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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.

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?

Truthout Exclusive: David Hicks Speaks Out on Torture, Medical Experimentation at Guantanamo

5:12 pm in Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

Jason Leopold has posted an incredible interview with David Hicks, formerly Detainee 002 at Guantanamo. In April 2007, Hicks, an Australian, was released from Guantanamo and sent back to serve nine months in jail in Australia, having been forced to plead guilty to “providing material support to terrorism.” This is his first interview, and Truthout has posted it along with an article by Leopold with more background on Hicks, which includes interviews with some of the guards who watched him.

By his own admission, Hicks’ account had a “profound impact” on Jason Leopold “emotionally.” I think it comes through, as it’s a wrenching, if vital read. The interview is a look into the soul of a man deeply damaged by torture. He also endured the suffering of medical experimentation, which he finds very difficult to talk about.

The following excerpt touches upon the kinds of horrific experiments David Hicks endured:

TO: You have written eloquently of your terrible experience with what you say was medical experimentation, calling it the worst and darkest of your experiences there. Have you talked with any other detainees about whether they had similar experiences? How do you think about it now?

DH: When I was injected in the back of the neck I was being held in isolation, so I was unable to discuss what had happened with other detainees. A year passed before I was eventually able to see and communicate with fellow detainees, and I am unable to remember today if I discussed that particular personal experience with them. We did discuss medical experimentation in general however. A detainee with UK citizenship described being injected daily, resulting in one of his testicles becoming swollen and racked with pain. Along with these daily injections he was subjected to mind games by interrogators, medical personnel, and guards whom worked as a team. Under these conditions they were able to extract written false confessions from him. How I experienced the injection at the base of my neck is described in detail in my book. In a nutshell, I felt my soul had been violated. That is just one experience I had with medication. There were many pills and injections, plus constant blood tests over the years. Everybody regardless of their citizenship should acknowledge that medical experimentation, whether on human beings or animals, is unacceptable. As with animals, we were held as prisoners when these procedures were forced upon us against our will. And as with animals, we were voiceless.

Hicks also describes how medical professionals and psychologists were involved in his torture, how guards were told to observe him and other detainees, watching everything they did, and writing down notes every 15 minutes, night and day. He told Jason Leopold, “The interrogation rooms of Camp Delta had an entire wall as a one way observation glass. Behind these walls sat teams of so-called experts: Intelligence officers, behavioral scientists, psychologists; people who made conclusions upon which they decided what techniques were to be employed.”

Hicks’ testimony corroborates what I noted in an article in April 2009, which examined a top secret” paper (undated) entitled “The CIA Interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, March 2001 – January 2003,” which noted that CIA “interrogation materials” consisted of “videotapes, logbook, notebook, and psychologist’s notes.” There’s no reason to believe the same protocols weren’t observed by the Department of Defense at Guantanamo or other military prisons, like Bagram.

At that time, I wrote:

The content of those psychologist notes, should they become available, will indicate to what end CIA interrogators and/or behavioral scientists were measuring the responses of Zubaydah or other prisoners to variations in the interrogation techniques’ application. Variables of interest to CIA psychologists might include head movements and hand movements, facial expressions or microexpressions, used in detecting deception or behavioral manifestations of stress. These types of observation are synonymous with computer analysis and argue for the use of a digital video system or the transfer of analog video into data stored on magnetic or optical media. The same release of documents to the ACLU that contained the “The CIA Interrogation of Abu Zubaydah,” also described CIA officials asking for “instructions” regarding the “disposition of hard drives and magnetic media” associated with the torture of Zubaydah.

There has been very little outrage in this country, outside of a small but dedicated group of individuals — journalists, lawyers, bloggers, community activists — the bulk of U.S. civil society has out of either fear or political obeisance to the Obama administration’s insistence there will be no accountability, no so-called “looking backward,” failed to successfully push for investigations or prosecution of top figures for their crimes. We know why the government has this position: because it is heavily compromised at top and middle level in the torture and illegal experimentation itself.

As a bonus, Truthout is posting an excerpt from David Hicks’ book, Guantanamo: My Journey, published in Australia late last year. Due to the cowardice of the publishing industry in this country, or possibly unreported pressures from the government, the book is not available in the United States.

But luckily, we have this important interview with Hicks himself. I hope it gets wide distribution. Americans must known what has been done in their name.

Obama “Stealth Transfer” of Gitmo Prisoner, Algerian Forcibly Repatriated

3:37 pm in Military, Torture, Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

The Obama administration has shown a blatant disregard for international treaties and basic human rights in its second forcible deportation from Guantánamo of an Algerian national in the last six months. On January 6, the administration secretly and forcibly repatriated 48-year-old Farhi Saeed bin Mohammed to Algeria, which he reportedly fled in the 1990s, trying to escape threats from Islamic extremists. In a press release from Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which condemned “in the strongest possible terms” the deportation, CCR noted that “Mr. Mohammed has long been cleared of any connection with terrorism.”

Farhi had been ordered released from Guantánamo , when District Court Judge Gladys Kessler granted his habeas petition. He had spent nearly nine years at the U.S. prison facility, most of the time in maximum security solitary confinement. While the former itinerant laborer said he had traveled to Afghanistan to find a wife for himself, the Pentagon presented “evidence” from unreliable informers to frame Mr. Mohammed as a supporter of Al Qaeda. Presumably, Judge Kessler was unimpressed by this evidence. What is undisputed is that after 9/11 and the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Farhi fled to Pakistan where he was captured and subsequently transferred to Guantanamo in 2002.

Once cleared by the District Court, Mr. Mohammed fought the government not to be sent back to his native Algeria, fearing persecution by either Islamic militants or by the government. Indeed, every Algerian Guantanamo prisoner sent back to that country thus far has been initially arrested and put on trial, though none have been convicted. U.S. authorities have said they conducted a “comprehensive review” of Farhi’s case prior to his release. The U.S. government maintains that “the Algerian government has provided so-called ‘diplomatic assurances’ – promises to treat returned detainees humanely.” But Human Rights Watch watch replied that “research has shown that diplomatic assurances provided by receiving countries, which are legally unenforceable, do not provide an effective safeguard against torture and ill-treatment. Algerian human rights groups report that torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment are at times used on those suspected of terror links.”

Torture and Persecution in Algeria

Indeed, the last U.S. State Department Human Rights Report on Algeria, released February 25, 2009, indicated numerous problems with conditions in that country. While torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment is illegal, human rights activists “local human rights activists reported that government officials employed such practices to obtain confessions,” and “impunity remained a problem.” The report singled out a February 2008 incident when an inmate protest on prayer conditions resulted in prison guards handcuffing, stripping and beating “approximately 80 prisoners with iron bars and sticks.”

The State Department report also indicated noted that, except for the International Red Cross, all other human rights groups are forbidden to inspect conditions at Algerian military and high-security prisons and detention centers. Detainees are often held in jail without charges for months on end, and receive little or no medical care. The report also said, “in practice authorities did not completely respect legal provisions regarding defendants’ rights and denied due process. Military courts try all “cases involving state security, espionage, and other security-related offenses involving military personnel and civilians,” but only rarely is any information given about these proceedings. The government monitors “the communications of political opponents, journalists, human rights groups, and suspected terrorists,” as well as political meetings. The country remains under rule of an emergency degree. Meanwhile, radical Islamic extremists belonging to al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) have “issued public threats against all ‘infidels’ and ‘apostates’ in the country, both foreigners and citizens, killing approximately 160 people in the country in 2008.

A prisoner or refugee cannot by international law be returned to a country where they fear persecution or death. This principle is enshrined in the UN Convention Against Torture treaty to which the U.S. is signatory: “No State Party shall expel, return (“refouler“) or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.”

Furthermore, Article 33 of the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (July 28, 1951), to which the U.S. is also signatory, states: “No Contracting State shall expel or return (‘refouler’) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” (A 1967 Protocol expanded the Convention’s coverage from European to all refugees.) There is no question that Farhi meets the Convention’s definition of a refugee, and has since leaving Algeria in the 1990s, until wrongly apprehended by the U.S. in 2002.

The Role of Congress and the Courts

It is notable that Congress has played a role in this administration’s flouting of international law and decency. As Andy Worthington and others have pointed out, Congress has prevented the Obama from “bringing any Guantánamo prisoner to the US mainland for any reason”. In addition, as I pointed out in an article on the forcible deportation of Algerian Guantánamo prisoner Abdul Aziz Naji in July 2010, Congress has an oversight role over the release of any Guantánamo prisoner.

According to the 2010 Homeland Security Appropriations, Interior Appropriations, Consolidated Appropriations, and Defense Appropriations Acts, all of which contain similar language on the subject, no funds are to be appropriated for the transfer of a Guantanamo prisoner to another state unless 15 days prior to release the President submit to Congress, “in classified form,” a statement regarding any risks to national security or U.S. citizens, the name of the prisoner and country of release, and “the terms of any agreement with the country or freely associated state that has agreed to accept the detainee.” (See PDF link.)

At that time, Senator Carl Levin and Senator Dianne Feinstein’s offices confirmed they had been informed at least 15 days in advance of Naji’s deportation. There’s no reason to doubt they had the same notice in the case of Farhi Saeed bin Mohammed, and essentially signed off on the forcible deportation, demonstrating Congressional complicity in this flagrant violation of the laws of the land.

Mr. Mohammed’s case had been high-profile. After the granting of his habeas petition, he fought a repatriation to Algeria, for the reasons stated earlier, and Judge Kessler granted that request. But, as Larkin Reynolds explains at Lawfare, “the D.C. Circuit later reversed that injunction in July, however, in an expedited summary proceeding.” Farhi’s attorneys then asked the Supreme Court for a stay of the Circuit court’s decision. While their petition was denied last July, another petition regarding the transfer issue was sent to the Supreme Court last November. According to Reynolds, “The government’s response to the petition is due on February 4, 2011.” But the forced deportation of Farhi apparently makes that decision moot.

David Remes, Farhi’s counsel in the Supreme Court case told Lawfare, the Obama administration’s actions amounted to a “stealth transfer”:

The government shipped Mr. Mohammed back to Algeria against his will –- the second involuntary transfer of an Algerian in the past six months -– giving us no advance notice and therefore no chance to resist. The government may also intend Mohammed’s transfer to moot his petition for review in the Supreme Court, in which he challenged the government’s right to make exactly this kind of involuntary transfer, that is, a transfer where the detainee fears he will be tortured or abused if he is returned. The government has used this tactic to avoid judicial review of its actions in other cases involving military detention of war-on-terror captives -– Padilla, Al-Mar’i, and Abu Ali are examples. From Mr. Mohammed’s case, it’s apparent the government wants to avoid public scrutiny too.

The Role of the Democratic Party

The government’s actions in the case of should be sharply condemned, but outside of some human rights groups, almost nothing is being said or reported on this crime by our own government. (The Washington Post did report the story.) The fact that a Democratic administration, and practically up to the time he was secretly deported, a Democratic Congress, were the primary actors in this decision is something that appears to fly over the heads of most Democratic Party and Obama supporters, for whom nothing, not even plans to issue an executive order allowing indefinite detention of prisoners at Guantánamo, seems to move to principled action.

The U.S. currently holds 173 detainee-prisoners at Guantánamo. Three other Algerians remain at the Naval prison facility, also fearing forced deportation for reasons similar to that of Farhi Faheed bin Mohammed, and Abdul Aziz Naji. The three other cleared Algerians are Motai Saib, Djamel Ameziane and Nabil Hadjarab, and Andy Worthington covered their stories in an article in July 2009.

This latest move by the Obama administration must have thrown fear into these prisoners, assuming they have heard of it. But it should throw fear into Americans as well, as their government has shown that it has little patience for such things as the rule of law. Consider these unlawful deportations along with the story of the torture of 19-year old American citizen Gulet Mohamed last month by U.S. ally Kuwait, after he was placed on a no-fly list by the Americans. The U.S. reportedly collaborated in Mohamed’s detention, and should be held partly responsible for Mohamed’s torture.

Slapping David Shedd, or How I Learned to Love the CIA Interrogation Program

11:21 am in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

Bob Woodward’s new book, Obama’s Wars, is full of the same insider tales of government gossip as his previous books. One reads Woodward to pick out the various gems strewn along the way, cognizant that even those are the products of spin manufactured by the various principals involved. A particularly interesting nugget concerns the way the intelligence agencies passed on information about their torture program to the incoming Obama administration.

Woodward spends precious few pages on this subject, and the anecdotes involved can’t be relied upon to provide a real study of just what went on. But the couple of stories provided are juicy enough.

According to Woodward, on December 9, 2008, President-elect Barack Obama was shepherded into a tiny SCIF office to meet with CIA Director Michael Hayden and Director of National Intelligence Michael O’Connell. "Hayden sat directly across from Obama at a table so narrow that they were uncomfortably close to each other." Obama had brought Joe Biden, Jim Jones, Greg Craig, and "several others." Hayden and O’Connell reviewed various top secret clandestine and anti-terrorism programs, secret operations against North Korea, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, etc. Craig was apparently "shocked" when Hayden told Obama’s group that the U.S. "owned" the political structure and security forces of Iraq.

Be that as it may, Hayden, who apparently ran the briefing, got to their review of the CIA’s Rendition, Detention and Interrogation (RDI) program at the end of the meeting. While Obama apparently sat mostly impassively, Biden and the others were not convinced by CIA claims they got promises of "no torture" from the countries to which they sent kidnapped victims in the "war on terror." Hayden also noted that the CIA "black sites" had been shut down and "all the prisoners transferred to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba." This timeline conflicts with the claim by Obama that he had closed the black sites himself in his early executive order on detentions.

Then the discussion wheeled around to the CIA’s "enhanced interrogation techniques" (EIT). At this point, Woodward’s narrative gets a bit confusing. Hayden tells Obama that, per a 2006 finding by President Bush, only six of the 13 original EITs remained in use. Woodward reminds us of the original 13 in an endnote. They are Dietary manipulation; Forced nudity; Attention grasp; Walling (slamming the prisoner into a wall multiple times); Facial hold; Facial or insult slap; Abdominal slap; Cramped Confinement; Wall standing (a kind of stress position); Stress positions proper; Water dousing; Sleep deprivation; and Waterboarding. (What happened to the insects in a box, Bob?) Woodward does describe the sleep deprivation in a way consistent with my contention in May 2009 that "sleep deprivation" was always combined with stress positions, shackling, partial nudity or humiliation, and dietary manipulation or partial starvation. This aspect of sleep deprivation, never totally emphasized by Woodward in the main text of the book, must be kept in mind when Woodward has Hayden tell Obama that the attenuated version of the EITs (which includes sleep deprivation) are more than enough to "break" "suspected terrorists" in "less than a week."

Obama asked what the remaining six EITs were? And Hayden’s reported answer appears to veer off from the EITs.

Hayden said: Isolation of the detainee; noise or loud music; and lights in the cells 24 hours a day. There was limited use of shackles when moving a prisoner or when the prisoner was a danger. In addition, blindfolds were used when moving prisoners or when the prisoners might gain information that could compromise the security of the facility.

"David, stand up please," Hayden said to David Shedd, the DNI’s deputy director for policy. Shedd rose. Hayden gently slapped his face, then shook the deputy DNI.

It was as rough as what might happen in "Little League football," Hayden said. [pg. 54]

From reading this account, apart from the hilarious bit of play-acting with the ever-obliging David Shedd, it’s difficult to see what six of the EITs were retained, and what, besides waterboarding, was eliminated. For one thing, Hayden’s reply focuses on techniques that were not part of the EITs — isolation, sensory overload, and partial sensory deprivation — while demonstrating by a slap to O’Connell’s deputy that "Facial or insult slap" was still in use.

Hayden then makes his play to keep "these methods" under an Obama administration, because "the very existence of the interrogation program was more important than its content." The CIA director told the President-elect, "Terrorists would know they faced a more severe interrogation if picked up by the CIA than by the military, which used the Army Field Manual."

But how would the terrorists know this, when even I can’t figure out what exactly the U.S. intelligence agencies do? Woodward quotes Hayden in an unintentional moment of self-revelation. For the CIA, the form is more important that the content. The "terrorists" don’t really know, but they believe they know they can expect something terrible, something especially bad. The point of this is to engender fear. And fear is an essential component to psychological torture. It enhances the effects of sensory overload and sensory deprivation, and contributes to the psychological breakdown of the victim. This is not a theory, but was the conclusion of years of research by the U.S. government into interrogation and torture. The use of SERE trainees as experimental subjects for coercive interrogation and techniques did not begin in 2001 or 2002 — it began at least over 50 years ago.

In 1956, in the pages of an obscure academic journal, Sociometry, I.E. Farber, Harry F. Harlow, and psychiatrist Louis Jolyon West published a classic work on interrogation, Brainwashing, Conditioning, and DDD (Debility, Dependency, and Dread) (BCD). It was based on a report for the Study Group on Survival Training, paid for by the U.S. Air Force. (See West LJ., Medical and psychiatric considerations in survival training. In Report of the Special Study Group on Survival Training (AFR 190 16). Lackland Air Force Base, Tex: Air Force Personnel and Training Research Centers; 1956.) This research linked Air Force “Survival” training, later called SERE, with torture techniques, and as we will see, use of such techniques by the CIA, something we would see again decades later in the Mitchell-Jessen “exploitation” plan.

BCD examined the various types of stress undergone by prisoners, and narrowed them down to “three important elements: debility, dependency, and dread”.

Debility was a condition caused by “semi-starvation, fatigue, and disease”. It induced “a sense of terrible weariness”.

Dependency on the captors for some relief from their agony was something “produced by the prolonged deprivation of many of the factors, such as sleep and food… [and] was made more poignant by occasional unpredictable brief respites.” The use of prolonged isolation of the prisoner, depriving an individual of expected social intercourse and stimulation, “markedly strengthened the dependency”.

Dread probably needs no explanation, but BCD described it as “chronic fear…. Fear of death, fear of pain, fear of nonrepatriation, fear of deformity of permanent disability…. even fear of one’s own inability to satisfy the demands of insatiable interrogators.”

…. This form of carrot and stick torture may not seem that sophisticated, but it is the use of basic nervous system functioning and human instinctual need that makes it “scientific”. The need for sensory stimulation and social interaction, the need to eat, to sleep, to reduce fear, all of these are used to build dependencies upon the captor, using the fact that “the strengthening effects of rewards — in this instance the alleviation of an intensely unpleasant emotional state — are fundamentally automatic” [p. 278]. This impairment of higher cognitive states and disruption and disorganization of the prisoner’s self-concept, producing something like “a pathological organic state”, was subsequently modified and used by the CIA in its interrogations of countless individuals. If more brutal forms of torture sometimes were used, especially by over-eager foreign agents or governments, DDD remained the gold standard, the programmatic core of counterintelligence interrogation at the heart of the CIA’s own intelligence manuals.

Now Bob Woodward is not going to explain all that. Being a stenographer for spooks and politicians, he offers very little analysis at all. His fable of how Obama got briefed on the use of torture by the CIA, and Obama’s subsequent decision to ban all the EITs and utilize the Army Field Manual may bear some elements of truth. It seems certain Obama knows very little if any of the historical material I adverted to above. And Barack Obama, like much of America, may not know that the Army Field Manual contains the very techniques that Hayden said the CIA was using (isolation, sensory overload, sleep deprivation, driving up of fear). The operative word here is ignorance: ignorance about what has gone on and is going on.

This nation has not gotten the full truth about this country’s torture program, past, present, and plans for the future. As the commentators latch onto the upcoming election with ever-greater avidity, it appears certain that these issues will get shoved even farther onto the back burner. We can’t let that happen. The City of Berkeley has announced that October 10-16 will be "Say No to Torture Week." I’ll be participating with a slew of other celebrities, bloggers, psychologists, and political activists to make it clear that "the community finds it unacceptable for an American torture apparatus to remain operational while those responsible remain unaccountable." What is your community doing?

War Criminal Kissinger Top Speaker at State Department Conference

3:36 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

There was also a deficiency in imagination likely to circumscribe the value of any study by Kissinger of Kissinger. Asked about his role in the Cambodian war, in which an estimated five hundred thousand people died, he’d said, "I may have a lack of imagination, but I fail to see the moral issue involved." — Joseph Heller, Good as Gold (Kissinger’s original quote is from William Shawcross’s Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon, and the Destruction of Cambodia)

Fred Branfman has a great article up over at AlterNet pillorying the State Department’s invitation to Henry Kissinger to address a conference on "the American Experience in Southeast Asia, 1946-1975." The conference was scheduled for September 29-30 at the George C. Marshall Conference Center at the U.S. Department of State. Along with bona fide war criminal Kissinger, the other invitees included current Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard C. Holbrooke, and Former Deputy Secretary of State, and Former Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte.

It was only last April here at The Seminal/Firedoglake that I reported on the declassification of a 1976 State Department cable from Henry Kissinger to "his assistant secretary of state for Inter-American affairs, Harry Shlaudeman, to cancel a formal demarche to the Uruguayan government, protesting the assassinations and other activities of Operation Condor." Only five days later, former Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier and his assistant Ronnie Moffat were assassinated on the streets of Washington, D.C. by a CIA-supported Chilean secret police killer.

But, as the Obama administration rehabilitation of the odious Kissinger demonstrates, memory is short in Washington, even when there is blood on the streets… unless that blood can be turned in for demagogic currency, as is the case with the deaths on 9/11. To have Kissinger honored as an authority on the Indochinese War is an obscenity of the first order. Branfman recalls some of the essential history:  . . . Read the rest of this entry →

Congress OK’ed Naji Deportation, Ex-Gitmo Prisoner Charges Drugging, Torture, Coercion to Spy

3:59 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

The odyssey of Abdul Aziz Naji has taken many terrible twists and turns since he was seized in Pakistan in May 2002, tortured at Bagram, then sent to Guantanamo, where he was formally cleared of any charges in a review of prisoner status last year. He was forcibly repatriated to Algeria on July 20, despite his fears of being harmed by Islamic forces or the government upon his return. Such forcible repatriation of a prisoner or detainee who fears persecution or worse is a violation of international law. This principle of non-refoulement, or non-return is specifically forbidden in the UN Convention Against Torture and Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

The Obama administration was cleared to effect the deportation against the prisoner’s will by no less than the Supreme Court, who rejected a lower court order blocking the action. What hasn’t been reported thus far is the role of Congress, who was mandated to have advance notice of the transfer.

According to the 2010 Homeland Security Appropriations, Interior Appropriations, Consolidated Appropriations, and Defense Appropriations Acts, all of which contain similar language on the subject, no funds are to be appropriated for the transfer of a Guantanamo prisoner to another state unless 15 days prior to release the President submit to Congress, "in classified form," a statement regarding any risks to national security or U.S. citizens, the name of the prisoner and country of release, and "the terms of any agreement with the country or freely associated state that has agreed to accept the detainee." (See PDF link.)

Congress Informed of Plan to Flout the Law

Both the offices of Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, confirmed to me that the 15-day notification did take place, meaning that requisite Congressional committees were informed of the deportation and the fact that it was not taking place on the basis of non-refoulement, and presumably, as the Obama administration has maintained, with "diplomatic assurances" from the Algerian government the prisoners would not be mistreated. The Washington Post said the administration took this to be good coin "because 10 other detainees have been returned to Algeria without incident." But we know that in a number of these cases, the former Guantanamo prisoners were subsequently imprisoned and put on trial. Moreover, numerous human rights organizations have decried reliance on "diplomatic assurances" of safety as not being reliable.

Human Rights Watch described the problem with such "assurances":

Governments that engage in torture routinely deny it and refuse to investigate allegations of torture. A government that is already violating its international obligation not to torture cannot be trusted to abide by a further "assurance" that it will not torture.

Then, too, there is fear that the government cannot protect returnees against being preyed upon by Islamic radical forces. As the U.S. 2006 State Department report on Algeria explained:

The country’s 1992-2002 civil conflict pitted self-proclaimed radical Muslims belonging to the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) and its later offshoot, the GSPC, against moderate Muslims. During the year [2005] radical Islamic extremists issued public threats against all “infidels” in the country, both foreigners and citizens. The country’s terrorist groups generally did not differentiate between religious and political killings.

A number of remaining Algerian prisoners fear return as well. One of them, Farhi Saeed Bin Mohammed, who won his "freedom" via habeas appeal last year, was one of the prisoners whose deportation block was lifted by the Supreme Court at the same time as Naji. To date, he remains at Guantanamo. Andy Worthington describes the fate of the others, including Djamel Ameziane, a Berber who fled Algeria years ago and lived five years in Canada.

The action, or more properly, inaction of Congress in the face of the illegal return (by international standards and U.S. treaty) of Abdul Aziz Naji to Algeria is inexcusable. When asked to make further explanation on policy regarding non-refoulement in general, or in the case of Mr. Naji, both Sen. Levin and Sen. Feinstein’s office declined to comment. We can only be left with the impression that they did not intend to stand in the way of this breaking of international law, and only a widespread outcry has assured, for the moment, that further such deportations have been delayed.

While, after a week’s incarceration, and some confusion about his fate, Naji is now reported to be safe at his family’s home in Batna, about 300 miles east of Algiers, it’s not clear that his safety is assured. Naji had stated that he feared torture, or death, at the hands of either the Algerian government or the Islamic fundamentalist oppositions who have been fighting the government. Over 10,000 have died in this conflict since the early 1990s. As a July 25 New York Times editorial on the Naji deportation noted, U.S. State Department reviews have described the ongoing use of disappearances and the extraction of confessions through torture by the Algerian government.

Andy Worthington has described the case of Mustapha Hamlili, who was arrested with Mr. Naji in Peshawar. He was voluntarily repatriated from Guantanamo to Algeria in July 2008, but then "was subsequently charged with ‘membership in a terrorist organization abroad and using forged travel documents.’" He was only cleared of charges and released last February. Others have faced charges against them over a year after the actual repatriation. Naji may be safe now, but as Worthington warns, "I hope that Abdul Aziz Naji is able to stay in contact with his lawyers, and that he can establish contact with representatives of human rights groups, to ensure that his appearance in the Algerian media is indicative of a new openness on the part of the Algerian government, as is not just a PR stunt, and also, hopefully, to avoid the farcical charges and long-winded trials to which all the other returned Algerians have been subjected."

The Hell that is Guantanamo

Naji’s own incredible tale of his incarceration at Guantanamo, reported in the Algerian newspaper El Khabar, has not received a U.S. audience. British journalist Andy Worthington describes it, though, in an article late last week. Worthington is a fantastic reporter who also recently updated the U.S. rendition story in an article, "New Evidence About Prisoners Held in Secret CIA Prisons in Poland and Romania."

According to the July 28 interview with Naji, prisoners were tortured to give false confessions. Even more incredibly, they were forced "to take some medicines for three months to drive them crazy, loosing [sic] memory and committing suicide." Charges of drugging prisoners have been widespread, but have been difficult to verify. An Inspector General investigation on such drugging was initiated in 2008, but nothing further has been heard, save for an indication earlier this year that the investigation was still underway.

Naji also charges that "some detainees had been promised to be granted political asylum opportunity in exchange of [sic] a ‘spying role’ within the detention camp." Once released, they maintain their spying role, he charged. It is difficult to imagine that the U.S. has not tried to use some prisoners in this way. In fact, the suicide bombing at the CIA’s Forward Operating Base Chapman, Afghanistan, which killed seven CIA officers and a Jordanian intelligence official last December, was undertaken by a Jordanian doctor who was supposedly "turned" after a short period of imprisonment (and likely torture or blackmail) by the Jordanians. One is reminded, too, of the attempts of Britain’s MI5 to turn British resident and U.S. rendition prisoner Binyam Mohamed into an informer, while he was being tortured in a Moroccan prison in September 2002.

We cannot know for sure, but it may have been Naji’s refusal to so turn informant that led him to be considered for forced repatriation by the Obama administration, as in all other cases since January 2009 the government had followed the Bush administration in not undertaking the forced deportation of any Guantanamo prisoner.

Naji’s forced repatriation, his story of drugging and torture and coerced confessions at Guantanamo, and tales of deals with prisoners, swapping political asylum for spying, are all very disturbing. They reveal a side of the government’s actions in what used to be called the "war on terror" that is rarely even mentioned in the press anymore. When any truth about U.S. military or intelligence activity does leak out, as when Wikileaks released tens of thousands of military reports from Afghanistan a few weeks ago, such attempts to unveil government actions have been met by official condemnation and even calls for extrajudicial action against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, and China-like censorship of the Wikileaks website.

The United States exists today in a state of moral anarchism. The government gives lip service to the rule of law, but repeatedly and consistently shows its disdain for international protocols. As Shahid Buttar of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee pointed out recently, the FBI has been politically spying on Americans for ten years now, and wants the freedom to do even more. BORDC is one of 50 peace, environmental, civil rights, and civil liberties groups seeking "long overdue legislative limits to constrain the FBI" (PDF). Meanwhile, the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights are seeking "a federal court order restraining the Obama administration from killing [the son of Nasser al-Awlaki] without due process of law." The son, Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen, is on a government assassination list.

Cases like that of Abdul Aziz Naji put a human face on the actions of the U.S. government. Organizations as diverse as Wikileaks, BORDC, ACLU, CCR and others are fighting to turn this nation back from its headlong plunge into militarism, torture, and assassination, all the deformations that result from substituting imperialism for democracy. But real democracy will not take place until serious, and far-reaching societal and institutional change takes place. This is the challenge of our generation, a challenge we dare not refuse to answer.

NYT: Obama’s Deportation of Naji “an act of cruelty that seems to defy explanation”

11:51 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

Cross-posted from Daily Kos

[Author note: Written for a Daily Kos audience, I'm reposting here the better to call attention to the issue, and to update those in the Firedoglake/Seminal community on some of the latest developments in this scandal.]

In an editorial posted by the New York Times on Saturday afternoon, the editorial board condemned the Obama administration’s involuntary deportation of a Guantanamo prisoner to Algeria. The prisoner, 35-year-old Abdul Aziz Naji, was cleared of any charges in a wide-ranging review of Guantanamo prisoner status last year. Naji begged not to be sent back to Algeria, a country he fled after being attacked himself at age 17 or 18 by extremists. Naji feared the Algerian government could not protect him against the Islamic fundamentalist rebels that have been fighting the somewhat more moderate Islamic government for some twenty years now.

The Times editorial continues the story:

Though he offered to remain at the prison, the administration shipped him home last weekend and washed its hands of the man. Almost immediately upon arrival, he disappeared, and his family fears the worst.

It is an act of cruelty that seems to defy explanation.

The response of the Obama administration has been terse and self-serving. They say they have gotten assurances from the Algerian government that Mr. Naji, who was never charged with any crime, would not be mistreated or tortured when sent back. The Times notes that a 2008 Supreme Court decision gives "broad discretion to decide when to accept such promises from a foreign government." But human rights groups have long derided such assurances.

According to a diary at Daily Kos by geomoo, Doris Tennant, one of Mr. Naji’s attorneys, states she and Naji’s other attorney, Ellen Lubell, were informed by the Algerian ambassador "that his government cannot protect him from extremists, who he very much fears will attempt to recruit him because of his association with Guantanamo."

The Times editorial picks up on information about country conditions in Algeria that I had noted in an article at Firedoglake last Tuesday. According to the Times:

The State Department’s human rights report on the country, issued in March, said that reports of torture in Algeria have been reduced but are still prevalent. It quotes human rights lawyers there as saying the practice still takes place to extract confessions in security cases. People disappear in the country, the report said, and armed groups — which obviously made no promises to the administration — continue to act with impunity.

Even more outrageous is the fact that the Obama administration ignored the fact that Mr. Naji had applied for political asylum in Switzerland, denying a request for a stay of deportation from his attorneys. No one knows why the Obama administration has drawn a line in the sand over Naji and another Algerian prisoner, Farhi Saeed Bin Mohammed, who won his "freedom" via habeas appeal last year. Judge Gladys Kessler has been fighting the D.C. Circuit Court to keep the men from being transferred to Algeria, but a 5-3 decision by the Supreme Court late last week paved the way for the administration’s criminal action.

"Criminal" or Stupid, Either Way It’s Outrageous

"Criminal" will no doubt be too strong a word for many of you. But the forcible deportation of a person back to a country where he fears persecution, torture, execution, etc. is known in the law as refoulement, and the international legal principle of not returning such an individual as the principle of non-refoulement. This recognized basic human right was written into international protocols beginning with the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and later into the Convention Against Torture treaty, of which the U.S. is a signatory. Not even the Bush administration, in the hundreds of "detainees" it released from Guantanamo, violated this principle.

In a comprehensive analysis, journalist Andy Worthington has described the unbelievable context of the Obama administration’s cruel behavior:

This was a bleak day for US justice, not only because it involved the Supreme Court blithely disregarding the UN Convention Against Torture’s “non-refoulement” obligation, joining in an unholy trinity with the D.C. Circuit Court and the Obama administration, but also because it brings to an abrupt, cruel, and — I believe — illegal conclusion a struggle to release prisoners without violating the UN Convention Against Torture, which, for the most part, was actually respected by the Bush administration….

With the Uighurs, the Bush administration recognized its “non-refoulement” obligation, refusing to return them to China, and finding new homes for five of the men in Albania in 2006. When the Obama administration inherited the problem of the remaining 17 men, who had, in the meantime, won their habeas corpus petitions, it found new homes for 12 of them in Bermuda, Palau and Switzerland, although five still remain at Guantánamo, and, last spring, the administration turned down a plan by White House Counsel Greg Craig to bring some of the men to live in the US, which would have done more in the long run to defuse scaremongering about Guantánamo than any other gesture.

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) decried the Obama administration’s forcible removal of Mr. Naji. Mr. Bin Mohammed could also be deported at any time.

CCR supports the ongoing efforts of the U.S. State Department to close Guantánamo Bay, particularly in the face of unyielding resistance from Congress and the seemingly detached indifference of the White House to the continuing plight of the men held in our notorious prison. However, the solution to Guantánamo Bay does not rest on forcing detainees to return to countries where they fear torture and persecution. It is not only illegal, but also bad policy…. Forced repatriations make the United States appear complicit with repressive regimes and are certain to outrage Arabs and Muslims around the world at a time when our government needs their support.

Is There Anything to Be Done?

In a letter the other day to supporters, CCR wrote:

The Obama Administration violated both U.S. and international law by forcibly repatriating Mr. Naji, and Center for Constitutional Rights is now deeply concerned as neither his wellbeing nor whereabouts are known….

Please write the Algerian Embassy in Washington, DC (at mail@algeria-us.org) and the Permanent Mission of Algeria to the United Nations at mission@algeria-un.org and demand that the Algerian government immediately account for Mr. Naji’s whereabouts and well-being. They must tell us where he is and provide assurances that he is well. The Algerian government should also comply with international law prohibiting the use of secret detention and torture. Moreover, the Algerian government must protect Mr. Naji from extremist forces in Algeria who may try to recruit him and harm him when he resists joining them. Finally, the Algerian government should in the future not accept forced repatriations of its citizens who fear they will be harmed in the country.

The court’s decision and the actions of the Obama administration are an outrage and another blow against the international position of non-refoulement, or non-return of refugees and the persecuted, as described in the UN Convention Against Torture and other international treaties and protocols. This action marks the U.S. as an uncivilized nation, a nation busily disassembling the rule of law in the name of empire building.

It’s possible that Aziz is a test case, as they will want to release others to countries where they fear persecution. They can let “friendly” governments “dispose” of their prisoners. I also believe it’s possible they intend to seed some small number through as possible double agents among the Islamic “extremist” groups, and this is one way to manufacture bona fides after being held so long. A very dangerous game for everyone involved.

It’s noted above that Switzerland has taken up an application for asylum from Mr. Naji (it is, I believe, on appeal there). The simplest solution would be to offer Mr. Naji, who never harmed any U.S. person, asylum in this country, but as FDL/Seminal diarist powwow notes in a comment at Emptywheel yesterday:

For other Bill-of-Attainder-esque reasons, the following Congressional restrictions also deserve highlighting:

The Homeland Security Appropriations Act includes two additional provisions affecting the treatment of Guantanamo detainees. Section 553, which appears to apply beyond the end of the 2010 fiscal year…. prohibits the use of funds appropriated under that act to “provide any immigration benefit” to any former Guantanamo detainee, including a visa, admission into the United States, parole into the United States, or classification as a refugee or applicant for asylum.51 The prohibition is similar to proposals introduced earlier during the 111th Congress; however, the other proposals would apply permanently, whereas the prohibition in the Homeland Security Appropriations Act appears to apply only to funds appropriated by that act.52

In any case, if they can get away with the criminal return of Aziz Naji without popular furor, then they can proceed with more of the same. This was all prefigured when al-Libi — the man who told the U.S. about Saddam and WMD (under torture — he later recanted the “confession”) — was mysteriously found dead in his Libyan cell and there was no call for investigation.

Don’t Ignore This Issue

Thus far the Daily Kos community has essentially ignored the outrageous Naji deportation (the diary by geomoo was a notable, but mostly ignored exception). I hope this diary begins the rectification of that. The New York Times editorial reminds us there is "no reason to deliver prisoners to governments that the United States considers hostile and that have a record of torture and lawlessness."

Call the White House: 202-456-1111, or write them if you wish. Let them know there is line beyond which support for this administration ends, and the forceable return of an innocent prisoner, tortured and imprisoned for eight years by the United States, to a country he fled over 15 years ago, in fear for his life, is exactly such a line.

Top U.S. Behavioral Scientists Studied Survival Schools to Create Torture Program Over 50 Years Ago

12:02 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

In commemoration of the passage of the treaty known as the Convention Against Torture (CAT), the United Nations declared June 26 the International Day of Support of Victims of Torture, I want to review where we are in the fight against U.S. torture today. I also want to revisit some important episodes in the history of how we arrived here, including the a look at the role of top U.S. behavioral scientists in the construction of a torture program for the CIA and military.

The U.S. is formally a signatory to CAT, but from the day it was ratified by the U.S. Senate, the treaty was eviscerated by a number of "reservations, declarations, and understandings", which legalisms were meant to shield the United States from actions that any reasonable person would understand constitute torture or cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment of prisoners. Still, the CAT remained a formidable obstacle to the Bush/Cheney lawyers, when they were drawing up their memorandum to allow torture. Yoo, Bybee and Bradbury made sure they addressed legal problems for the administration faced by the treaty the U.S. signed, and turned rhetorical and forensic somersaults to make sure that no one would charge U.S. actors for the crimes of torture.

Meanwhile, the administration of Barack Obama has made a fetish of the idea that U.S. society must not "look backward," and refuses to promote the necessary investigations and prosecutions of the crimes undertaken by the Bush/Cheney administration — and this is true even after recent revelations indicate that besides torture, illegal human experimentation on prisoners also occurred. Even worse, there is plenty of evidence to now indicate the Obama administration has itself embraced the policies of rendition, secret prisons, assassination, and abuse of prisoners.

Nor has Congress acquitted itself especially well. The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) undertook an in-depth investigation of Department of Defense involvement in detainee abuse, producing a fairly redacted public report that described how the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency and its Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape school (SERE) personnel were utilized to teach torture methods to the CIA, the DIA, and Special Operations teams (and perhaps others — see PDF report). Nevertheless, the SASC never recommended any specific reforms, and not one high-ranking military officer was held accountable for what had occurred. The use of JPRA personnel in interrogations remained "a policy decision" to be decided by the Secretary of Defense — who happens to remain, over a third of the way through Obama’s current term of office, Bush Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

The Senate and House Intelligence Committees were supposedly briefed on the CIA’s interrogation program, but as a number of articles by Marcy Wheeler have documented, the CIA lied about who was briefed, and falsified the evidence of the briefings when it was convenient to them.

Even so, one could criticize the overall actions of Congress on the torture issue. The Senate Intelligence Committee currently is investigating the circumstances around the CIA’s interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, and other aspects of the CIA "enhanced interrogation" program, including charges of human experimentation. But this investigation is behind closed doors, and we cannot judge its efficacy, nor does it do what real investigations of torture should do: educate the public about what has occurred, and mobilize society for the necessary task of cleaning up the government from the infection of torture and brutality that debilitates it. In order to keep the truth at bay, ever-increasing attacks against whistleblowers, ever-increasing encroachments on civil liberties and privacy, are taking place.

On this International Day of Support of Victims of Torture, I offer a reposting of an article of mine from last year, posted at Jason Leopold’s The Public Record. This is an important article that details the origins of the torture program, and demonstrates the importance of delaying real accountability. A failure to end the practice of torture has resulted in increasing militarism, increasing governmental secrecy, and the empowerment of a clique of individuals whose operations and immorality have penetrated to every major societal institution.

If this article is too long for you, bookmark it and read it later. Send it to your iPad or Kindle, print it out and read it at your leisure (though you might miss the hyperlinks). As an accompanying piece, you might also wish to take a look at this excellent diary at Daily Kos, which describes the uses of torture domestically, in U.S. jails and Supermax prisons. Torture at home, torture abroad, the question we must be asking ourselves is this: So far down the road to becoming a "torture state," do we have the courage and fortitude to turn back, to create a better society, or will we succumb to barbarism?

*************

Top U.S. Behavioral Scientists Studied Survival Schools to Create Torture Program Over 50 Years Ago

A couple of recent articles have highlighted the unseemly fact that some past presidents of the American Psychological Association (APA), the foremost professional organization for psychologists in the United States, if not the world, had links to the use of torture, or at least to military research into coercive interrogations.

An article by Jane Mayer in the recent New Yorker on CIA Director Leon Panetta noted in passing the participation of a former APA president Joseph Matarazzo on the governing staff of the Mitchell, Jessen & Associates (MJA) torture firm. First identified as one of the “governing people” of MJA by Bill Morlin in a Spokesman Review article in August 2007, Matarazzo is now known to have also been CIA, as noted in an article by Physicians for Human Rights Campaign Against Torture director, Nathaniel Raymond (emphasis added):

Mayer notes, parenthetically, that she has learned from the CIA’s Kirk Hubbard that former American Psychological Association president Joseph Matarazzo sat on the CIA’s professional-standards board at the time when psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen were developing an interrogation program for the CIA, based on the US military’s SERE training program.

This new information came at the same time as former APA insider Bryant Welch was publishing his own tell-all about APA and the Defense Department, "Torture, Psychology, and Daniel Inouye". Welch singled out former APA presidents Gerald Koocher and Ron Levant, along with Senator Daniel Inouye’s office, as key lobbyists for the participation of psychologists in interrogations (emphasis added):

One of Inouye’s administrative assistants, psychologist Patrick Deleon, has long been active in the APA and served a term in 2000 as APA president. For significant periods of time DeLeon has literally directed APA staff on federal policy matters and has dominated the APA governance on political matters. For over twenty-five years, relationships between the APA and the Department of Defense (DOD) have been strongly encouraged and closely coordinated by DeLeon.

Another famous former APA president, Martin Seligman, was also linked with the government’s recent torture program. According to Jane Mayer, Seligman taught his “learned helplessness” theories to the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape or SERE psychologists, who reverse-engineered it into the “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” used by the CIA and DoD to torture prisoners in “war on terror” prisons around the world. Seligman admitted lecturing at SERE, but has denied any role in torture.

The role of former APA presidents DeLeon, Koocher, Levant, Seligman, and Matarazzo in supporting the role of military psychologists in interrogations, even after evidence of torture by the U.S. government was manifest, is perhaps unequalled in the annals of professional societies, as providing political, and possibly organizational and theoretical or practical support to unethical procedures, especially torture. (Stephen Soldz has outlined some of this recent history in an article just posted at ACLU Blog of Rights.) One might think this a terrible offshoot of the former Bush administration’s insane post-9/11 turn to the “dark side.”

But that is not the end of the story; it is not even the beginning.

Before this set of military/CIA-collaborationist APA presidents, there was Harry Harlow, and before him, Donald Hebb. Both were famous, distinguished U.S. psychologists, and both had been presidents of the APA in the 1950s. Both engaged in research, some of it secret, for the military and CIA. Hebb was a pioneer in the study of sensory deprivation. Harlow’s contribution was more synthetic: he helped construct an entire paradigm around the problem of how to break down an individual by torture.

In 1956, in the pages of an obscure academic journal, Sociometry, I.E. Farber, Harry F. Harlow, and psychiatrist Louis Jolyon West published a classic work on interrogation, Brainwashing, Conditioning, and DDD (Debility, Dependency, and Dread) (BCD). It was based on a report for the Study Group on Survival Training, paid for by the U.S. Air Force. (See West LJ., Medical and psychiatric considerations in survival training. In Report of the Special Study Group on Survival Training (AFR 190 16). Lackland Air Force Base, Tex: Air Force Personnel and Training Research Centers; 1956.) This research linked Air Force “Survival” training, later called SERE, with torture techniques, and as we will see, use of such techniques by the CIA, something we would see again decades later in the Mitchell-Jessen “exploitation” plan.

BCD examined the various types of stress undergone by prisoners, and narrowed them down to “three important elements: debility, dependency, and dread”.

Debility was a condition caused by “semi-starvation, fatigue, and disease”. It induced “a sense of terrible weariness”.

Dependency on the captors for some relief from their agony was something “produced by the prolonged deprivation of many of the factors, such as sleep and food… [and] was made more poignant by occasional unpredictable brief respites.” The use of prolonged isolation of the prisoner, depriving an individual of expected social intercourse and stimulation, “markedly strengthened the dependency”.

Dread probably needs no explanation, but BCD described it as “chronic fear…. Fear of death, fear of pain, fear of nonrepatriation, fear of deformity of permanent disability…. even fear of one’s own inability to satisfy the demands of insatiable interrogators.”

The bulk of BCD explains the effects of DDD in terms of Pavlovian conditioning and the learning theories of American psychologist Edward Thorndike. The consequence of the resulting “collapse of ego functions” is described as similar to “postlobotomy syndrome”.

By disorganizing the perception of those experiential continuities constituting the self-concept and impoverishing the basis for judging self-consistency, DDD affects one’s habitual ways of looking at and dealing with oneself. [p. 275]

BCD explains aspects of the U.S. torture program that otherwise to our eyes appear insane. (Not that it isn’t on a moral level “insane.”) Take the painful stress positioning of prisoners documented at Abu Ghraib and other U.S.-run detainee prisons — most recently, at Bagram prison in Afghanistan. BCE explains: it’s all part of inducing dependency through expectation of relief, but in a diabolical way. Forced stress positions are a “self-inflicted punishment”, one which increases the expectancy of relief via “voluntary” means. But the latter is “delusory… since the captor may select any behavior he chooses as the condition for relieving a prisoner’s distress” [pp. 276-277].

This form of carrot and stick torture may not seem that sophisticated, but it is the use of basic nervous system functioning and human instinctual need that makes it “scientific”. The need for sensory stimulation and social interaction, the need to eat, to sleep, to reduce fear, all of these are used to build dependencies upon the captor, using the fact that “the strengthening effects of rewards — in this instance the alleviation of an intensely unpleasant emotional state — are fundamentally automatic” [p. 278]. This impairment of higher cognitive states and disruption and disorganization of the prisoner’s self-concept, producing something like “a pathological organic state”, was subsequently modified and used by the CIA in its interrogations of countless individuals. If more brutal forms of torture sometimes were used, especially by over-eager foreign agents or governments, DDD remained the gold standard, the programmatic core of counterintelligence interrogation at the heart of the CIA’s own intelligence manuals.

Chapter Nine of the 1963 CIA KUBARK manual, ”Coercive Counterintelligence Interrogation of Resistant Sources,” describes coercive interrogation procedures as “designed to induce regression.”

The anonymous authors of KUBARK quote the BCD article specifically:

Farber says that the response to coercion typically contains “… at least three important elements: debility, dependency, and dread.” Prisoners “… have reduced viability, are helplessly dependent on their captors for the satisfaction of their many basic needs, and experience the emotional and motivational reactions of intense fear and anxiety”….

The subheads to the chapter are evocative of the DDD paradigm: “Deprivation of Sensory Stimuli”, “Threats and Fear”, “Debility”, “Pain”, “Heightened Suggestibility and Hypnosis”, and “Narcosis”. That this was all constructed, in part, by the demented genius of a famous U.S. psychologist and former president of the APA only contributes to a deep, dark irony that runs like a blood-red gash through the body politic of this country.

The 2006 rewrite of the Army Field Manual was lauded for banning the beating of prisoners, threatening them with dogs, sexual humiliation, performing mock executions, electrocution of prisoners, and waterboarding, among other “techniques.” But in an appendix to the manual, the following procedures are authorized for certain prisoners: complete separation, sometimes with forced wearing of goggles and earmuffs, for up to 30 days (after which approval for more must be sought); limiting sleep to four hours a day, for 30 straight days (and more, with approval); and other concurrent techniques, including “futility”, “incentive”, and “fear up harsh”. In the latter, fear within a detainee is significantly increased, through knowledge of the person’s phobias, if possible.

In the press, and in the speeches of politicians on both sides of the aisle, the new AFM was praised as a model of reform. The CIA was urged to embrace the AFM’s policies, but has demurred. Meanwhile, the Obama administration is studying the interrogation issue, but so far has advocated the AFM be the government-wide interogation standard. Why, one wonders, as it’s evident the AFM has maintained a core DDD operational capacity (isolation, sleep and sensory deprivation, fear)? The Center for Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, Amnesty International and other human rights organization have called publicly for the Obama administration to rescind Appendix M and other offensive sections of the Army Field Manual.

It is important that all elements of the U.S. torture program be exposed and made illegal. If the country can not rise morally to this, then a terrifying future lies before us.

Why Did Obama Join Reactionaries in Dumping on ACORN?

5:10 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

The following is a repost from a diary I posted at Daily Kos on June 17, 2010. The 300 or so comments there make for some interesting reading, and I’ve reposted the original diary here because for whatever reason the news it reports remains largely unreported in the progressive community. I’d also recommend reading this in conjunction with David Swanson’s Seminal/FDL post, We Need ACORN.

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I was reading a great posting by powwow at FDL’s The Seminal this morning. It reviewed David Cole’s remarks on President Obama’s refusal to apologize for the U.S. government kidnapping/rendition to torture of Canadian Maher Arar. Daphne Evitar and Something the Dog Said already diaried on that, to little notice here at Daily Kos.

But farther down powwow’s article I discovered something initially reported last April, but appears to have gone without comment or notice here: that after all the verbiage about how the right went after ACORN, how ACORN was unfairly set-up by right-wing operatives, complete with doctored video… when a U.S. judge ruled that Congress’s bill of attainder attacking ACORN was unconstitutional, the Obama administration backed up Congress, and defended the attack on ACORN.

Who would have thought Obama, the vaunted one-time community organizer, would join with the right to attack community organizers?

We know now that the whole ACORN video incident was a setup and a scam, and that ACORN employees did nothing illegal. Just earlier this month a Congressional report cleared ACORN of any wrongdoing (after ACORN had dissolved itself to reform under a new name). A diary noting the courage of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand in not voting for the illegal bill of attainder against ACORN hit the recommended list here at Daily Kos as recently as January 28 of this year. See also this highly recommended April 9 diary asking "ACORN exonerated: The tapes were edited. Will the media retract and apologize?"

But when, after Federal District Judge Nina Gershon struck down the illegal ban on funding for Acorn on March 12, the Obama administration appealed this decision to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. I have never seen this reported at Daily Kos.

Here’s how it was reported at Law.com back on April 21 (emphasis added):

A federal appeals court was asked Tuesday to allow enforcement of legislation stripping the embattled activist group ACORN of government funding….

Tuesday, [Mark] Stern was asking the circuit for an emergency stay pending appeal of a March decision by Eastern District Judge Nina Gershon, who granted a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the funding restrictions.

Gershon found that the legislation was an unconstitutional bill of attainder, a rarely litigated bar in the U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 9) on legislation punishing a single person or group.

She denied the government’s motion for a stay pending appeal on March 31 and Stern headed for the 2nd Circuit, where he argued Tuesday before Judges Roger J. Miner, Jose A. Cabranes and Richard C. Wesley in ACORN v. United States, 10-992.

Stern claimed that Congress had the right to instruct agencies to withhold funding from ACORN amid "indisputable reports of ACORN mismanagement nationwide."

"This is a case of taking steps on the appropriation of federal funds," Stern said. "And if Congress sees widespread mismanagement, it says ‘time out.’"

WTF? ACORN had already been cleared by this time. What is Stern and the Obama DoJ talking about? And, btw, don’t tell me Stern is a right-wing Bush left-behind. Stern’s years at DoJ go back to the Clinton administration, and he received a DoJ special commendation award in 2007 for his work in the U.S. v Philip Morris landmark case.

What’s worse is that the role of the Obama administration in perpetuating the right-wing attacks on ACORN goes unremarked by the Daily Kos community. That smacks of hypocrisy to me, though more likely it is simply a willful blindness to the bad policies of the Obama administration, a blindness born of misplaced loyalty and a deep wish for change.

So what say you, Obama loyalists? How can you alibi this betrayal? More nice pictures of the First Family?

I’m getting tired of Obama’s lies: on secret prisons, on torture, on supporting community organizers, on FISA, on indefinite detention, on transparency. Jon Stewart captured some of the hypocrisy of the Obama administration the other day in a brilliant routine at The Daily Show.

The Circuit Court, by the way, reserved decision on the ACORN appeal from the Obama DoJ, and in the meantime left the ban on funding in place, until the appeal was decided.