism” about which he is familiar, i.e., an American population, on a population largely culturally different is extremely problematic. For instance, norms on psychological tests refer to specific populations, and one would never think of administering, for instance, a recent journal article states that use of the Psychopathy Checklist, widely used to predict violent and non-violent recidivism, is based on of Anglo-American samples, and its generalizability “beyond these groups… is still in question and requires further research.” But it is just for this reason that Dr. Welner relied so heavily upon the work of Danish correctional psychologist Nicolai Sennels, “precisely because Sennels has studied and treated large-scale groups of young Muslim and non-Muslim inmates.”

Racist Psychology

In his op-ed, Dr. Xenakis wrote:

As the defense explained during cross-examination, Sennels is also known for inflammatory views on Islam, having claimed that “massive inbreeding within the Muslim culture during the last 1,400 years may have done catastrophic damage to their gene pool.” Sennels has described the Koran as “a criminal book that forces people to do criminal things.” Welner specifically repudiated these views in court.

But in this duel of op-eds, Dr. Welner went further, defending Sennels as a professional “lauded by the Danish Psychological Association.” That Sennels “has now become a foe of unregulated Muslim immigration to Europe,” Welner wrote, “does not negate what he learned from giving of himself to help Muslims stay out of prison.”

Sennels is a racist ideologue, who uses psychological jargon to argue for the ejection of Muslims from Europe. He spews his views, based upon his work as a social worker and psychologist working with “antisocial individuals.” Despite the fact that he admits, “I did not keep statistics of any kind,” he believes he has enough evidence to conclude that “very few Muslims have the will, social freedom and strength of personality” to be integrated into European society.

Sennels continues. “Many young Muslims become assailants,” he writes. “This is not just because of the Muslim cultural acceptance of aggression, but also because the Muslim honor mentality makes them into fragile, insecure men. Instead of being flexible and humorous they become stiff and develop fragile, glass-like, narcissistic personalities.” And from this, the Danish psychologist, “lauded by the Danish Psychological Association,” and Dr. Welner, concludes that the presence of Muslim populations in many Western countries means “the possibility that violent conflict will happen in Western cities all over the world is very great.” His solution: “draconian measures”; “shutting down Muslim immigration;” “tightening the thumb screws on integration”; “and perhaps even sending Muslims who proved themselves unable to adjust to our Western secular laws back to their countries of origin.”

Any data stemming from the work of Nicolai Sennels is irretrievably biased and unusable. It is to the ever-lasting detriment of the U.S. armed forces that they used an expert who relied upon unscientific approaches and racist ideology to testify on the dangerousness of a Guantanamo prisoner.

Predicting Dangerousness Has “Very Low Reliability”

Dr. Welner certainly sounds on the defensive in his article. He cites a previous Supreme Court decision, Estelle v. Smith (1981), and says that since that decision “forensic psychiatry has refined such dangerousness evaluation to focus on context.” Welner has reason to be defensive. For one thing, Estelle v. Smith concerned the throwing out of such a dangerousness evaluation because the defendant’s rights had been violated. The irony of this is not lost on those of us who have castigated the military commissions and the entire “war on terror” detainee policy as being outside the law. Additionally, the case includes this notable aside:

…some in the psychiatric community are of the view that clinical predictions as to whether a person would or would not commit violent acts in the future are “fundamentally of very low reliability,” and that psychiatrists possess no special qualifications for making such forecasts. See Report of the American Psychiatric Association Task Force on Clinical Aspects of the Violent Individual 23-30, 33 (1974); A Stone, Mental Health and Law: A System in Transition 27-36 (1975); Brief for American Psychiatric Association as Amicus Curiae 11-17.

In a widely-cited 1994 essay, “The Dimensions of Dangerousness Revisited: Assessing Forensic Predictions About Violence” in Law and Human Behavior, sociologist Robert Menzies and colleagues, concluded that while some forensic clinicians “were able to predict some people, under limited temporal and contextual conditions, some of the time, under no circumstances could even the most encouraging performances be mustered as an argument for clinical or psychometric involvement in the identification of potentially violent clinical or correctional subjects.” A later 2000 study on sexual predator evaluations and evidentiary reliability concluded there is a “large and consistent body of empirical evidence indicates that the standards of the profession include no ability to accurately predict dangerous behavior” (emphasis added).

That’s not the kind of evidence that Dr. Welner would wish to enter into the record. Meanwhile, Omar Khadr, victimized more ways than one would care to count, now resides in the “fortress-like” maximum security prison, called Camp 5 at Guantanamo, where he endures near-24 hour solitary confinement, which as an article on isolation in the case of purported Wikileaks whistleblower Bradley Manning recently describes, is a pernicious form of torture.

Assassination in Court, U.S. Argues to Make Legal What It’s Always Done

9:45 pm in Military, Terrorism by Jeff Kaye

What an incredible era we live in!

Today in federal court, government attorney Douglas Letter argued against a lawsuit brought by both the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) that the U.S. executive power had the right to kill an American citizen abroad, without review by the judiciary. In his argument to drop the suit, brought on behalf of the father of “radical” Muslim cleric Anwar Al-Aulaqi [Awlaki], Letter claimed, ““If we use lethal force we do so consistent with the law.”

According to the Christian Science Monitor story on today’s proceedings:

The lawsuit does not seek to prevent the government from carrying out targeted killings. Instead, the ACLU is asking Judge Bates to examine the government’s criteria for placing Awlaki on the alleged kill list.

To justify lethal action, the ACLU suit says, the government must be able to demonstrate that the targeted killing is necessary to prevent a direct and imminent threat to public safety. In addition, the suit says, the government must be able to show there are no non-lethal options available to neutralize a threat from Awlaki.

According to a joint press release by ACLU and CCR:

“If the Constitution means anything, it surely means that the president does not have unreviewable authority to summarily execute any American whom he concludes is an enemy of the state,” said Jameel Jaffer, Deputy Legal Director of the ACLU, who presented arguments in the case. “It’s the government’s responsibility to protect the nation from terrorist attacks, but the courts have a crucial role to play in ensuring that counterterrorism policies are consistent with the Constitution.”

Chickens and Coincidences

It seems strongly coincidental that on the day of the hearing, a new Awlaki video should appear on the scene, courtesy of the dubious SITE Institute, remembered for their unveiling of another timely video, the 2007 Osama bin Laden 9/11 statement, which featured a robotic, unmoving bin Laden, which even MSNBC questioned as faked. Then there was that Gainsville, Georgia chicken farm, whose lawsuit against SITE is still pending, accused by SITE of funneling money to terrorists. SITE’s founder Rita Katz delivered one of the more memorable of all “war on terror” quotes when she told 60 Minutes, “”Chicken is one of the things that no one can really track down.”

Now SITE is back, with a new name (from SITE Institute to SITE Intelligence Group), with a new fire-snorting Awlaki video, just in time for the government’s arguments to dismiss the suit that would challenge the government’s right to kill the U.S.-born cleric, supposedly hiding out in Yemen, a leader of Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninula (AQAP). The New York Times led the way with a blog story by Robert Mackey this morning, “Kill Americans, Says Yemeni-American Cleric.” The story followed the news last week that You Tube had removed all of al-Awlaki’s videos from its site. Mackey references SITE and their new Awlaki video, while blandly noting that Monday was the day “a federal judge will hear arguments in a lawsuit brought by civil libertarians who claim that the Obama administration does not have the right to order the targeted assassination of Mr. Awlaki and other suspected militants.” Gee, what a coincidence the headline for that same Monday article quotes the same Mr. Awlaki as inciting the killing of Americans. As is often the case, the rest of the U.S. press stood up and saluted as the Times sent the story up the proverbial flagpole.

“How popular will Anwar al-Awlaki’s latest video be?” asks the Christian Science Monitor. CNN weighed in, too: “U.S.-born cleric rails against Yemen, Iran, United States.” Paula Kruger at Australia’s ABC was not to be outdone, however, with a headline clanging in its clarion call of danger: “US-born cleric calls for death of all Americans.”

ANWAR AL-AWLAKI (translation): Do not seek any permission when it comes to the killing of the Americans. Fighting the devil doesn’t need a religious edict, deliberation, prayer or guidance. They are the party of the devil and fighting them is the personal duty of our times.

We reach that moment when it is either us or them. We are two opposites that will never meet. They want something that cannot happen unless they wipe us out. This is a decisive battle. This is a battle of Moses and pharaoh; this is a battle of righteousness and falsehood.

“We reach that moment when it is either us or them.” Well, if it was your head being hunted by the CIA or the Pentagon’s JSOC Special Forces assassination squads, you might see the world that way, too. In fact, the blurriness of right and wrong is only made worse by the U.S. assertion that it can kill whomever it wants to, irregardless of constitutional niceties, if only it can claim the right is somehow lodged in the 9/11-inspired Authorization for Use of Military Force. Congress has rubber-stamped the AUMF for years now, and President Obama dutifully pressed it upon a Democratic Party-controlled House and Senate… well, once controlled, as Democratic Party lassitude in the wake of the worst economic recession, if not depression, in sixty years saw their short lived ascendancy in both houses of Congress come crashing down around their well-deserving heads.

Mackey at the Times makes sure we don’t forget that Awlaki is associated with AQAP, which smuggled — no doubt in Mackey’s mind — those bomb packages on freight cargo jets last month. And he notes that a Yemeni judge has issued an order for Awlaki’s capture. But, in the tradition of open-mindedness so bally-hooed around the Times, he gives the final word to legal pundit Jonathan Turley, who noted last August:

If a President can unilaterally kill a U.S. citizens on his own authority, our court system (and indeed our constitutional rights) become entirely discretionary. The position of the Administration contains no substantial limitations on such authority other than its own promise to make such decisions with care.

Bathed in Blood

“War is the statesman’s game, the priest’s delight, The lawyer’s jest, the hired assassin’s trade,” wrote the Romantic English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley almost 200 years ago now. But one can only look back to an interesting story in the London Times to gain another kind of perspective on the current events surrounding the obscene U.S. argument for assassinating its own citizens without due process, of running hit teams and killing or death lists.

In 1976, journalist Peter Watson was at a NATO conference in Oslo, when a U.S. Navy psychologist, Dr. Thomas Narut, from the U.S. Naval Hospital in Naples told Watson and New Jersey psychologist Dr. Alfred Zitani, that the Navy sought men to train as assassins in overseas embassies. The following is from the London Sunday Times, “The soldiers who become killers,” September 8, 1974, but reproduced from a conspiracy site, as the original, and most references to it, plentiful even when I first read about it some years ago, are limited now to a few dozen conspiracy sites. The story is also told at some length in Watson’s book (out of print), War on the Mind: The Military Uses and Abuses of Psychology, published by Basic Books in 1978.

[Narut's] naval work involved establishing how to induce servicemen who ma[y] not be naturally inclined to kill, to do so under certain conditions. When pressed afterwards as to what was meant by “combat readiness units,” he explained this included men for commando-type operations and – so he said – for insertion into U.S. embassies under cover, ready to kill in those countries should the need arise. Dr. Narut used the word “hitmen” and “assassin” of these men.

The method, according to Dr. Narut, was to show films specially designed to show people being killed and injured in violent ways. By being acclimated through these films, the men eventually became able to dissociate any feelings
from such a situation. Dr. Narut also added that U.S. Naval psychologists specially selected men for these commando tasks, from submarine crews, paratroops, and some were convicted murderers from military prisons. Asked whether he was suggesting that murderers were being released from prisons to become assassins, he replied: “It’s happened more than once.”

The story goes into various mind-control methods by which the training was done. The Pentagon denied the story, and also wouldn’t allow Watson access to interview personnel at the U.S. Naval Neuropsychiatric Center in San Diego, where the training was supposedly done. The whole tale might seem fantastic, unless one remembered that the U.S.-sponsored Phoenix Program in Vietnam was responsible for the assassination of 20,000 or more people in the 1960s. The U.S. also supplied assassination lists to the Indonesian government during the bloody 1965 coup that slaughtered half a million people.

“For the first time, U.S. officials acknowledge that in 1965 they systematically compiled comprehensive lists of Communist operatives, from top echelons down to village cadres. As many as 5,000 names were furnished to the Indonesian army, and the Americans later checked off the names of those who had been killed or captured, according to the U.S. officials,” Kathy Kadane wrote for South Carolina’s Herald-Journal on May 19, 1990. [Kadane's article also appeared in the San Francisco Examiner on May 20, 1990, the Washington Post on May 21, 1990, and the Boston Globe on May 23, 1990.]

The Indonesian mass murder program was based in part on experiences gleaned by the CIA in the Philippines. “US military advisers of the Joint US Military Advisory Group (JUSMAG) and the CIA station in Manila designed and led the bloody suppression of the nationalist Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan,” notes Roland G. Simbulan (Covert Operations and the CIA’s Hidden History in the Philippines).

The history of the United States and assassination, post-World War II, and particularly from the 1960s on, has been a sorry tale of botched public attempts (as of Castro), and a bloodbath dealt by U.S. proxy death squads, and if we can believe the Watson story, by deep cover U.S. assassins themselves. In 1976, in the wake of the many revelations about U.S. government crimes, including assassinations, President Gerald Ford issued a presidential directive (EO 11905) banning assassinations, a directive whose basic premises lie in shreds after ten years of Bush/Obama rule.

It would be remiss not to note in this context the blood bath that is U.S. history on the subject, not to bring up Phoenix, and all the rest of it. Recent revelations in the Iraq logs Wikileaks cache of documents suggests that the U.S. helped form torture squads, and perhaps death squads in Iraq. In any case, they certainly turned thousands of prisoners over to Iraqi forces they knew from hundreds of observations were torturing prisoners, often to death. This deliberate war crime, a direct violation of the Convention Against Torture treaty, was conducted under both the Bush and Obama administrations. But where in our society is the outrage? The society cannot seems to pick itself up out of the muck of triviality and standard party politics and cable TV scandal-mongering.

So forgive me if I don’t jump on the bandwagon to talk about Bush and his approval of waterboarding claims. Is he smug? Of course he’s smug, because Americans have been ignoring news about torture and assassinations on behalf of the ruling elite for decades now. I don’t know what it will take to turn such a historical situation around. Looking at the young and those vulnerable to such confusions as massive societal hypocrisy can allow, one can understand why some have turned even to radical Islam. But I can’t recommend it. I’d like to see the young take up the banner that was once Percy Shelley’s: free love, hatred of tyrannies, including — if not especially — the tyranny of one’s own state, and equality of all sexes, peoples, religious practice (including atheism), and add to it the wisdom of a century’s struggle for economic justice and against the exploiters of mankind.

But for now, all forward-seeking and progressive individuals should be backing the CCR/ACLU lawsuit, because if the U.S. gets its way, tomorrow it may not be the unsavory Awlaki, it may be you or me. And anyone who was forced to study history a semester or two knows that to be true.

APA Scrubs Pages Linking It to CIA Torture Workshops

12:49 am in Terrorism, Torture by Jeff Kaye

Like a modern-day Ministry of Truth, the American Psychological Association (APA) has scrubbed the webpage describing "deception scenarios" workshops that were part of a conference it conducted with the CIA and Rand Corporation on July 17-18, 2003. In addition, the APA erased the link to the page, and even all mention of its existence, from another story at its July 2003 Science Policy Insider News website that briefly described the conference.

In May 2007, in an article at Daily Kos, I noted that the workshops were describing "new ways to utilize drugs and sensory bombardment techniques to break down interrogatees." Quoting from the APA’s description (and note, the link is to an archived version of the webpage; emphasis is added):

  • How do we find out if the informant has knowledge of which s/he is not aware?
  • How important are differential power and status between witness and officer?
  • What pharmacological agents are known to affect apparent truth-telling behavior?….
  • What are sensory overloads on the maintenance of deceptive behaviors? How might we overload the system or overwhelm the senses and see how it affects deceptive behaviors?

In August 2007, in a landmark article at Vanity Fair, journalist Katherine Eban revealed that SERE psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen were participants at the APA/CIA/Rand affair. Mitchell and Jessen have since been linked with the implementation of the CIA’s "enhanced interrogation techniques" in 2001-2002.

Just last November, in an article at Firedoglake, I recalled the issue of the 2003 conference and asked Who Will Investigate CIA/RAND/APA Torture “Workshop”? I wrote at that time:

The APA and CIA have a very long history of working together on interrogation techniques, in particular on sensory deprivation and use of drugs like LSD and mescaline in interrogations, and other methods of breaking down the mind and the body of prisoners.

Use of drugs to influence interrogations, in addition to sensory deprivation, distortion and overload or bombardment were signal techniques in a decades-long interrogation research program that came to be known by its most famous moniker, MKULTRA (although these torture techniques were studied and tested by the CIA even earlier, in its 1950s projects Bluebird and Artichoke). Such techniques were codified by the early 1960s in a CIA Counterinsurgency Interrogation Manual, also known by its codename, KUBARK.

The story on the APA/CIA/Rand workshop received a good deal of dissemination on the Internet, and one can imagine that the description of the abusive techniques explored there were an embarrassment to the honchos of the APA, who strive to maintain an organizational aura of liberalism and scientific respectability, while at the same time selling its wares to the Defense Department and intelligence agencies in promoting the "war on terror" and "homeland security."

The URL for the former webpage — www.apa.org/ppo/issues/deceptscenarios.html — now brings up a message that "the page is not available." A search of the APA site and a Google search does not retrieve a link to the original page, which can now be accessed, thankfully, only through a web archive search engine.

The same is true for the webpage for the APA’s July 2003 "Spin" newsletter, which has a story entitled "APA Works with CIA and RAND to Hold Science of Deception Workshop". Listed at the end of the story is a link telling readers to "View the thematic scenarios from the workshop." (See archived version.) The old URL — www.apa.org/ppo/spin/703.html– brings up another "page not available" message. However, the bulk of the webpage now resides at a new address — www.apa.org/about/gr/science/spin/2003/07/also-issue.aspx — with the former link now missing from the story.

While the scrubbing of the page describing truth drugs and sensory overload could be attributed to some normal archiving decision, or the victim of a web do-over (and APA does appear to have redesigned their site), the excision of the text and link to the site on the referring page cannot be an accident.

What is APA up to?

Recently, APA has made some noises about finally respecting the decision of its membership in a September 2008 referendum that decisively repudiated "the APA leadership’s long-standing policy encouraging psychologist participation in interrogations and other activities in military and CIA detention facilities that have repeatedly been found to violate international law and the Constitution." The referendum voted to prohibit psychologist participation in settings where human rights violations take place. This policy took dead aim against use of psychologists in the Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (or BSCTs) used at Guantanamo and elsewhere.

To date, however, the referendum has had no effect, although the Public Interest Task Force for the APA recently has told APA members involved in passage of the referendum that it is gathering information on offending sites in order to implement the new policy, over a year and a half since the vote on the referendum took place. I will hope, though I have little trust, that APA will take the necessary steps.

But APA has a history of bad faith on such issues. Recently, they rewrote a problematic section of their ethical code, dubbed the Nuremberg loophole by some, which allowed psychologists to violate their ethical rules if done to comply with "law, regulations, or other governing legal authority." As Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) described it, "The new language restores the 1992 version of the code, which prohibits use of the standard ‘to justify or defend violating human rights.’"

But PHR also noted:

Section 1.02 was inserted into the APA ethics code in August 2002, and was used by both the APA and the Bush Administration to allow the participation of psychologists in the "enhanced interrogation" program, in which detainees were systematically abused and tortured under the supervision of health professionals. PHR is calling for the APA to also reform section 8.05 of the 2002 ethics code, which allows research on human subjects without their consent if such research comports with law or regulations.

Section 8.05 allows psychologists to dispense with the use of informed consent in research experiments where "permitted by law or federal or institutional regulations." The use of informed consent guarantees the voluntary participation of human subjects in research done upon them, and is considered a bedrock of ethical research.

The gyrations of the APA remind one of the razzle-dazzle misdirection of the Obama administration, which trumpets "transparency," but recently told the Supreme Court to turn down Maher Arar’s appeal of his rendition-torture lawsuit. In addition, President Obama’s own secret black site prisons have now been revealed, over a year since Obama made a big deal out of closing down the CIA black sites. When it comes to hiding the crime of torture, the U.S. government and its contracting agencies have made a fetish out of secrecy, and the promise of an end to torture after the hideous Bush/Cheney years is revealed to be a chimera.