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The Significance of HRW’s New Call to Prosecute Bush Administration Officials for Torture

5:01 pm in Military, Terrorism, Torture by Jeff Kaye

Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a new report Tuesday. As they stated in the press release announcing the 107-page report, “Getting Away with Torture: The Bush Administration and Mistreatment of Detainees” (HTML, PDF), there is “overwhelming evidence of torture by the Bush administration.” As a result, President Barack Obama is obliged “to order a criminal investigation into allegations of detainee abuse authorized by former President George W. Bush and other senior officials.”

In particular, HRW singled out “four key leaders” in the torture program. Besides former President George W. Bush, the report indicts former Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and CIA Director George Tenet. But others remain possible targets of investigation and prosecution. According to the report:

Such an investigation should also include examination of the roles played by National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and Attorney General John Ashcroft, as well as the lawyers who crafted the legal “justifications” for torture, including Alberto Gonzales (counsel to the president and later attorney general), Jay Bybee (head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC)), John Rizzo (acting CIA general counsel), David Addington (counsel to the vice president), William J. Haynes II (Department of Defense general counsel), and John Yoo (deputy assistant attorney general in the OLC).

But the key passage in the HRW report concerns the backing for international prosecutions, under the principle in international law of “universal jurisdiction,” which was used back in 1998 by Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón to indict former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet for genocide and murder.

Unless and until the US government pursues credible criminal investigations of the role of senior officials in the mistreatment of detainees since September 11, 2001, exercise universal jurisdiction or other forms of jurisdiction as provided under international and domestic law to prosecute US officials alleged to be involved in criminal offenses against detainees in violation of international law. [emphasis added]

Indeed, in an important section of the report, HRW details the failures and successes of pursuing such international prosecutions in the face of U.S. prosecutors’ failure to act and investigate or indict high administration officials for war crimes. This is even more important when one considers that the Obama administration has clearly stated its intention to not investigate or prosecute such crimes, going after a handful of lower-level interrogators for crimes not covered by the Bush administration’s so-called “legal” approvals for torture provided by the infamous Yoo/Bybee/Levin/Bradbury memos issued by the Office of Legal Counsel.

Nor has Congress shown even a smidgen of appetite for pursuing further accountability: not one Congressman or Senator has stepped forward as yet to endorse HRW’s new call. Instead, they demonstrated their obsequiousness by approving Obama’s nomination of General David Petraeus as new CIA director 94-0, despite the fact that Petraeus has been implicated in the organization of counter-terror death squads in Iraq, and was in charge of training Iraqi security forces who repeatedly were documented as engaging in widespread torture. It was during Petraeus’s tenure as chief of such training for the coalition forces, that the U.S. implemented the notorious Fragmentary Order (FRAGO) 242, which commanded U.S. forces not to intervene in cases of Iraqi governmental torture should they come across such it (which they often did). No one during Petraeus’s testimony in his nomination hearings even questioned him about this.

Why this report now?

I asked Andrea Prasow, a senior counsel at Human Rights Watch, why this report was issued now, noting that some on the left had already questioned the timing of HRW’s action.

“Because it really needed to be done,” Prasow explained. She noted the recent admissions by former President Bush and Vice President Cheney that they had approved waterboarding. Furthermore, “following the killing of [Osama] Bin Laden, we saw the immediate response by some that torture and the enhanced interrogation techniques led to the capture of Bin Laden. And it became a part of normal debate about torture. It shows how fragile is the current commitment not to torture.”

Prasow also noted the recent closure of the Durham investigation, which resulted in the decision to criminally investigate the deaths of two detainees in CIA custody, while 99 other cases referred to his office were closed. I asked her whether she felt, as I do, that the announcement of the two investigations were meant to forestall attempts by European (especially Spanish) prosecutors to pursue “universal jurisdiction” prosecutions of U.S. officials for torture.

“I don’t see how there’s a defensible justification that the investigations Durham announced can do that,” Prasow said. “It’s pretty clear that there should be an investigation into the deaths of these detainees,” she added, “but it’s so clear the investigation is very limited. The scope of the investigation is the most important part. Even if Durham had investigated the 100 or so cases that exceeded the legal authorities, it wouldn’t be sufficient. What about the people who wrote the legal memos? Who told them to write the memos?” she said, emphasizing the fact that Durham’s investigation was limited by Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder to only CIA crimes, and only those that supposedly exceeded the criteria for “enhanced interrogation” laid out in a number of administration legal memos. The torture, Prasow noted, was “throughout the military” as well, including “hundreds or thousands” tortured at sites in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo.

Prasow noted that the Obama administration has made it policy to block attempts by torture victims to get compensation for torture, asserting a policy of protecting “state secrets” to shut down court cases. “But there are other ways of providing redress,” she said, adding that “providing redress is part of international laws.” The HRW report itself states, “Consistent with its obligations under the Convention against Torture, the US government should ensure that victims of torture obtain redress, which may include providing victims with compensation where warranted outside of the judicial context.”

The new HRW report comes on the heels of a controversy roiling around a proposed United Kingdom governmental inquiry into torture. A number of British human rights and legal agencies have said they would boycott the UK proceedings as a “whitewash.” As Andy Worthington put it the other day:

As a result of pandering to the Americans’ wishes, the terms of reference are “so restrictive,” as the Guardian described it, that JUSTICE, the UK section of the International Commission of Jurists, warned that the inquiry “was likely to fail to comply with UK and international laws governing investigations into torture.” Eric Metcalfe, JUSTICE’s director of human rights policy, said that the rules “mean that the inquiry is unlikely to get to the truth behind the allegations and, even if it does, we may never know for sure. However diligent and committed Sir Peter [Gibson] and his team may be, the government has given itself the final word on what can be made public.”

Andrea Prasow echoed Metcalfe’s fears, saying HRW had “some concerns about how much information [in the UK inquiry] was going to be kept secret. I think transparency, making it as public as possible, is most important.”

The fight for transparency also makes HRW’s call for prosecutions of high government officials, along with “an independent, nonpartisan commission, along the lines of the 9-11 Commission, [that] should be established to examine the actions of the executive branch, the CIA, the military, and Congress, with regard to Bush administration policies and practices that led to detainee abuse,” very timely. In a column the other day at Secrecy News — Pentagon Tightens Grip on Unclassified Information — Steven Aftergood reported on a Department of Defense proposed new rule regarding classification. While the Obama administration is supposedly on record for greater governmental transparency, the new rule imposes “new safeguard requirements on ‘prior designations indicating controlled access and dissemination (e.g., For Official Use Only, Sensitive But Unclassified, Limited Distribution, Proprietary, Originator Controlled, Law Enforcement Sensitive).’”

According to Aftergood, “By ‘grandfathering’ those old, obsolete markings in a new regulation for defense contractors, the DoD rule would effectively reactivate them and qualify them for continued protection under the new Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) regime, thereby defeating the new policy.” Even worse (if possible), “the proposed rule says that any unclassified information that has not been specifically approved for public release must be safeguarded. It establishes secrecy, not openness, as the presumptive status and default mode for most unclassified information.”

Much of what we know about the Bush-era torture program is due to the work of the ACLU and Center for Constitutional Rights, who have used the Freedom of Information Act to gather hundreds of documents, if not thousands, that document the paper trail surrounding the crimes of the Bush administration. Reporters and investigators like Jane Mayer, Philippe Sands, Alfred McCoy, and Jason Leopold have also contributed much to our understanding of what occurred during the Bush years. The work of investigators going back years demonstrates that U.S. research into and propagation of torture around the world goes back decades.

The Senate Armed Services Committee has also produced an impressive, if still partially redacted, investigation (large PDF) into detainee abuse by the Department of Defense. Their report, for instance, concluded regarding torture at Guantanamo that “Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s authorization of interrogation techniques at Guantanamo Bay was a direct cause of detainee abuse there.”

When one puts together the accelerated emphasis on “state secrets”; the Obama political program of “not looking back” in regards to U.S. war crimes (while supposedly pursuing accountability for torture and war crimes committed by other countries); the political passivity, if not cowardice of Congress; the fact that Obama “has not been transparent on the rendition issue, not even saying what its policy is,” according to Andrea Prasow; and finally the lies and propaganda spewed forth by the former Administration’s key figures and their proxies, one can only agree with HRW that enough is enough. The time for investigations and prosecutions into torture and rendition is now.

And if they won’t listen in Washington, D.C., perhaps they will in Madrid. Or some other intrepid prosecutor in — who knows? — Brazil or Argentina or Chile will pay back America, as a matter of poetic but also real justice for the crimes endured by their societies when the U.S. helped organize torture and terror in their countries only a generation ago. There were no U.S. investigations into actions of government figures then, and now we are faced with another set of atrocities produced by our own government. If we do not act now, what will our children face?

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.

More Secret Prisons, Tortured Confessions: The Debasement of Society and Politics Through Torture

6:51 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

Almost every day, a new revelation surfaces regarding the United States’ role in spreading and perpetuating the crime of torture. In only the past few weeks, we’ve seen reported the following:

U.S.-backed Iraqi Regime Ran Secret Torture Prisons

First reported by Ned Parker at the Los Angeles Times, an April 19 story revealed that Iraqi army operations in the province of Ninevah last October swept up hundred of Sunnis, sending them off to a secret prison at the Muthanna military airfield run by Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s own security office.

According to a Human Rights Watch report, as the New York Times noted, "The torture of Iraqi detainees at a secret prison in Baghdad was far more systematic and brutal than initially reported." Approximately three hundred prisoners were said to have been tortured between September and December 2009. During this period, Maliki was a visitor to the Obama White House, complete with Oval Office photo ops.

According to HRW:

All the detainees interviewed described the same methods of torture employed by their Iraqi interrogators. The jailers suspended the detainees handcuffed and blindfolded upside down by means of two bars, one placed behind their calves and the other against their shins. All had terrible scabs and bruising on their legs. The interrogators then kicked, whipped and beat the detainees. Interrogators also placed a dirty plastic bag over the detainee’s head to close off his air supply. Typically, when the detainee passed out from this ordeal, his interrogators awakened him with electric shocks to his genitals or other parts of his body….

The detainees told Human Rights Watch of other torture methods as well. They described how interrogators and security officials sodomized some detainees with broomsticks and pistol barrels and, the detainees said, raped younger detainees, who were then sent to a different detention site. Some young men said they had been forced to perform oral sex on interrogators and guards. Interrogators also forced some detainees to molest one another.

Security officials whipped detainees with heavy cables, pulled out fingernails and toenails, burned them with acid and cigarettes, and smashed their teeth. If detainees still refused to confess, interrogators would threaten to rape their wives, mothers, sisters, or daughters. The interrogation sessions usually lasted three or four hours and occurred every three or four days.

Maliki now raves that the entire torture-in-secret-prison story is a lie manufactured by "embassies and media organizations," and that the prisoners simulated torture scars by "rubbing matches on some of their body parts."

The Obama White House and State Department has not commented on the news reports, though a State Department report last March noted over 500 cases of Iraqi torture in 2009, a figure that we now know for sure was some hundreds too low.

Another Guantanamo Prisoner Wins Habeas Case, as Judge Finds Evidence Came from Torture — Yet Prisoner Still Not Freed

Imagine the living nightmare of Saeed Hatim, a Yemeni held at Guantanamo for the past eight years, who was granted a habeas corpus petition by Judge Ricardo Urbina late last year. (The ruling was only recently released, and can be accessed via PDF.) As Andy Worthington describes it, Mr. Hatim was held in custody for years for his statements regarding his supposed presence at the Al Farouq training camp, and on testimony from a seriously mentally ill prisoner, whom even the Office of Administrative Review of the Detention of Enemy Combatants had considered of dubious reliability since at least 2005.

Hatim claimed that his repetition of inculpatory statements at Guantanamo were made because of fear of being tortured again. The government claimed that even if there were torture, the statements should still stand. But Judge Urbina disagreed (emphasis added):

The petitioner claims that after he was captured in Pakistan, he was held for six months at a military base in Kandahar, Afghanistan, where he was severely mistreated, including being beaten repeatedly, being kicked in the knees and having duct tape used to hold blindfolds on his head. To this day, he cannot raise his left arm without feeling pain. The petitioner also alleges that he was threatened with rape if he did not confess to being a member of the Taliban or al-Qaeda….

Hatim’s unrefuted allegations of torture undermine the reliability of the statements made subsequent to his detention at Kandahar. Thus, the government faces a steep uphill climb in attempting to persuade the court that the petitioner’s detention is justified based on the allegation that he trained at al-Farouq, given that the sole evidence offered in support of that allegation is tainted by torture.

The Hatim decision follows that of Judge Henry Kennedy decision granting the habeas corpus petition of Uthman Abdul Rahim Mohammed Uthman, because the evidence against him was tortured out of two presumed Al Qaeda prisoners. In the Hatim case, Judge Urbina cited Judge Gladys Kessler’s ruling in yet another case of evidence tainted by torture. (This may have been the case of Farhi Saeed Bin Mohammed, famously known because the tortured evidence came from UK prisoner Binyam Mohamed.)

The victories of Hatim and Uthman remain bittersweet, as the men are not being released from Guantanamo, even as U.S. courts agree there is no legal reason to hold these men, and there are at least 100 more like them, as Worthington explains in his article.

"Treats" or Torture in Case of Child Soldier Prosecuted by U.S.

There’s already lots of coverage at this site of the Omar Khadr pre-trial proceedings, where the 23-year-old Khadr’s defense team is trying to obtain suppression of statements made by the defendant after he was tortured soon after capture at Bagram prison. I haven’t heard the U.S. deny that they started the interrogations with Khadr lying almost mortally wounded in a battlefield hospital. Only 15 years old at the time, and with two wounds from being shot in the back, emerging as a gaping wound in front, and blinded from shrapnel, the interrogations began. Before long, they were turned over to the likes of Sgt. Joshua Claus, an interrogator later courtmartialled for his brutality to prisoners, including the infamous killing of Afghan taxi driver, Dilawar.

The U.S. government is trying a different spin. Carol Rosenberg at the Miami Herald described the testimony at the Guantanamo hearing of a female interrogator of Khadr’s — pseudonym "Agent 11" — that she enticed him to talk with M&Ms and fig newtons, and how happy he was to talk with her, rather than be "bored" in his cell.

Since the press has never given a shit that prisoners at Guantanamo routinely are placed into solitary confinement, and kept in isolation for months on end, you can’t expect them to understand, much less report, that one of the desired effects of isolation is to produce a desire to talk, and to foster a positive feeling toward anyone who would spend time with them after endless bouts of boredom, spawned by deprivation of social contact and perceptual stimulation. To produce Omar Khadr’s statement that he’d rather be with Agent 11 than "bored" in his cell speaks to the effects of solitary confinement, and if he should go to trial, I would hope his defense team would seek to get expert testimony on the effects of isolation upon prisoners.

This article could go on and on, describing other evidence in the press of torture and abuses conducted by the U.S. or its allies. Let some brief linked headlines suffice:

Canadians ‘subcontracted torture’ in Afghanistan: Testimony

[An Afghan-Canadian interpreter] told a House of Commons committee hearing that he believes every Canadian armed forces member who was involved in transferring detainees in Afghanistan knows the NDS tortures people. "All along the chain of command, they know what is going on — everybody," he asserted.

Bahrain: Court Ruling Disregards Torture Evidence

19 Convicted in Killing Despite Earlier Acquittal, Lack of Evidence, Coerced Confessions

Egypt: “Hizbullah cell” convictions marred by torture allegations

Detainee-torture allegations spread to Britain

Allegations that Afghan detainees were routinely handed over to Afghan authorities for torture – up to now a largely Canadian scandal – are poised to envelop fellow NATO countries with a London court case that claims Britain exposed hundreds of prisoners to abuse in similar circumstances.

People deported by EU member states face torture despite Diplomatic Assurances

Feeling overwhelmed yet? If not, peruse a new article just posted today by Professor E. San Juan, Jr., who discusses the ongoing use of CIA KUBARK-style forms of torture and interrogation in the Philippines. Or read any number of histories of how the U.S. exported torture techniques abroad to Latin America, even before the U.S. gave the green light to death squads that killed or disappeared tens of thousands in that part of the world in the 1970-1980s (one could start with the works of John Dinges or J. Patrice McSherry.

Of course, my intent is not to truly overwhelm, but to educate and incite. Yes, incite readers to become active in protesting and helping eradicate this virus of torture from the body politic. By what special right does anyone in this society, after Abu Ghraib, after the 20,000 tortured to death by the CIA’s Vietnam-era Operation Phoenix, after Guantanamo, Bagram, and the teaching of torture to foreign militaries, by what special right can anyone in this society claim any superiority, any moral right to pursue a foreign policy that demands U.S. right of military action anywhere in this world? (And this at a time when NATO sources are claiming combat operations in Afghanistan are likely to go on for another four years.)

It is difficult to read even the well-intentioned and researched articles at this blog (among the best around) and not feel that behind all the politics stand crimes of such monstrosity that one cannot take seriously any of the entire circus. It is not enough that the rulers of this country cannot even administer the country with anything like equity or even competence. The recent oil well blow-out in the Gulf of Mexico testifies to an ineptitude and willful blindness on environmental issues that shouts out mistrust for those who now claim they will fix things.

The same goes for the empty promises and gestures about torture that emanate from the PR-decked halls of the Obama administration. Immersed in attempts to expand Bush-era claims over "state secrets," it has broken its promise to close Guantanamo, even as it expands secret prisons (now run by JSOC instead of CIA) in Afghanistan, or as in Iraq, turns over the torture franchise to their Iraqi strongmen buddies, just as they had long ago given Saddam Hussein the green light to assassinate Iraqi leader Abd al-Karim Qasim. (Hussein failed and had to temporarily flee Iraq, but returned after a CIA-linked coup and as head of security made his bones torturing and killing thousands of Iraqi leftists.)

No day for the tortured is a usual day. It is a struggle for sanity and moments of peace, while the trauma lies distributed throughout the nervous system like an internal army of persecutors. A society that has tortured so many cannot be a just society, its very legitimacy is at question. What happens in the future depends on all of us. Make torture the issue of the day. Demand its eradication. Don’t let "national security" tropes disguise the crimes committed by the state in your name.

Women Dying and Torture Run Amuck In Afghanistan

7:12 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

This report was originally published on Truthout.org.

Two reports coming out of Afghanistan illustrate the depth of hypocrisy and subterfuge characterizing the US/NATO intervention in that country. One could cite a myriad of such examples, so immoral and wrong as the US war there.

In the first report, a 2009 human rights assessment prepared by Canada’s Foreign Affairs Department, obtained by The Canadian Press and reported at CBC News, revealed a skyrocketing suicide rate among Afghan women:

"Self-immolation is being used by increasing numbers of Afghan women to escape their dire circumstances and women constitute the majority of Afghan suicides," said the report, completed in November 2009….

The director of a burn unit at a hospital in the relatively peaceful province of Herat reported that in 2008 more than 80 women attempted suicide by setting themselves on fire, many of them in the early 20s.

It’s not as if the plight of Afghan women under the US-backed Karzai government hasn’t gotten some attention. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) recorded 184 cases of self-immolation by Afghani women in 2007, versus 106 in 2006. In Herat alone, in the first six months of 2008, 47 women, desperate from an escape from a life of domestic servitude, violence, rape, injustice, and other crimes, set themselves on fire and ended up in the emergency room of the local hospital. Ninety percent died from their serious burns.

The police and judiciary do not launch any formal investigations to determine the causes and motivations of suicide and self-burning by women, according to the AIHRC.

As a result, men who force and provoke women to self-immolation and other forms of suicide remain immune from all legal and penal repercussions.

To delve into the statistics only reveals a more doleful picture: almost 90 percent (!) of Afghan women have been victims of violence, 60 percent of all marriages are forced. The US-backed regime has made some token moves to assist women, such as creating police task forces staffed by women officers. But the female officers aren’t allowed to do any outreach. Meanwhile, Afghan President Hamid Karzai infamously supported a law that allows for spousal rape. (Afghanistan is not alone in this, however, as Bahrain, too, "offers women no protection from spousal rape.")

US/NATO-Backed Afghan Regime Practices Torture

As the US plans to transfer administrative control of its Bagram detention facility to the Afghanistan government, a separate scandal links the Afghan government to the torture and murder of a prisoner in its custody. According to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), Afghan citizen Abdul Basir was tortured while in custody of Afghani security forces last December, and killed when he was pushed or thrown out a window. His family was told he committed suicide. But HRW has posted pictures of the tortured marks on Basir’s body.

It wasn’t easy to try and get an investigation of Basir’s death in Afghanistan – from this brave new government ("elected" by massive fraud) that has guaranteed justice and due process to the Bagram prisoners, once they get their hands on them. According to HRW’s report on Basir’s death:

An NDS official told family members that Basir’s father, Zalmai, signed a statement confirming that Basir had committed suicide and that an autopsy was not required. The family told Human Rights Watch that NDS officials told them that if they buried the body, Basir’s brothers and father would be released.

However, concerned that the marks on Basir’s body may have been signs of torture, the family took the body to the Forensic Department of the Health Ministry where an autopsy was carried out. The findings have not been made public. The family reported that security agency officials later came to the house where the body was held and gave them a message to bury the body. When the family tried to take the body to parliament, they said, agency vehicles blocked their way.

While the Afghan defense ministry assures the world press that "all international conventions on prisoners’ rights would be implemented" once it gets control of Bagram, the many reports of arbitrary arrest, torture, and other ill-treatment by Afghan security forces suggest otherwise. In fact, there is nothing very trustworthy about either the Afghan government or its US/NATO backers, who have averted their eyes from anything that would besmirch the credentials of their war purposes in Afghanistan.

This leads the leaders of the Western alliance to some pretty strange places. Take Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Talking to interviewers for the French-language television network TVA about the many reports that prisoners captured by Canadian forces and turned over to Afghani authorities were tortured, even killed, Harper said:

"We are speaking here of a problem among Afghans. It’s not a problem between Canadians and Afghans. We’re speaking of problems between the government of Afghanistan and the situation in Afghanistan. We are trying to do what’s possible to improve that situation, but it’s not in our control."

For Harper, the system of transferring prisoners to the Afghans "works very well," though he admits there are "problems from time to time." As an example of some of these problems, read the over 40 redacted emails (PDF) sent from former Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin to then-Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay alleging the torture of detainees transferred by Canadians to Afghan prisons.

While trumpeted as a blow against the idea of turning Bagram into a second Guantanamo, the likelihood is that things will not get any better for the 700 plus prisoners at the US facility there. Nor does it speak to the ongoing management by Special Operations forces of a black site prison, also on the Bagram Air Base. US Special Operations forces are granted special privileges to hold prisoners in indefinite detention. Evidence of torture at the SO black site prison, published in both The New York Times and The Washington Post last November, has not produced any follow-up in terms of Congressional hearings or further investigations. Instead, the handover of the Department of Defense’s primary Bagram detention site appears likely to even further reduce oversight and investigation into the plight of prisoners there, once under Afghan jurisdiction, as the promises of the Afghanistan government are not to be trusted.

Meanwhile, the propaganda from Washington continues unabated. "Surge turning tide against Taliban, says McChrystal," blared ABC news on Monday. But no amount of propaganda is going to fill up the moral bog that is the US war in Afghanistan. Whether its targeted assassinations, leading to rounds and never-ending rounds of assassination and bombings, as at Khost, or the counterinsurgency attacks that target school-age children, as at Ghazi Khan, the campaign in Afghanistan has nowhere to go but down.

Even its vaunted aim of improving the lives of Afghan women is proven to be a lie. As a statement by the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) reported recently:

The US "War on terrorism" removed the Taliban regime in October 2001, but it has not removed religious fundamentalism which is the main cause of all our miseries. In fact, by reinstalling the warlords in power in Afghanistan, the US administration is replacing one fundamentalist regime with another. The US government and Mr. Karzai mostly rely on Northern Alliance criminal leaders who are as brutal and misogynist as the Taliban….

Last month, Malalai Joya, a former member of the Afghan parliament, told Michelle Goldberg of the Daily Beast that the situation for Afghan women is every bit as bad under Karzai as it was under the Taliban. Joya is also concerned that civilian casualties are fueling popular support for the Taliban.

Thus far, no significant antiwar movement has emerged to seriously challenge the Obama administration’s prosecution of the Afghanistan war. Meanwhile, the administration has clearly expanded its military operations to Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. But support by the US electorate of this war policy appears shaky at best, as the population suffers under an unemployment rate approaching 20 percent, and an array of service cutbacks in many US states.

Whether protests against the economy will be linked to the bellicose policies of the Obama administration in its own version of Bush’s "war on terror" remains to be seen. But one doesn’t have to look very far to see that the premises of prosecuting a democratic, human rights war is no more tenable under Obama than it was under Bush.

This article has also been posted at The Public Record and AlterNet.