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Important Files Missing in WikiLeaks Guantanamo Release

11:02 am in Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

File Cabinet for sale $130

File Cabinet for sale $130 by sgroi, on Flickr

Important detainee files are missing in the Guantanamo files released by Wikileaks. There appear to be sixteen missing files, one of which is mislabeled in the database. The mislabeled file concerns a “Detainee Assessment Brief” for Abdurahman Khadr, the brother of Omar Khadr and an admitted “asset” for the CIA, who once described how he was sent to Guantanamo as a fake prisoner to spy.

The other missing files are suspicious, not least because of who these men were, or the stories behind their capture or subsequent fate.

The missing men include Yaser Hamdi (called Himdy Yasser in the database), ISN 009, who was an American citizen labeled an “illegal enemy combatant,” and like U.S. citizen Jose Padilla (who never was at Guantanamo), was sent from Guantanamo to the Navy Brig at Charleston, South Carolina, where he endured terrible isolation and sensory deprivation. His habeas case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which issued a landmark ruling, Hamdi v Rumsfeld, limiting executive rights in regards to incarcerating prisoners without a hearing. Hamdi was later forced to renounce his U.S. citizenship and sent to Saudi Arabia.

Also missing is the file for “high-value” detainee Muhammad Rahim, held by the CIA and only sent to Guantanamo in March 2008, making him a quite late arrival. His ISN, 10030, is not even listed on the Wikileaks database. Another late arrival is also missing. Inayatullah was sent to Guantanamo in August 2007, after having been captured in Afghanistan and, according to press coverage quoting the Defense Department, admitting that he was a leader of al-Qaeda in Zahedan, Iran.
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Rendition Victim Mamdouh Habib Sues Omar Suleiman for Torture

7:56 am in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

The other day I wrote about the fight back by former Guantanamo detainee David Hicks regarding the lies told about him by the Detainee Assessment Brief released as part of large and ongoing document leak by Wikileaks. Another Australian also previously incarcerated at Guantanamo, and even more horrifically tortured, if that’s possible, by the U.S. and its allies, has filed suit in an Egyptian court against his tormenter, former Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman, who for 15 years or more was chief of intelligence in that country. Habib’s JTF-GTMO summary is also available at the Wikileaks site.

The summary states that Habib admitted “under extreme duress” various terrorist activities and knowledge while under interrogation in Egypt, where he was sent via the U.S. program of “extraordinary rendition.” Habib recanted these confessions once at Guantanamo. This didn’t keep intelligence officials of labeling him as of “high” intelligence value, maintaining that Habib had knowledge of Al Qaeda financing, safe houses, training and tactics, operations in Thailand and Singapore, along with associations with the 9/11 German terrorist cell. All of these were lies, induced by torture.

While Mr. Habib has not released a fact sheet to answer these charges, he has been aggressively pursuing a redress for the lies and crimes done to him. His lawsuit against the powerful Suleiman, who until recently was fully supported by the Obama administration during the Egyptian uprising, goes along with articles, speaking engagements, and his own book on his life and treatment in the U.S. gulag, My Story: the Tale of a Terrorist Who Wasn’t. Mubarak’s son, Gamal, is also named in the suit.

Habib has now spoken out on the claims cited in his Guantanamo assessment brief, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Referring to claims that he was planning the hijacking of a Quantas airplane, and other assertions in the Guantanamo document, the ABC article says:

Mr Habib, who was released from Guantanamo Bay without charge in 2005, says it is possible he admitted to things he did not do because Egyptian interrogators drugged him.

But he says he would not have said he was going to hijack a Qantas plane, because it is not true and he was being set up.

“Maybe some stuff happened by me under drugs, I’m not aware of it, to be honest,” he said.

“But as to a wake up person, I’m talking as very awake and I know, I’m knowledge, what’s going on, I never admit to anything, no.”

What follows is a little from Habib’s book, from the section where he was tortured by Suleiman:

He [Suleiman] continued, ‘If you tell us you knew about the attacks on the Trade Center on September 11th — that you were involved and that you were planning further attacks when you were picked up — if you tell us this, we can sell this information to the Americans for 10 million dollars. We’ll give you 4 million and we’ll keep the rest. You will then be under a witness-protection program…’

At this time, all I knew was that the World Trade Center in New York had been hit, but I had no idea about the other hit on the Pentagon and the failed hit on the White House. I had no idea of the immensity of 9/11…

I was sitting in a chair, hooded, with my hands handcuffed behind my back. He came up to me. His voice was deep and rough. He spoke to me in Egyptian and English. He said, ‘Listen, you don’t know who I am, but I am the one who has your life in his hands. Every singles person in this building has his life in my hands. I just make the decision.’

I said, ‘I hope your decision is that you make me die straight away.’

‘No, I don’t want you to die now. I want you to die slowly.’ He went on, ‘I can’t stay with you; my time is too valuable to stay here. You only have me to save you. I’m your saviour. You have to tell me everything, if your want to be saved. What do you say?’

‘I have nothing to tell you’….

Then they took me to another room, where they tortured me relentlessly, stripping me naked and applying electric shocks everywhere on my body. The next thing I remember was seeing the general again. He came into a room with a man from Turkistan; he was a big man but was stopped over, because his hands were chained to the shackles of his feet, preventing him from standing upright.

‘This guy is no use to us anymore. This is what is going to happen to you. We’ve had him for one hour, and this is what happens.

Suddenly, a guy they called Hanish, which means snake, came at the poor man from behind and gave him a terrible karate kick that sent him crashing across the room. A guard went over to shake him, but he didn’t respond. Turning to the general, the guard said, ‘Basha, I think he’s dead.’

‘Throw him away then. Let the dogs have him.’

They dragged the dead man out. [pp. 111-114]

Ex-Guantanamo Detainee Fights Back Against Gitmo Lies in New Wikileaks Release

9:48 am in Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

The new release of Guantánamo documents from Wikileaks is a veritable Sargasso Sea of lies, half-truths, undigested intel, and tortured “evidence.” I do not cheer this particular release, as the energy it will take to set the record straight will be mammoth, and most of the detainees have no one in their corner to rescue the truth from U.S. government lies. One who has been fighting for years to tell the truth about the Guantánamo detainees is Andy Worthington, author of The Guantánamo Files, and I was heartened to see that Wikileaks made him the sole “partner” in their media release of the records.

A former prisoner who has been trying to get his story out is former Guantánamo internee David Hicks. Released as part of deal to plead guilty in the military commissions trials, Hicks has returned to his native Australia to heal from the years of torture he endured at the U.S. Naval Base prison. He has written a book on his experiences, but no publisher has seen fit to release it in the United States. So unless one wishes to purchase and ship it from Australia, you will have to make do with the excellent interview of Hicks by Jason Leopold at Truthout earlier this year.

After the release of Wikileaks Guantánamo Files Detainee Assessment Brief on Hicks, a group that is working to support him and clear his name released a statement last night. In the name of clarifying the lies retailed by JTF Guantánamo personnel, I’m going to post most of their document, as a matter of public record, and to give readers an opportunity to see how poisoned the Guantánamo “record” is on these prisoners.

The Hicks assessment file from Guantánamo is dated September 17, 2004. He was released from Guantanamo in May 2007, having pleaded guilty to the U.S. favorite all-purpose charge of providing “material support for terrorism.” In the Guantánamo document, Hicks is portrayed as having “direct involvement with senior Al-Qaida leadership, including Usama Bin Laden.” He is portrayed as “a highly skilled and advanced combatant, as well as a valuable asset and possible leader for extremist organizations.”

Here is the response from the Hicks camp:

The file released on the Wikileaks website only confirms the inaccuracy of information that has been released by the former U.S. administration to the public in relation to David Hicks. The incompetence of the interrogators to obtain reliable and factual information is clear – they failed get Mr Hicks’ name correct, where he was captured, or the name of their own Navy ship – even when utilising interrogation techniques tantamount to torture. Much of the inaccuracies in the file have been addressed in Mr Hicks’ book, however, following is a list for your convenience.

➢ David Hicks’ middle name is Matthew, not Michael
➢ Jama’at Al Tablighi is a peaceful Islamic organisation – this has long been confirmed
➢ Mr Hicks has at no time flown to East Timor – to engage in hostilities, or otherwise
➢ LeT ["the Pakistan-based Kashmiri separatist group Lashkar-e-Tayyiba"] was not listed as a terrorist organisation until 2002, long after Mr Hicks had been detained. The report confirms that no member of LeT had engaged in a terrorist act- they allege an intention, which there is no evidence of. As Mr Hicks explains in his book, LeT dissolved after 2001. The group that calls themselves LeT now is not the same group as it was over a decade ago as it is made up of different people.
➢ Allegations of meeting senior al-Qaeda leadership – Mr Hicks explains in his book that did not hear the word al-Qaeda until he reached Guantanamo Bay – and this was from the mouth of an interrogator. Mr Hicks has not met any people by the names of Abu-Hufs or Mohammed Atef, and the U.S. has not provided any evidence of this.
➢ Mr Hicks did not go to Bagram at all – Mr Hicks was captured by the Northern Alliance at a Taxi stand in Baglan on his way back to Australia. He was then sold to the U.S. for approximately US$5000.
➢ There is no such ship as the Pettiloo – Mr Hicks was transferred to two U.S. Navy ships, the U.S.S. Bataan and the U.S.S Peleliu- what they failed to mention in this report was the 10 hour beatings inflicted on Mr Hicks and the other detainees, and the photos depicting Hicks naked with a bleeding wound on his head due to having his head rammed into the tarmac several times.
➢ As for the report stating that Mr Hicks ‘admitted’ to being a member of al-Qaeda – Any and all statements were obtained under torture, this is why he was not taken through a regularly constituted court. In the final Military Commissions hearing, David’s legal team submitted what is called the Alford Plea. This is a US based plea in which an accused person can agree to plead guilty whilst maintaining innocence. David has always maintained his innocence and strongly denies that he was involved with any terrorist organisations- he did what he had to do to come home.
➢ The report alleges that Mr Hicks led in prayer and was held in high regard by other Guantanamo detainees – Mr Hicks cannot speak Arabic, and his knowledge of the religion would not qualify him to lead prayer. Some detainees thought that Mr Hicks was a spy, so any allegation that he was a leader is simply outrageous.
➢ Any allegation that Mr Hicks was unruly or created disturbances is simply untrue. Former Guantanamo bay guard, Brandon Neely who was on the ground with Mr Hicks has confirmed this recently (link below).
➢ As documents have revealed, detainees were forced to take medication and David was injected in the spine (see link)
➢ All charges that they quote in the document and the Military Commissions process were ruled as unconstitutional and illegal by the U.S. Supreme Court. Even the final Military Commissions Act of 2006 has been replaced by President Obama due to the unfairness of the system, and the fact that it did not establish a legitimate legal framework.
➢ The report alleges that if Mr Hicks is released, he would be a threat to the U.S. and its allies – Mr Hicks has been a free member of society for over three years, and has proven this to be completely false.

Mr Hicks has never been accused of hurting anyone, participating in, supporting, preparing for or knowing of a terrorist act. The final charge in the Military Commissions hearing was one count under the material support for terrorism charge- which was foreign to Australian and international law- that did not accuse him of personally supporting terrorism, rather, it was alleged that he supported an organisation that supported terrorism. Of note is the fact that it has never been proven that the camps he attended were in fact al-Qaeda. Mr Hicks has never gone through a fair trial process.

This document shows that even back in 2004, Mr Hicks was not suspected and/or accused of hurting any person, or involved in any terrorist acts. The Australian government has always maintained that Mr Hicks has not broken any Australian Law.

One hopes the rest of the Guantánamo detainees get such a chance to respond, and we owe a debt of gratitude to David Hicks’ supporters for showing just how mendacious and unreliable these reports out of Guantánamo are. I’ll note in passing that the Australian group also presents as evidence of forced medication an article by Jason Leopold and I on the administration of treatment doses of the controversial antimalarial drug mefloquine on all incoming detainees at Guantánamo, from January 2002 onward.

The U.S. Government Responds

Former Guantánamo guard Brandon Neely, who knew David Hicks personally, told me today that “If you didn’t know about Gitmo, and looked at these files, you’d think everyone was guilty.” And that is precisely the point about the summaries being released. They are prosecution amalgams of assorted “facts,” many of them obtained under torture, for the purpose of justifying the unjustifiable incarceration of hundreds of innocent men. If there are terrorists or criminals in this bunch, and no doubt there are some, the case against them is irrevocably soiled both for standard judicial proceedings (hence the turn to kangaroo court military commissions), and in the eyes of history.

The Defense Department and State Department have put out a joint press release of their own, stating that the Guantánamo Detainee Assessment Briefs (DABs) were “obtained illegally” by Wikileaks, and that they “were written based on a range of information available” between 2002 and 2009.

The Guantanamo Review Task Force, established in January 2009, considered the DABs during its review of detainee information. In some cases, the Task Force came to the same conclusions as the DABs. In other instances the Review Task Force came to different conclusions, based on updated or other available information. The assessments of the Guantanamo Review Task Force have not been compromised to WikiLeaks. Thus, any given DAB illegally obtained and released by WikiLeaks may or may not represent the current view of a given detainee.

The press release concludes that the U.S. government “will continue to work with allies and partners around the world to mitigate threats to the U.S. and other countries and to work toward the ultimate closure of the Guantanamo detention facility, consistent with good security practices and our values as a nation.”

The mendaciousness of this statement cannot be overemphasized. In fact, the U.S. has given up on its attempts to close Guantánamo, and there is to be no accounting for the torture done in its “work with allies and partners around the world,” nor for the torture and mistreatment meted out by the CIA and Department of Defense. The ACLU has written in a press release today that the Wikileaks document release “underscores the need for independent judicial review of the cases of men being held at Guantánamo.”

Perhaps if nothing else, the Wikileaks release will put the lies and crimes of the U.S. government back into the headlines for a time, and the issue of investigations and prosecutions for crimes of torture and murder will again touch the public mind. If only this time, something at long last would be done to address these crimes.

For more on the Wikileaks release, Marcy Wheeler is dissecting their strange concatenation of lies over at Emptywheel. ProPublica has also posted a review of some other ways in which the public record on Guantánamo and the CIA black sites is being distorted and rewritten.

I’ve written an article now posted at Truthout that looks at an otherwise little commented-upon aspect of the Wikileaks document release: Guantanamo Detainee Reports Hint at Psychological Research, Production of False Intel and Informing as “Areas of Potential Exploitation”.

Update, 5/16/11: The group of Hicks’s supporters campaigning for “an independent investigation into the David Hicks case, with special consideration given to allegations of torture and the political interference associated with his eventual plea deal,” have a website, The Justice Campaign. The group was formed by The Hon John Dowd AO QC, President of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) Australia.

Guantanamo Teen Was Tortured, Asked To Spy On Other Detainees

8:02 am in Torture by Jeff Kaye

According to information at the Reprieve web site, “Chadian citizen, Mohammed el Gharani was the youngest prisoner in Guantánamo Bay, arrested when he was just 14. In January 2009, a federal judge ordered his release and he was returned to Chad in June 2009.” (Reprieve attorneys represented Mr. el-Gharani.) At the time of his release, a Pentagon spokesman gave the Reuters the U.S. mea culpa regarding the teen’s incarceration — they thought he was 16 years old, and not 14 when he was captured and rendered to Guantánamo.

After his release, Gharani told the Miami Herald that after Barack Obama became president, his treatment did not get any better, including being beaten by a rubber baton and tear-gassed. During the years of his detention, he was subjected to solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, stress positions, and suspension from his wrists at least 30 times.

The U.S. government made nonsensical claims about el Gharani’s supposed “terrorist status.” A Washington Post story by Del Quentin Wilber noted, “The government also accused Gharani of belonging to a London-based al-Qaeda cell in 1998, an accusation that Leon questioned. Gharani was 11 at the time, living with immigrant parents in Saudi Arabia, his attorneys said.” According to the article, U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon ordered Gharani’s release because of the two informants the U.S. based its case on, one’s credibility was “directly called into question” by government officials themselves, while the other informant’s credibility could not be determined.

[For the record, Farah Stockman, in a July 2006 Boston Globe article, originally broke the story about U.S. charges that Gharani was in London and working for Al Qaeda at age 11.]

In the video below, from an interview with Al Jazeera the month he was released, the former child prisoner — one of at least a dozen minors held over the years at Guantanamo — describes his captivity and torture, including the fact that Guantanamo interrogators tried to get him to spy on his fellow prisoners.
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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.

Means and Ends: Newly Published Notes of Bruce Jessen Reveal Real Purpose of Bush’s Torture Program

2:06 pm in Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

As part of a new investigative story, Truthout has published documents written by the former psychologist for SERE, and later CIA contract interrogator for the Bush torture program, Bruce Jessen. Before going to work for the CIA with his former SERE partner, psychologist James Mitchell, Jessen authored a 2002 “draft exploitation plan” for military use, based on his experiences as a SERE instructor. The newly-discovered documents, provided to Truthout by former SERE Air Force Captain Michael Kearns, were written back in 1989 when Jessen was transferred from his clinical role elsewhere in SERE to help staff a new survival training course for Special Mission Units undertaking dangerous assignments for Special Operations forces abroad.

Jason Leopold and I co-authored the new story, which includes a video interview with Captain Kearns, who helped hire Jessen back in 1989 for his new SERE role helping put together the class titled SV-91. The documents include notes for a portion of that class, known as “Psychological Aspects of Detention.” The other document is a paper by Jessen, “Psychological Advances in Training to Survive Captivity, Interrogation and Torture,” which was prepared for a symposium at that time: “Advances in Clinical Psychological Support of National Security Affairs, Operational Problems in the Behavioral Sciences Course.”

Jessen’s notes, in particular, demonstrate that this course material, which was “reverse-engineered” to provide a blueprint for the interrogation and detention policies of the Bush administration — some of which remain in use today — emphasized not just the ways to coercively interrogate an individual for intelligence purposes, but to “exploit” the detainee for a number of uses. As Jessen wrote (and those following the Bradley Manning torture case will find this quite chilling, I suspect):

“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.).”

What is “Exploitation”?

If one were to search for the term “exploitation” in the Senate Armed Services Committee report on detainee abuse, published with numerous redactions in late 2009 (PDF), you would find numerous mentions of the term. While at times the word “exploitation” appears to be used as a synonym for the “breaking down” of prisoners, it doesn’t usually explain for what purpose. Indeed, many have noted that such “breaking down” is antithetical to the production of information from an interrogation suspect. Jessen says as much in his notes. But there are other reasons to break someone down.

For instance, the SASC report notes that “The ‘Al Qaeda Resistance Contingency Training’ presentation described methods used by al Qaeda to resist interrogation and exploitation…” (p. 39 of the PDF). “The presentation on detainee “exploitation” described phases of exploitation and included instruction on initial capture and handling, conducting interrogations, and long-term exploitation.” “Another slide describing captor motives states: establish absolute control, induce dependence to meet needs, elicit compliance, shape cooperation…. techniques designed to achieve these goals include isolation or solitary confinement, induced physical weakness and exhaustion, degradation, conditioning, sensory deprivation, sensory overload, disruption of sleep and biorhythms, and manipulation of diet” (p. 40 of the PDF). When intelligence is the aim of the “exploitation process”, it is specifically called “intelligence exploitation” in the report.

One of the primary reasons exploitation is used on prisoners is to produce false confessions. Indeed, it was the torture of Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi that was used to provide the false intelligence about Saddam Hussein seeking nuclear materials that was to provide a major casus belli for the United States for their war with Iraq.

Other examples of exploitation include the recruitment of prisoners as intelligence assets, i.e., as snitches and spies. Indeed, the Truthout article notes a number of cases of attempting just such recruitment of former Guantanamo detainees, while they were still incarcerated. Another long-standing example of such exploitation is the use of prisoners in show trials, which have been used in a number of countries as a means of squashing dissent and offering a faux-legitimate function to governmental security forces. This was the case in the famous 1949 show trial of Cardinal Mindzenty of Hungary by the Stalinist government there.

It was also the case more recently in the military commissions show trial of former “child soldier” Omar Khadr, who was tortured, held in solitary for years, then forced to sign a confession and endure a military show trial which sentenced him to 40 years in prison (while a backroom deal supposedly has reduced that to 8 years and release from Guantanamo to Canada sometime next year).

Show Trials, False Confessions, Spying, Medical Experimentation

In a little remarked aspect of the Khadr case, his brother, Abdurahman, who was also held as a prisoner at Guantanamo while also working as a spy for the CIA, trying to get intelligence from prisoners there, testified under oath in 2004 that Omar had agreed to collaborate with the FBI, but was returned to onerous torture conditions after he changed his mind. We don’t know the kind of collaboration he was ready to provide, though it’s noteworthy that his brother had already been working for a few years as a CIA asset.

A. My brother Omar cooperated with the FBI and he was ready, they were being ready to release him and then he was in his cellblock and people saw that he was being ready to be released so they told him: “Oh, you told everything. You are going to hell. So if you don’t change you are going to go to hell.” So the next time he went to interrogation he denied everything so they took away everything from him and he is still there till now.

Q. Because he decided not to continue the collaboration?

A. Not to continue the cooperation.

Perhaps one of the most heart-rending accounts of a prisoner being broken and used for false confessions is in the autobiography of David Hicks. Hicks also discussed his torture in an interview recently with Jason Leopold at Truthout, describing his experience of solitary confinement, beatings, stress positions, being drugged, and having “every aspect of our lives” controlled by the Guantanamo authorities. In particular, he describes another aspect of exploitation of prisoners I haven’t mentioned thus far, medical experimentation, as he was constantly given different pills, injections, blood tests. His sense of being an experimental guinea pig has been echoed by a number of other former detainees, most recently the German-born ethnic Turk, Murat Kurnaz.

The following is from Mr. Hicks’ book, Guantanamo: My Journey. It could be used as a teaching text on the meaning of “exploitation,” and what the U.S. government implemented at Guantanamo. But we cannot forget that an innocent human being was the subject of this evil.

As time passed, the threat of ‘special treatment’ and psychological conditioning took its toll. The interrogators wore me down so that when they said, ‘So when you attended the al-Qaeda training camp…’ I would answer the question without denial or protest. I became too exhausted to argue. I allowed the interrogators to frame my words and say anything they wanted….

The interrogator’s associate, who had remained quiet until now, said they had a proposal for me: they would place me next to the various English-speaking detainees over a period of time, and I was to milk each one for information and report it back to the interrogators. If I agreed to do this, I would be allowed fifteen minutes with a lady from the Philippines. I instantly refused and requested to be sent back to my cage….

A goal of interrogation is to repeatedly break you and then put you back together until the parts can be manipulated. You become the interrogators’ creation…. The memory of what I have described depresses me deeply to this day. It does something to the soul; it felt like something had died inside me….

My end of the bargain was that I had to verbally repeat my story, agreeing with anything they added, even when they dictated my thoughts, beliefs and actions incorrectly. They also fed me things to say about other detainees as well. I did so obediently, even though I knew they were all lies. I struggled terribly with this and hated every minute of it, especially when they brought up other detainees. I searched desperately for the courage to resist and renege on the deal. I had no recourse. I had crumbled and was fully theirs.

Up until now, the primary narrative surrounding the torture scandal has been about the purported efficacy of using torture to produce intelligence in the “war on terror.” But the new Jessen material demonstrates that the program used as the basis for the “reverse-engineering” of the SERE torture techniques was a full-blown exploitation program, whose aims went far beyond the mere elicitation of information, but included the physical and psychological pressures to produce absolute compliance in prisoners for the purpose of false confessions, show trials, recruitment of spies, and medical experimentation.

As Capt. Kearns is quoted in the Truthout article, “The Jessen notes clearly state the totality of what was being reverse-engineered – not just ‘enhanced interrogation techniques,’ but an entire program of exploitation of prisoners using torture as a central pillar.”

It will be up to the press and the blogosphere to make the full reality of the Bush-era torture program fully understood to the population at large, to weave the kinds of information provided here into the narrative of events. Only when the full extent of this program is revealed, can we begin to take steps to end such heinous activities, and bring to justice those who sought a number of nefarious ends through means almost too awful to recount.

Isolation: “The Ideal Way Of ‘Breaking Down’ A Prisoner”

7:04 pm in Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

The isolation and degradation of Bradley Manning by the Marine Corps penal authorities at the Quantico brig represents a significant acceleration of government torture policy, as it is meant, among other things, to further desensitize the U.S. population to the use of torture. Torture will be used on political dissidents in this country, that is clear now, and PFC Manning is the first, but there will be others.

How bad is isolation? Bad enough that former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld himself felt it warranted a “caution” in his April 16, 2003 memo authorizing certain aggressive forms of interrogation, i.e., torture.

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

Rumsfeld — bureaucrat that he is — concentrates on the legal obstacles to the use of isolation. But the psychological components have been well studied for decades. The following is from a 1961 article on use of isolation for interrogations written by Lawrence Hinkle, then a psychiatrist at Cornell Medical Center, and a CIA consultant (link to quote can be found here, emphasis in quote is mine):
Read the rest of this entry →

While Texas Dismisses Torture Charges Against James Mitchell, Other Investigations Under Political Pressures

6:16 pm in Torture by Jeff Kaye

Danny Robbins at Associated Press reported last Friday that the Texas State Board of Examiners dismissed a licensing complaint filed by a Texas psychologist against former SERE psychologist James Mitchell. Mitchell was accused of “violating the standards demanded by the Psychologists‘ Licensing Act and the Board‘s Rules of Practice” (PDF). Specifically, the complaint cited Mitchell’s role in the design and implementation of a torture program, “ignoring the complete lack of a scientific basis for the regime‘s safety and—assuming its safety—its effectiveness,” as well as his actual participation in the torture of prisoners such as Abu Zubaydah.

The complaint against Mitchell was filed on June 16, 2010, and was signed by Texas psychologist Jim L.H. Cox. Attorneys Dicky Grigg and Joseph Margulies were also signatories to the complaint. Grigg and Margulies have also represented Guantanamo prisoners before the government.

According to the AP story, “The board said there wasn’t enough evidence to prove Mitchell violated its rules,” despite the fact that “thousands of pages of evidence, including sworn testimony, tying Mitchell to practices that violate professional ethics” were presented to the board. It is not known if Mitchell utilized in his board defense any of the $5 million “indemnity” defense fund set up by the CIA for use in legal defense for Michell and his CIA contractor partner, Bruce Jessen.

The hearing was held on February 10. Proceedings were held in secret session, and only Mitchell and his representative were present before the three board members. No complainants were at the hearing. Two days later, the board issued its finding of dismissal. Strangely, no reports of the Texas board decision surfaced for another two weeks.

As AP notes, the Mitchell decision follows the dismissal of other cases brought before boards in New York, Ohio, and Louisiana, concerning other military psychologists, Major John Leso and Colonel Larry James. Late last year, the Center for Justice and Accountability and the New York ACLU filed asked a New York court “to order the New York Office of Professional Discipline (OPD) to perform its duty to investigate a complaint of professional misconduct against Dr. John Francis Leso, who, as asserted in the complaint, violated professional standards when he designed and participated in the abusive interrogation program at Guantánamo.”

Worldwide Actions to Hold the Torturers Accountable

The decision of the Texas state board also comes in the context of a number of legal actions worldwide to bring the Bush-era torturers to justice. Lawyers and international human rights activists and organizations continue to press for investigations and prosecutions of the torture of Abu Zubaydah and other “high-value” detainees held in CIA black site prisons around the world, or sent to foreign countries for torture as part of the U.S. “extraordinary rendition” program.

Most recently, the Spanish National Court announced it had the competent standing to proceed with the investigations into the torture of former Guantanamo prisoner Lahcen Ikassrien, since he had been a Spanish resident for 13 years. Center for Constitutional Rights said in regards to the decision:

Since the U.S. government has not only failed to investigate the illegal actions of its own officials and, according to diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, also sought to interfere in the Spanish judicial process and stop the case from proceeding, this will be the first real investigation of the U.S. torture program. This is a victory for accountability and a blow against impunity.

Meanwhile, in Poland, where the U.S. constructed one of the CIA black site prisons, authorities were stymied in their efforts to secure U.S. cooperation into their country’s investigation into the CIA activities at the black site near the Szymany air base in northern Poland. The Obama administration cited an international Agreement on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters, whereby “a country has the right to refuse to provide legal assistance if the execution of the request would encroach on this country’s security or another interest of this country.” Requests for an investigation were forwarded by legal represenatives of former CIA prisoners Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.

In a direct rebuff to the United States, a Polish state prosecutor last January became “the first state official to accept Abu Zubaydah’s claims that he was a victim of extraordinary rendition and secret detention in Poland.” Zubaydah is being represented by Polish lawyer Bartlomiej Jankowski, who is working with the British human rights charities Interights and Reprieve, in addition to U.S. lawyers Joseph Margulies and Brent Mickum. Al-Nashiri was recognized as a “victim” of torture by Polish authorities last fall.

In Lithuania, where other black site prisons also operated, presumably near Vilnius, state authorities meanwhile have dropped investigations into torture, rendition and CIA activities. After initial support for an investigation of the prisons — one of them constructed at a former horse riding club — Prosecutor Darius Valys announced in January that the investigation was over. According to a report by Reprieve, Valys admitted “that three ex-security services agents had ‘abused their position’” but “oddly stopped short of addressing allegations of serious official crimes, including torture and illegal imprisonment.” In addition, the Lithuanian prosecutor made a pro forma nod to expired statutes of limitation, and also a bizarre charge that NGO “lack of transparency” had harmed the investigation.

Attorney Joseph Margulies replied, “The Prosecutor is trying to deflect blame for the failure of his investigation onto NGOs and the media. It’s ironic that an official investigation into a secret torture facility should claim to be thwarted because the media is insufficiently transparent.”

UK State Investigation Blasted by Human Rights Groups

A British government investigation into UK complicity with U.S. torture programs, announced last July after revelations in the UK court case on Binyam Mohamed, has met criticism from almost the beginning. In particular, the decision to have Sir Peter Gibson, the Intelligence Services Commissioner, responsible for monitoring secret bugging operations by MI5, MI6 and GCHQ (Britain’s version of the NSA), lead the investigation was questioned from the very start.

At this point, a number of British NGOs are so concerned that the inquiry, according to the UK Guardian,  “will fail to meet the UK’s obligations under international and domestic law,” that they are considering boycotting the proceedings. Nine of the NGOs – Amnesty International, Cageprisoners, JUSTICE, Liberty, the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, Redress, Reprieve, the AIRE Centre and British Irish Rights Watch — have written a letter to Gibson expressing their concerns.

The letter is substantive and detailed, and includes discussion of whether the inquiry as currently constituted can meet Article 3 (prohibition against torture) requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) regarding promptness, independence, and thoroughness. In addition, the NGO signatories note the insufficiency of public scrutiny and victim participation, the lack of effective remedy and redress for victims, secrecy invoked over the material to be presented, and “the lack of any current powers to compel the production of documents or the attendance of witnesses.”

Another outstanding issue facing the inquiry concerns the last British resident in Guantanamo, Shaker Aamer. As Andy Worthington pointed out in an article on the torture inquiry, due to begin this coming week, Aamer “is still held despite being cleared for release by a military review board in 2007, when President Bush was still in power.” Aamer is the only British torture prisoner to directly claim “that British agents were in the room when he was tortured by US operatives in the US prison in Kandahar prior to his transfer to Guantánamo in February 2002.” Worthington notes that the British inquiry “cannot legitimately begin while he is still held,” as Aamer is a crucial witness as to UK participation, “whose testimony Sir Peter Gibson will need to hear if the inquiry is to have any credibility.”

What Is to Be Done?

It is perhaps unavoidable that the efforts to establish investigations and promote accountability have been led by attorneys and human rights activists (most of them attorneys, too, by the way). As a result, the movement for accountability appears to rise and fall based on the legal decisions of governments, administrative boards, military commissions, and non-U.S. governmental prosecutors. While these legal actions are necessary, and the lawyers and NGO personnel involved deserve our thanks, at the same time the anti-torture movement suffers from an over-reliance on legalism at the expense of social struggle to end the use of torture.

On the other end of the spectrum, groups that promote local activism to bring justice to torture victims or accountability to war criminals like John Yoo, tend to get lost in overly parochial approaches, which when they fail, as in the case of the defeat of a Berkeley, California measure to endorse resettling cleared Guantanamo detainees in that city, promote demoralization and/or endless rounds of campaigning, with little or no progress. While such activists also deserve praise for their efforts, behind the scenes they too express frustration over what course of action might bring greater success.

The underlying problem is political, and lies in a refusal to take on the legitimacy of the so-called “war on terror,” which the U.S. uses as an excuse for the extension of its power abroad in support of corporations that seek to extend their economic influence and power, and which are interpenetrated with the U.S. military and intelligence establishment in that effort. It is apposite to notice, too, the efforts of the government to interdict and obstruct the work of anti-government critics, as the recent revelations surrounding FBI abuse and HBGary make abundantly clear.

In addition, effective action means taking on the misleadership and perfidy of both political parties, both Democratic and Republican. The Obama administration’s refusal to investigate war crimes, and its implication in ongoing war crimes (abuse of prisoners, assassination, use of drones) has not seriously been challenged by the liberal establishment.

The issue of U.S. or British torture is not really separable from issues of war abroad and domestic crackdown on civil liberties at home. Nor is it separable from the economic policies of the United States, which under both political parties has favored the enrichment of a privileged class over the immiseration of large portions of the population.

Nothing demonstrates the bankruptcy of the current ruling elites than the use of torture and assassination. The fight against torture must mean a full political assault against the legitimacy of a state apparatus and its defenders, who use such horrific means as torture as a bulwark against those who they fear challenge their rule and privileges. It must also involve the full use of the social power of civil society (unions, churches, professional organizations), which thus far have remained wedded to leaderships that will not challenge the electoral mastery of a morally and politically bankrupt two-party system.

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.

SF Chronicle Columnist Slimes Waterboarding Victim in Bid to Stop Berkeley Resolution on Guantanamo Detainees

12:40 pm in Afghanistan, Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

How thoughtlessly do the apologists for America’s gulag at Guantanamo defame those who have been seriously tortured!

San Francisco Chronicle/SF Gate columnist Debra Saunders has written a hit piece against activists in Berkeley who are seeking to pass a City Council resolution to resettle cleared Guantanamo detainees within the city limits of this college town for the University of California, the home of the Free Speech Movement, People’s Park, and also known for other antiwar and progressive causes over the years. A vote on the resolution before the Berkeley City Council is scheduled for Tuesday night, February 15.

Last December, the City of Berkeley’s Peace and Justice Commission passed a recommendation asking the Berkeley City Council to adopt the resolution, officially called “Resolution to Assist in the Safe Resettlement of Cleared Guantanamo Detainees.” A full copy of the resolution is available here. Sponsors include No More Guantanamos; Code Pink Women for Peace, Golden Gate Chapter;  Boalt Alliance to Abolish Torture (UC Law School); Ecumenical Peace Institute; Legislative Committee, Tenants Assn., Strawberry Creek Lodge (senior citizens); and others.

The Water Torture of Djamel Ameziane

It’s no surprise to discover that Saunders’ column was picked up by a number of conservative outlets, especially as it retails the lie that the detainees are dangerous, or likely to “return” to terrorism if released. Besides uncritically accepting Department of Defense figures, she lies about what they actually say, and then tries to impugn the stories of the two Guantanamo detainees mentioned by the Berkeley commission, one of whom, Algerian Berber Djamel Ameziane, has the distinction of being the only Guantanamo prisoner to have suffered a form of waterboarding.

Petitioned by lawyers from Center for Constitutional Rights, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, part of the Organization of American States, intervened on Ameziane’s case in 2008 with the U.S. State Department to ask for guarantees of humane treatment for Ameziane.

From the petition before the Inter-American Commission, p. 24 (PDF):

In another violent incident, guards entered his cell and forced him to the floor, kneeing him in the back and ribs and slamming his head against the floor, turning it left and right. The bashing dislocated Mr. Ameziane’s jaw, from which he still suffers. In the same episode, guards sprayed cayenne pepper all over his body and then hosed him down with water to accentuate the effect of the pepper spray and make his skin burn. They then held his head back and placed a water hose between his nose and mouth, running it for several minutes over his face and suffocating him, an operation they repeated several times. Mr. Ameziane writes, “I had the impression that my head was sinking in water. I still have psychological injuries, up to this day. Simply thinking of it gives me the chills.”

Ameziane left discrimination against his Berber ancestry and his Muslim faith, and the chaos of civil war in Algeria in the early 1990s, as a young man in his 20s to work in Vienna, where — yes, Debra Saunders — he was the highest-paid chef  at the well-known Italian restaurant Al Caminetto Trattoria. But Ameziane ultimately lost his work permit, due to anti-immigrant hysteria in Austria, and then went to Canada, where he spent five years waiting upon his claim for political asylum. Only after it was denied did Ameziane leave for Afghanistan in 2000, believing that the only place for him after all might be an Islamic country that ruled with Sharia law. After 9/11 and the U.S. attack on Afghanistan, he was arrested in a mosque and later turned over to the Americans, probably for bounty money.

Saunders quotes Thomas Joscelyn, right-wing columnist and senior fellow for the neo-conservative Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, as writing that Ameziane must have been a jihadist, because he was caught in a lodging supposedly owned by Abu Zubaydah, and that “to ‘gain admittance to a Taliban guesthouse, recruits need a certified Taliban or al Qaeda member to vouch for their commitment’ to jihad.” Except, Zubaydah was never a member of the Taliban or al Qaeda, and the guesthouse was not associated with them either. But what do such little facts matter to these conservative hirelings for the torturers?

In fact, not only were the others captured at this “safe house” later released or cleared by the Americans, but two different Combatant Status Review Tribunal hearings for Ameziane found that “while in Afghanistan, the detainee did not receive any military or terrorist training and did not see any fighting.” Nor was any evidence of any terrorist or military activities ever produced.  ”Has Ameziane been cleared by U.S. authorities? Not that I can find,” writes Saunders. Perhaps she never read the Reuters headline: Obama team clears 75 at Guantanamo for release. Nor is she likely aware that the Anglican Diocese of Montreal has said they would sponsor his settlement in Canada.

Russian Prisoner Already Welcomed by Massachusetts Towns

Saunders also attacks the other Guantanamo detainee mentioned by the Berkeley commission as a possible candidate for resettlement, Ravil Mingazov, a former Russian ballet dancer, who was conscripted into the Russian army and performed for two years in the Army’s ballet troupe. A convert to Islam, he found himself subjected to discrimination in Russia, had his house ransacked by the KGB (according to a report by Andy Worthington), and like Ameziane and many others left for what they thought of as an Islamic refuge in pre-9/11 Afghanistan.

Mingazov has already been sponsored for settlement in resolutions similar to that up for vote in Berkeley, specifically in the Massachusetts towns of Amherst and Leverett. The Guantanamo prisoner, the last Russian to be held in the U.S. torture prison in Cuba, was granted his habeas corpus petition last Spring. In his opinion (PDF), Judge Henry H. Kennedy, Jr. noted that the only real “evidence” supplied by the government was Minagzov’s stay overnight at Issa House, owned by Abu Zubaydah. But the government could not prove that the house was associated with al Qaeda, Kennedy wrote. Nor could the government prove for the purposes of even a habeas hearing that Mingazov had ever been at a training or terrorist camp, or involved with the Taliban or al Qeada. He was a classic case of the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The Court simply will not conclude that a one-night stay at Abu Zubaydah’s house, where Mingazov was unable to communicate with most if not all other occupants, from which he was sent away shortly after his arrival, and which goes in no way to show that Mingazov was part of Al Qaeda’s command structure, meets the standard for lawful detention.

Mingazov was tortured under U.S. confinement at Bagram, where he “‘endured harsh conditions and suffered physical … abuse,’ in particular being “severely beaten, slammed into the ground, hung by [his] arms for extended periods of time, and deprived of food and sleep.’” But, according to Saunders, Mingazov has not been “cleared” for release, despite Judge Kennedy’s decision.

It is eerie how much both of these cases rely on supposed links to “high-value” prisoner Abu Zubaydah, who the Bush Administration pushed early on as an al Qaeda mastermind, author of the “Manchester” resistance manual, leader of his own terrorist forces, etc., and who was famously tortured in CIA prisons, waterboarded an admitted 83 times. These claims about Zubaydah’s significance, which were quietly dropped in recent years, have been revived in recent months in some court rulings and even in the Center for Public Integrity’s Pearl Project report (see pg. 54).

Statistics and Damned Lies

Perhaps the most egregious lie Saunders spreads was born from the fertile minds of the right, spinning the 2010 “Summary of the Reengagement of Detainees Formerly Held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba,” put out by the Director of National Intelligence last year. Saunders says the report confirms that “the Director of National Intelligence reported in December that 25 percent of released Gitmo detainees have been confirmed or suspected of engaging in terrorism.” Actually, the report says that “the Intelligence Community assesses that 81 (13.5 percent) are confirmed and 69 (11.5 percent) are suspected of reengaging in terrorist or insurgent activities after transfer.”

Saunders leaves out the part about “insurgent activities,” because to the right-wing, anyone who would oppose with arms the United States, even if the U.S. invaded their country, must be a terrorist. In this, they are assisted by the current administration, who continues to view the “war on terror” with the same point of view of their Bush/Cheney predecessors.

Not only does Saunders not mention that the confirmed number of even this dubious figure is actually 13 or 14 percent, but she hides the fact that the “suspected” figure is questionable itself, as it relies on “[p]lausible but unverified or single-source reporting” (emphasis added). In a press release following the Pentagon’s latest release on “recidivism” figures for former Guantanamo detainees, Center for Constitutional Rights commented, the government “persists in using the language of ‘re-engagement’ to describe individuals, despite the fact that the majority of them should never have been detained in the first place and were known early on by the government to be innocent. It is not possible to return to the battlefield if you were never there in the first place.” Furthermore, “the latest report only summarizes its figures without actually naming any alleged recidivists or including any information that would enable meaningful scrutiny.”

Saunders also quotes Joscelyn as saying that the prisoners who have received transfers or releases from Guantanamo are hardly cleared of terrorist stigma. “They didn’t find any innocent goat herders,” Joscelyn said. But this totally contradicts statements by former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s Chief of Staff, Lawrence Wilkerson, who wrote in a guest post at The Washington Note in March 2009 about “the utter incompetence of the battlefield vetting in Afghanistan during the early stages of the U.S. operations there.” Wilkerson said that “several in the U.S. leadership became aware of this lack of proper vetting very early on and, thus, of the reality that many of the detainees were innocent of any substantial wrongdoing, had little intelligence value, and should be immediately released.” The reason they didn’t, Wilkerson concluded, was because they feared looking bad, and endangering the “war on terror” campaign.

Saunders concludes her article, with the strange assertion that “in a new act of fiction, Berzerkeley plays make-believe by pretending that two Gitmo detainees should be dating your cousin.” While presumably a response to a quote by Berkeley Peace and Justice commissioner Rita Maran earlier in the article, the use of this turn of phrase, so similar to historically racist forms of expression, to the effect that one would not want one of your relatives to date one of those people (Irish, Italians, Jews, Blacks, Mexicans, etc.), is not coincidental. The fear-mongering against the Guantanamo detainees has always carried a racist edge to it.

The resolution up before the Berkeley City Council to advocate resettlement of two cleared Guantanamo prisoners is agenda item 18 on the Council’s agenda Tuesday night. The resolution also asks Congress to reverse its position and agree to the release of cleared detainees into the United States. It also predicates any resettlement in Berkeley upon a rescission of the Congressional ban on domestic detainee resettlement.

Update, 2/16/11: According to news accounts, the Berkeley City Council rejected the resolution to resettle detainees from Guantanamo. There were four votes “for,” one “against,” and four abstentions. The resolution needed five votes to pass. Unfortunately, the fate of this resolution speaks volumes about the political situation in the United States today.