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Prison Ships, Ghost Prisoners, and Obama’s Interrogation Program

1:52 pm in Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

It was back in June 2008 that the British legal charity Reprieve issued a report alleging “the United States may have used as many as 17 ships as floating prisons.” Moreover, the group claimed “about 26,000 people are being held by the U.S. in secret prisons — a figure that includes land-based detention centers.” The Defense Department, of course, denied anything untoward.

“We do not operate detention facilities on board Navy ships,” said Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman. “Department of Defense detention facilities are in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay.”

Of course, these were the bad, old days of the Bush/Cheney administration, and things were supposed to be different under the new Obama administration. But since Obama came into office, despite claims things would be different, and executive orders issued by the then-incoming President, evidence continues to grow that many of the old habits of torture and illegal detention remain part of the arsenal of the Obama Defense Department.

Egregious practices amounting to torture still remain in the Army Field Manual, and in particular its Appendix M. Reports have been made by major U.S. press about ongoing abuse or torture at the U.S. Bagram facility in Afghanistan. The administration continues to support a rendition program (with its paper-thin guarantee of “promises” by torturing nations that they won’t torture). And of course, Guantanamo remains open.

Now, with the news about Somali prisoner Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, we are hearing that — at least — this detainee (and it begs the question how many more like this), was held for two months as a ghost prisoner on a U.S. ship in international waters, uncharged, without access to attorneys or notification of the International Red Cross. In other words, he was held illegally. Now he’s being charged in U.S. courts with terrorism. Read the rest of this entry →

Torture-linked Shrink’s Army Program Labels Some Soldiers “Spiritually Unfit”

4:25 pm in Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

Jason Leopold has posted a new article at Truthout, describing how an “experimental, Army mental-health, fitness initiative” called Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF) is drawing criticism from civil rights groups and rank-and-file soldiers by testing military personnel for “spiritual fitness.”

CSF appears to be the brainchild of Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum and Dr. Martin Seligman, the psychologist who developed the theories of “learned helplessness” and “learned optimism.” Jane Mayer, Scott Shane, and others have connected Seligman to talks at San Diego’s SERE school in May 2002, where he discussed, in Seligman’s own words, “how American troops and American personnel could use what is known about learned helplessness and related findings to resist torture and evade successful interrogation by their captors.” Notorious SERE/CIA interrogator-psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen were present at the Seligman talk. Former Air Force Colonel Steve Kleinman told Jane Mayer that he knew Mitchell for years, and “learned helplessness was his whole paradigm.”

According to Jason Leopold, five months prior to the May 2002 SERE lecture:

… Seligman hosted a meeting at his house that was attended by Mitchell, along with the CIA’s then-Director of Behavioral Science Research, Kirk Hubbard, and an Israeli intelligence agent. Seligman has claimed he was totally unaware his theory on Learned Helplessness was being used against detainees after 9/11 and denied ever engaging in discussions about the Bush administration’s torture program with Mitchell, Jessen, or any other government official.

But Seligman’s SERE days appear to be behind him, and he has repackaged himself as “Dr. Happy.” His new “learned optimism” theories, supposedly sold in program format (for millions of dollars) to the Army as a way to reduce PTSD and suicide rates, are instead packaging conformist and religious ideologies in the name of resiliency “fitness” for the Army.

CSF examines “spiritual fitness” with questions like “I am a spiritual person, my life has lasting meaning, I believe that in some way my life is closely connected to all humanity and all the world.” One soldier tested last month told Truthout that he was labeled “spiritually unfit” because he answered the “not like me at all” box. As a result, the Army has told him he “may lack a sense of meaning or purpose in his life.” Presumably, like other soldiers with low spirituality scores, he’ll have to attend remedial courses and “be forced to participate in exercises that use religious imagery to ‘train’ soldiers up to a satisfactory level of spirituality.”

According to the Truthout article, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) has sent letters to the Army demanding it “immediately cease and desist administering the ‘spiritual’ portion of the CSF test.

The fact the Army is enforcing religious ideology upon soldiers is already outrageous enough, but the piquant irony by which the primary theorist of the program is also one of the primary theorists behind the use of certain techniques to break down and torture people, and whose theories were used by DoD/CIA psychologists to devise a diabolical torture program, well… one’s head could spin for days processing the internal contradictions. But that’s America today, a torturing country that uses huckster psychology to promote ersatz spirituality in soldiers sent to invade foreign countries for the purpose of selling arms and controlling oil and gas supplies.

What’s next? Will atheism be pronounced a new form of “material support to terrorism”? Will Elmer Gantry replace Robert Gates as next Secretary of Defense? Gates has been President Obama’s Secretary of Defense nearly as long now as he served as same in the administration of George W. Bush.

Truly, nothing can be considered strange anymore.

A Cry from Guantanamo: Omar Khadr’s Letter to his Attorney

10:24 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

Andy Worthington writes:

The Washington Post has just made available a letter from Guantánamo (PDF), written by Omar Khadr, the Canadian citizen who was just 15 years old when he was seized in Afghanistan in July 2002. The letter, to one of Khadr’s Canadian lawyers, Dennis Edney, was written on May 26, and touches on aspects of Khadr’s impending trial by Military Commission — including his constant desire to fire his lawyers, which surfaced in recent pre-trial hearings, and which I discussed in two articles, Defiance in Isolation: The Last Stand of Omar Khadr and Omar Khadr Accepts US Military Lawyer for Forthcoming Trial by Military Commission.

As Michelle Shepard at the Toronto Star reports, Khadr Canadian attorney "[Denis] Edney and advocates for Khadr released the letter Tuesday afternoon to the Toronto Star, Washington Post, Miami Herald and Edmonton Journal." As for the Canadian government’s own despicable role in this affair, Shepard adds:

The Federal Court of Appeal overturned a lower court decision last week that ordered Ottawa to intercede on his behalf in Guantanamo. Canada’s Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that the federal government did breach Khadr’s constitutional rights but stopped short of ordering Prime Minister Stephen Harper to ask for his repatriation, saying the courts couldn’t stray into the realm of dictating foreign policy.

Here’s the full text of the letter. It is heart-breaking to read. For a psychologist such as myself, I see in it the inner struggle of a sensitive man, who was imprisoned as a boy, and has not known adulthood except through the twisted regime of Guantanamo. "I really don’t want to live in a life like this." No doubt Omar is often quite depressed, and trying hard to make sense of what role fate has chosen for him.

Note, too, his referencing of what I believe was the U.S. civil rights struggle — something to identify with. How ironic that Barack Obama, the nation’s first African-American president, is persecuting a former child soldier, using him to validate his own version of the executive’s kangaroo court military commissions, while Omar Khadr himself looks for meaning and hope in the example of the great civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s.

Dear Dennis:

I’m writing to you because sometimes there are things you can’t say, but rather write on paper, and even if I were to tell you you won’t understand. So anyway here are the things:

First: About this whole MC thing we all don’t believe in and know it’s unfair and know Dennis that there must be somebody to sacrifice to really show the world the unfairness, and really it seems that it’s me. Know Dennis that I don’t want that, I want my freedom and life, but I really don’t see it coming from this way. Dennis you always say that I have an obligation to show the world what is going on down here and it seems that we’ve done every thing but the world doesn’t get it, so it might work if the world sees the US sentencing a child to life in prison, it might show the world how unfair and sham this process is, and if the world doesn’t see all this, to what world am I being released to? A world of hate, unjust and discrimination! I really don’t want to live in a life like this. Dennis justice and freedom have a very high cost and value, and history is a good witness to it, not too far ago or far away how many people sacrificed for the civil right law to take affect. Dennis I hate being the head of the spear, but life has put me, and as life have put me in the past in hard position and still is, I just have to deal with it and hope for the best results.

Second: The thought of firing everybody as you know is always on my mind so if one day I stop coming or fire you please respect it and forget about me, I know it is hard for you. Just think about me as a child who died and get along with your life. Of course I am not saying that will or willn’t happen but its on my mind all the time.

Dennis. I’m so sorry to cause you this pain, but consider it one of your sons hard decisions that you don’t like, but you have to deal with, and always know what you mean to me and know that I will always be the same person you’ve known me and will never change, and please don’t be sad and be hopeful and know that there is a very merciful and compassionate creator watching us and looking out for us and taking care of us all, you might not understand these thing, but know by experience they have kept me how and who I am.

With love and my best wishes to you, and the family, and everybody who loves me, and I love them back in Canada, and I leave you with HOPE and I am living on it, so take care.

Your truly son,

Omar

26 May 2010 at 11:37am

P.S. Please keep this letter as private as can be, and as you see appropriate.

Apparently, Mr. Edney thought his client best served by releasing the letter. Worthington comments:

… he obviously felt that it was appropriate to release it, and that Omar would understand.

And given how difficult it is for many Canadians to see Omar as a human being — even with his vile and inappropriate war crimes trial looming — I tend to think he’s right.

One could say the same thing about Americans. Let’s hope a piece of this tragic boy-man’s story gets a wider, more sympathetic hearing.