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Gitmo Detainee Death Mystery Deepens with News of Drug Overdose

11:37 pm in Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif

Charlie Savage at the New York Times reports that “several people briefed on a Naval Criminal Investigative Service inquiry” into the death of Guantanamo detainee Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, who was found unresponsive in his cell last September, have revealed that the prisoner “died from an overdose of psychiatric medication.”

As Savage notes, the military autopsy has reportedly declared Latif died a suicide. Accordingly, investigators are said to be following up a scenario wherein the Yemeni detainee, recently moved from the psychiatric ward to a disciplinary solitary unit at Camp 5, hoarded medications somehow, and used them to overdose last September 8.

To date, we do not know what kinds of medications were involved, except they were “psychiatric” in nature. Nor do we know how many different medications were supposedly involved. While the Times article implies investigators are looking at pills, as explained below, Latif also received forcible injections of drugs at various times.

Jason Leopold broke the story labeling Latif’s death a suicide in a November 26 article at Truthout. The autopsy report itself has not been publicly released, and has been the subject of wrangling between U.S. and Yemen authorities, a dispute that has left the former Guantanamo’s body in limbo (allegedly frozen) at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

Cause of Death vs. Manner of Death

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New York Times Decides Guantanamo Detainee Committed Suicide

8:24 pm in Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

Jason Leopold continues to do superb reporting on the mysterious death last September of Guantanamo detainee Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif. Monday, Leopold posted breaking news that a government autopsy report on Latif, not yet officially released, concludes that the 36-year-old prisoner died of suicide.

Guantanamo protesters in prisoner outfits with 'CLOSE GUANTANAMO' Banner

Despite years of pressure (& a presidential promise) Guantanamo remains open.

Leopold sourced the revelation to Yemeni government officials and “a US military investigator close to the case.” The Department of Defense has not yet officially stated any cause of death for Latif, who was discovered inert in his cell at Guantanamo’s Camp 5 on September 8.

Leopold wrote that a “spokesman for United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), Joint Task Force-Guantanamo’s (JTF-GTMO) higher command” told Truthout that DoD would “issue a statement as soon as [Yemen] accepts [Latif's] remains.” Just two days after Latif’s death, a Guantanamo spokesman told Associated Press, “There is no apparent cause [of death], natural or self-inflicted.”

But none of this stopped the New York Times from stating in an editorial Sunday calling for Guantanamo’s closure that Latif had in fact committed suicide. Coming out of nowhere, such a statement was, frankly, bizarre.

Here’s what the Times wrote, some 12 hours before Leopold even posted his story at Truthout, and with no published source anywhere definitively reporting Latif’s cause of death as suicide (bold emphasis added):

In September, a member of this stranded group, a Yemeni citizen named Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, killed himself after a federal judge’s ruling ordering his release was unfairly overturned by an appellate court. It was the kind of price a nation pays when it creates prisons like Guantánamo, beyond the reach of law and decency, a tragic reminder of the stain on American justice.

Narratives R Us

There is a lot wrong about the claims in the NYT op-ed, as much as I might agree with the overall thrust of the editorial about shutting down Guantanamo. The Times editors may have thought the latest death of a prisoner at Guantanamo highlighted the crime of keeping Guantanamo open. And they are right about that, but their conclusion — their narrative of Latif’s death — closes off inquiry into what actually occurred, and in doing that they are not acting as a watchdog upon possible government abuse.

First of all, there is no affirmative statement by the government that Latif’s cause of death was suicide. In fact, as Leopold points out in his article, all the earlier statements from DoD led one to believe that suicide was not a cause of death. The only recent article to claim otherwise was by Leopold, and it was not published until many hours after the NYT made their claim.

Secondarily, not only does the New York Times supposedly know how Latif died, they also imply they know why he killed himself, i.e., he “killed himself after a federal judge’s ruling ordering his release was unfairly overturned by an appellate court.”

Well, yes, he did die after the appellate court ruling — nearly eleven months afterward, as the ruling by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia came in October 2011. A subsequent appeal by Latif’s attorneys to the U.S. Supreme Court was rejected last June, also approximately three months before Latif died.

Since no one reads articles very carefully, and it is enough to spread a particular narrative in mainstream media sources to manufacture a version of Truth, the NYT does its readers a disservice by producing a bogus narrative of the death of Adnan Latif. According to the Times, Latif killed himself, and it was likely because his court case was overturned.

To be fair to the Times, there were stories in the press that speculated upon just such a scenario, as the Reprieve spokesperson in this Alternet article from last September appeared to do. In addition, the Swiss chapter of Amnesty International wrote about the Latif death on November 1, and indicated that the Guantanamo prisoner had died of suicide. (“Le suicide du détenu yéménite Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif en septembre 2012 nous rappelle la cruauté de ce régime de détention qui permet une détention illimitée et illégale.”).

But statements by human rights groups are not the same as statements by the editorial board of the New York Times. One wonders what led them to assert that Latif had died from suicide, when no public source, indeed no story in their own paper had reported the same, until Truthout published Leopold’s story nearly 12 hours later.

“Questions Remain”

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Omar Khadr Leaves Guantanamo, While Press Refuses to Report His Water Torture

10:00 am in Military, Terrorism, Torture by Jeff Kaye

Omar Khadr as he looked when he was first sent to Guantanamo. (photo: Sherurcij / wikimedia)

On a pre-dawn Saturday morning, September 29, the youngest prisoner in Guantanamo, Omar Khadr left the harsh US-run prison where he had been held since October 2002. At the time of his incarceration he was fifteen years old. According to a CBC report, Khadr was flown to Canadian Forces Base Trenton, where he was to be transferred to the Millhaven Institution, a maximum security prison in Bath, Ontario.

Khadr is supposed to serve out the remainder of an eight-year sentence, part of a deal his attorneys made with the U.S. government, with Khadr agreeing to plead guilty to the killing of SPC Christopher Speer during a firefight at the Ayub Kheil compound in Afghanistan, in addition to other charges such as “material support of terrorism” and spying. Khadr essentially agreed to participate in what amounted to a show trial for the penalty phase of his Military Commissions hearing. For this, he got a brokered eight year sentence, with a promise of a transfer out of Guantanamo to Canada after a year.

The Khadr deal was made in October 2010, but the transfer promise was dragged out as seemingly the Canadian government balked at accepting the former child prisoner, who was also a Canadian citizen. The entire affair became a magnet for right-wing propaganda in Canada, while human rights groups also fought for Khadr’s release. But not long after Macleans leaked U.S. documents related to the Khadr transfer, including psychiatric reports by both government and defense evaluators, the Canadians appeared to move more quickly to accept Khadr into Canada.

CBC reported that Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said he was “satisfied the Correctional Service of Canada” (CSC) could administer Khadr’s sentence, presumably six more years of imprisonment. Speaking no doubt to those fear-mongerers who suggested Khadr’s safety somehow threatened the average Canadian, he also noted the CSC could “ ensure the safety of Canadians is protected during incarceration.”

For those looking for an early release by Canadian authorities, Toews said, “Any decisions related to his future will be determined by the independent Parole Board of Canada in accordance with Canadian law.” According to Carol Rosenberg’s report, Khadr could be eligible for early release because he was a juvenile at the time of his supposed crimes.

Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) Legal Director Baher Azmy released a statement calling for Khadr’s immediate release, and for President Obama to close Guantanamo and release the 86 known detainees already cleared for transfer.

Khadr never should have been brought to Guantanamo. He was a child of fifteen at the time he was captured, and his subsequent detention and prosecution for purported war crimes was unlawful, as was his torture by U.S. officials.

Like several other boys held at Guantanamo, some as young as twelve years old, Khadr lost much of his childhood. Canada should not perpetuate the abuse he endured in one of the world’s most notorious prisons. Instead, Canada should release him immediately and provide him with appropriate counseling, education, and assistance in transitioning to a normal life.

Azmy also suggested that Canada could “accept other men from Guantanamo who cannot safely return to their home countries,” such as Algerian citizen Djamel Ameziane, who lived legally as a refugee in Canada from 1995 to 2000. Ameziane fears persecution if he were transfered back to Algeria. Read the rest of this entry →

NYT Releases Unredacted Report on “U.S. Aid for Ex-Nazis”

10:19 am in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

The New York Times has released a full unredacted version of the Department of Justice’s Office of Special Investigation (OSI) report, “Striving for Accountability in the Aftermath of the Holocaust.” According to NYT reporter Eric Lichtblau, “The Justice Department has resisted making the report public since 2006.” A “heavily redacted” version was released last month to the private National Security Archive (NSA), and now a leaked version of the entire document has been released to the public.

According to a November 13 NSA press release:

The National Security Archive posted today its original FOIA request, the government’s response, our appeal by counsel David Sobel, the legal complaint in the case National Security Archive v. Department of Justice, the interim response from DoJ, the “Vaughn index” of withheld pages and alleged justifications for the withholding, and the 45 pages of partial and highly-redacted response.

The evocation of words like “accountability” in the context of suppressed documents, leaks, and war crimes has an eerie resonance in the context of the current struggle to gain accountability for current and recent U.S. war crimes surrounding the methods by which “intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy” of invading Iraq, the widespread use of torture and extraordinary rendition by the government and its allies, and a policy of illegal human experimentation on “war on terror” prisoners.

The fact that DoJ would still be trying to hide information from decades-old files surrounding the U.S. recruitment of Nazi war criminals does not bode well for those trying to force the U.S. government from President Obama’s “Don’t Look Back” policy towards war crimes. In fact, it took almost fifty years to get a significant opening of U.S. archives to look at government actions at the close of World War II. The NYT leaked document is but the latest in a string of revelations about the use of both high and low ranking Nazis by the U.S. government. Author Christopher Simpson wrote the first major book, Blowback: America’s Recruitment of Nazis and Its Effects on the Cold War, documenting this history in 1988, followed by Linda Hunt’s excellent Secret Agenda: The United States Government, Nazi Scientists, and Project Paperclip, 1945 to 1990, and other books, many of them unfortunately now out of print.

Anyone wanting to become an archival researcher in Nazi or Japanese war crimes can begin at the National Archives webpage for the Interagency Working Group (IWG), where there are links to tens of thousands of documents and millions of pages from the files of the CIA, FBI, military intelligence, OSS and other agencies. The IWG issued their Final Report of the Nazi War Crimes and [Japanese] Imperial Government Records Interagency Working Group in April 2007, and is available online.

Revelations on U.S. Recruitment of Nazis

The OSI report is not without its new revelations. According to Lichtblau:

The full report disclosed that the Justice Department found “a smoking gun” in 1997 establishing with “definitive proof” that Switzerland had bought gold from the Nazis that had been taken from Jewish victims of the Holocaust. But these references are deleted, as are disputes between the Justice and State Departments over Switzerland’s culpability in the months leading up to a major report on the issue.

Another section describes as “a hideous failure” a series of meetings in 2000 that United States officials held with Latvian officials to pressure them to pursue suspected Nazis. That passage is also deleted.

In its paranoia and animus against its former Soviet ally (a paranoia and animus that ran in two directions), the United States turned to the recruitment of former Nazis in an attempt to gain intelligence and military superiority over the Soviet Union. The Times article describes how the report details the stories of infamous Nazi war criminals protected by the United States.

There was Arthur L. Rudolph, a Nazi scientist who used slave labor to operate Mittelwerk underground factories that produced the V-2 rocket. Twenty-five thousand slave laborers perished in the terrible conditions and treatment meted out at Mittelwerk. But Rudolph was protected from prosecution and went on to work for NASA as a primary designer of the Saturn rockets that took U.S. astronauts to the moon.

The article also notes the CIA’s recruitment of “Otto Von Bolschwing, an associate of Adolf Eichmann who had helped develop the initial plans ‘to purge Germany of the Jews.’” The Times article gentlemanly forbears the whole story, which was revealed in a 2006 UK Guardian story on new information found in a massive release in that year of CIA documents on its Nazi past. (CIA watchers should note the ironies entailed in the fact the release was approved by then CIA director Porter Goss.) Von Bloschwing, it turns out, had also been Heinrich Himmler’s representative in Romania.

According to the UK Guardian:

After the war Bolschwing had been recruited by the Gehlen Organisation, the prototype German intelligence agency set up by the Americans under Reinhard Gehlen, who had run military intelligence on the eastern front under the Nazis. “US army intelligence accepted Reinhard Gehlen’s offer to furnish alleged expertise on the Red army – and was bilked by the many mass murderers he hired,” said Robert Wolfe, a historian at the US national archives.

Of even more interest, perhaps, was the U.S. recruitment of Nazis and war criminals for its clandestine secret military groups after the war. Such secret armies were organized across Europe in the aftermath of World War II, and were later implicated in a number of right-wing terrorist actions and coups. The headquarters for this was ultimately centered in the NATO high command, and its various activities, including false flag operations to implicate leftists as terrorists became known as Operation Gladio.

Again, from the UK Guardian article:

Alongside the Gehlen Organisation, US intelligence had set up “stay-behind networks” in West Germany, who were supposed to stay put in the event of a Soviet invasion and transmit intelligence from behind enemy lines. Those networks were also riddled with ex-Nazis who had horrendous records.

One of the networks, codenamed Kibitz-15, was run by a former German army officer, Lieutenant Colonel Walter Kopp, who was described by his own American handlers as an “unreconstructed Nazi”.

A more detailed description of the U.S. organization of stay-behind networks is told in an essay by Timothy Naftali at the University of Virginia (PDF).

The New York Times is to be commended for the release of this important new document, whose 600-plus pages will take awhile to be fully digested. The Times also was one of four news outlets to release, against considerable government pressure, the Wikileaks war logs from Iraq and Afghanistan. But the Times editorial stance for accountability for torture has not been met with action by the U.S. President, Justice Department, or Congress. The Democrats had two years of full control of both houses of Congress and never brought any substantive hearings or investigations on the issue of torture or the machinations behind the invasion of Iraq. While there is no doubt that much was withheld from Congress by the Pentagon and White House, the Democrats demonstrated no appetite to press for accountability, and this will be their ignoble legacy.

We must not wait fifty, sixty, or seventy years for the truth about recent and ongoing war crimes to come fully out, and for accountability for these crimes. It appears that will only happen if the citizens of the United States take history into their own hands and form new political entities or parties capable of handling the truth and meting out justice. Such new political forces will be unlikely to stop there, and turn towards implementing the kinds of change we desperately need in this society.

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

9:45 pm in Military, Terrorism by Jeff Kaye

What an incredible era we live in!

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

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

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

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

According to a joint press release by ACLU and CCR:

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

Chickens and Coincidences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bathed in Blood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NY Times Tale of US Soldier Intervention Against Torture is a Lie

12:31 am in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

Much more is certain to be written and reported from the 400,000 or so documents from the Iraq War released today by Wikileaks. The government is putting forth its own spin, claiming damage to U.S. security and troops, while the press has its own version of spin. One example comes from the New York Times, who along with the UK Guardian, Der Spiegel, and Le Monde, are releasing all or some of the documents, often with fancy and very interesting interactive graphs and databases.

Last July, I noted that the New York Times had listed the total number of individuals on a secret U.S. commando “capture/kill list” as "about 70," while the European press reported the more accurate number of 2,058.

Well the Times is up to its old tricks, and it is an object lesson in not believing what you read, and the necessity to review the original documents yourself.

An October 22 story, Detainees Fared Worse in Iraqi Hands, Logs Say, by Sabrina Tavernise and Andrew W. Lehren, details some of what the Times found in a review of the Wikileaks documents concerning abuse by Iraqi forces. Buried in the article is the lede, i.e., that the U.S. had a deliberate policy of ignoring wide-spread torture by their Iraqi allies (or puppet government, take your pick). At first, Tavernise and Lehren write that the "abuse cases… seemed to have been ignored, with the equivalent of an institutional shrug…" But five paragraphs into the story we learn that the indifferent "shrug" was really a deliberate policy, as it’s revealed there is a "report dated May 16, 2005, saying that if ‘if US forces were not involved in the detainee abuse, no further investigation will be conducted until directed by HHQ.’”

This is the now notorious FRAGO-242 (FRAGO being short for fragmentary order). According to the UK Guardian, it was issued in June 2004, not May 2005, as the New York Times article implies. So far as I can tell from the various news stories, this policy begun during the Bush years is still in effect. It certainly was as late as 2009, well into the administration of President Barack Obama.

According to the UK Guardian:

Frago 242 appears to have been issued as part of the wider political effort to pass the management of security from the coalition to Iraqi hands. In effect, it means that the regime has been forced to change its political constitution but allowed to retain its use of torture….

With no effective constraint, the logs show, the use of violence has remained embedded in the everyday practice of Iraqi security, with recurrent incidents up to last December. Most often, the abuse is a standard operating procedure in search of a confession, whether true or false. One of the leaked logs has a detainee being beaten with chains, cables and fists and then confessing to involvement in killing six people because "the torture was too much for him to handle".

But the particular New York Times article in question here has a more egregious example of spin than burying the lede. In the following paragraph, an American soldier’s witnessing of torture is reported as if the soldier intervened to stop it. In fact, the very documentary evidence the New York Times links to demonstrates the exact opposite.

Here is the relevant quote from the article (emphasis added):

In August 2006, an American sergeant in Ramadi heard whipping noises in a military police station and walked in on an Iraqi lieutenant using an electrical cable to slash the bottom of a detainee’s feet. The American stopped him, but later he found the same Iraqi officer whipping a detainee’s back.

Here’s the document this paragraph links to — note, you will not find any evidence of the soldier stopping any torture. A report is made, no investigation is initiated, and the prisoner and his torturer are said to remain at the Ramadi jail. The case is closed five days later.

*ALLEGED DETAINEE ABUSE BY IRAQI POLICE IN RAMADI ON 17 AUG 2006
SUSPECTED DETAINEE ABUSE RPTD AT 171100D AUG 06

1. DESCRIPTION OF INCIDENT/SUSPECTED VIOLATION (WHO REPORTED INCIDENT AND WHAT HAPPENED):

SGT –––––, 300TH MILITARY POLICE COMPANY, REPORTED IRAQI POLICE COMMITTING DETAINEE ABUSE AT AN IRAQI POLICE STATION IN RAMADI. SGT ––––– WITNESSED 1LT –––– WHIP A DETAINEE ACROSS HIS BACK WITH A PR-24 STRAIGHT SIDE HANDLED BATON AND 1LT –––– KICKING A SECOND DETAINEE. THAT NIGHT SGT ––––– HEARD WHIPPING NOISES WALKING THROUGH THE HALLWAY, AND OPENED A DOOR TO FIND 1LT –––– WITH A 4 GAUGE ELECTRICAL CABLE, WHIPPING THE BOTTOM OF A DETAINEE*S FEET. LATER THAT NIGHT, SGT ––––– CAUGHT 1LT –––– WHIPPING A DETAINEE ACROSS HIS BACK WITH AN ELECTRICAL CABLE. SGT ––––– DOCUMENTED EACH EVENT ON A SWORN STATEMENT FORM AND REPORTED THE INCIDENTS.

2. LOCATION (GRID COORDINATES OR OTHER REFERENCE): 38S LB 37142 99770

3. TIME OF OCCURRENCE AND TIME OF DISCOVERY: REPORTED 17 1100 AUG 06

4. WHO CAUSED (IF KNOWN) OR IDENTITY OF FRIENDLY AND ENEMY UNITS OPERATING IN THE IMMEDIATE AREA (IF KNOWN):

IRAQI POLICE FROM THE AL HURYIA IRAQI POLICE STATION

5. NAME OF WITNESSES (W/UNIT OR ADDRESS): SGT –––– ––––– –––––, 300TH MP COMPANY, MP PIT TEAM

6. UNIT POINT OF CONTACT: CPT –––– – –––– AT DNVT 551-2044 OR ––––.––––@–––––.ARMY.SMIL.MIL

7. EVIDENCE GATHERED AND ITS DISPOSITION: SWORN STATEMENTS AND PICTURES ARE ATTACHED

8. WEAPONS/EQUIPMENT INVOLVED: 4 GAUGE ELECTICAL CABLE, PR-24 BATON

9. DESCRIPTION OF DAMAGE OR INJURIES TO GOVERNMENT/CIVILIAN PROPERTY AND PERSONNEL: CIRCULAR WHIP MARKS, BLEEDING ON BACK, DARK RED BRUISING ON BACK

10. CURRENT LOCATION OF SUSPECTS AND VICTIMS (JAIL, HOSPITAL, AT SCENE, ETC.) BOTH ARE STILL AT AL HURYIA POLICE STATION

11. HOW IS THE SITE BEING SECURED? N/A

12. INVESTIGATING OFFICER. STATUS OF INVESTIGATION: NO INVESTIGATION INITIATED AT THIS POINT.

CLOSED: 22 AUG 2006

The American sergeant documents each incident of torture, but there is no evidence of any other intervention.

I suppose the authors may have been unaware of what they wrote. The savagery and butchery may have made them unconsciously prettify the picture, and project fictional heroism by the American soldier. But the truth is ugly, and can’t be covered up. That’s the beauty of having actual documents, and we owe a great debt of gratitude to Wikileaks and the anonymous leaker(s) for bringing us the truth.

No doubt there were cases where U.S. military personnel intervened to stop torture, but even in the documents I’ve seen thus far, plenty of victims are left in control of their captors. The news reports seem to emphasize the wide-spread nature of the crimes.

Among whatever other truths are to be revealed, one truth stands out, and the UK Guardian headline is clear in its reporting: Iraq war logs: secret files show how US ignored torture. The truth. Both under the administration of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the United States forces in Iraq countenanced the use of torture on a massive scale by its allies in the Iraq government. They did not publicize what was happening, and to this day, they say this policy is acceptable.

The stories of the torture are horrific, as are the murders, the deaths of tens of thousands of non-combatants. And the casualty figures cannot themselves be trusted, as the U.S., for instance, reports no civilian casualty figures for the attack on Fallujah.

This is a country without a moral compass. War crimes on a massive scale, and a populace too afraid, too inured, too ignorant or self-satisfied to do anything about it. A terrible reckoning is coming, but it will not be from Al Qaeda, or from terrorists, or from God. It will be when the people of this country wake up and throw the rotten murderers and torturers and their apologists out of power.

Through its wide-ranging acceptance and tolerance of torture, the U.S. destroys its own integrity. I await the outrage or lack of it in coming days, but I won’t hold my breath. The country has been made stupid by its addiction to elections funded by the wealthy, elections that only perpetuate the same evil powers, and offer little if any real choice to the voting public.

By claiming these documents will aid the enemy, the U.S. rulers only reveal their own guilt. It is not tactics and procedures they fear will be released, but an image of their own crimes.

UPDATE: Since first writing this diary, more material related to U.S. complicity in wide-spread and systematic torture by the Iraqi government is coming to light, as well as information about other war crimes. One of especial interest is a video at UK Guardian, which also has an interview with New York Times correspondent Peter Maass, who was allowed time with Iraq’s notorious special commandos, Wolf Brigade. Maass puts Gen. Petraeus special adviser, James Steele, a “retired United States Army colonel who also helped develop the special police as a member of General Petraeus’s team”, in the same room as himself when both heard an Iraqi being tortured in another room.

A January 2007 article by Dahr Jamail noted the connections between Steele and his old El Salvador counterinsurgency boss, John Negroponte, who was U.S. ambassador to Iraq in 2004-2005. Negroponte then was U.S. ambassador as FRAGO 242 was put into operation.

It is Negroponte who oversaw the implementation of the “Salvador Option” in Iraq, as it was referred to in Newsweek in January 2005.

Under the “Salvador Option,” Negroponte had assistance from his colleague from his days in Central America during the 1980′s, Ret. Col James Steele. Steele, whose title in Baghdad was Counselor for Iraqi Security Forces supervised the selection and training of members of the Badr Organization and Mehdi Army, the two largest Shi’ite militias in Iraq, in order to target the leadership and support networks of a primarily Sunni resistance.

Planned or not, these death squads promptly spiraled out of control to become the leading cause of death in Iraq. Intentional or not, the scores of tortured, mutilated bodies which turn up on the streets of Baghdad each day are generated by the death squads whose impetus was John Negroponte. And it is this U.S.-backed sectarian violence which largely led to the hell-disaster that Iraq is today.

Of course, Jamail didn’t know of FRAGO 242, but the implication of his article have been borne out with a vengeance, as the U.S. appears to have organized and unleashed torture and death squads in Iraq, much as they did in Latin America over the decades, in Chile, Paraguay, Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala, Argentina, etc.

As for Steele, his presence in Iraq told ominously of the real U.S. mission there. As a 1988 article in The Nation explained, “as head of the U.S. Military Group at El Salvador’s Ilopango Air Base, [Steele] was a critical operative in the contra resupply outfit run by Oliver North and Richard Secord. Steele made sure the Enterprise’s planes could come and go from Ilopango.” According to a 2005 New York Times Magazine piece by Maass, Steele was close to Iraqi General Adnan Thabit, leader of the Special Police Commandos. One of the latter’s projects was a TV show broadcast over the U.S.-financed Al Iraqiya television station — “Terrorism in the Grip of Justice” — which broadcast insurgents’ confessions, which appear to have been largely induced by torture.

The very first thing anyone who considers themselves progressive in this country must do is hold the current administration responsible for what is happening right now, end the FRAGO 242 policy, and begin the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq and Afghanistan. The “don’t look back” policy of Obama must be renounced, and a movement for accountability and social justice began in this country. Otherwise, the torturers are waiting to take over. They already have control of much of the military.

Time is short.

My thanks to the brave folks at Wikileaks. With some luck, there will be enough time, but not unless we give up illusions in washed-up U.S. politicians who have no intent on changing the course of Empire, an empire built on terror, murder, and torture.

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

3:59 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

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

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

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

Congress Informed of Plan to Flout the Law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Hell that is Guantanamo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why is the NY Times Underplaying Account of Task Force 373′s Extrajudicial Killings?

12:05 am in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

Unfortunately, I don’t have time to examine the question posed in the title of this piece as carefully as I’d like, but even the quickly posted Wikipedia entry on Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) Task Force 373 notes that there is a large discrepancy between the amount of targets on TF373′s "kill/capture" list as reported by the major media.

The figures are drawn from the extraordinary release of previously classified Afghan war reports by Wikileaks, and now searchable at the latter’s website.

Task Force 373 is alternately described by the New York Times as "a secret commando unit"; as "an undisclosed ‘black’ unit of special forces" by the UK Guardian; and "an elite American unit…. which operates in Afghanistan outside of the ISAF mandate" by Spiegel Online. These three news sources were partners with Wikileaks in the release of the documents, and had special access to the material prior to their public posting.

By all accounts, Task Force 373 seems to be a kidnapping and death squad, run by the Americans, but housed at a German base in Afghanistan. The very secret unit, unknown even to other ISAF forces, works off a "kill or capture" list known as JPEL, which stands for "Joint Prioritized Effects List." From this bland name springs an operations force that, according to the UK Guardian, has "more than 2,000 senior figures from the Taliban and al-Qaida" on its seize or kill list. Most of the world press has reported this same or similar figure, though Spiegel only says the figure is "large":

The list of targeted individuals is arranged according to process number and priority level. Depending on the case, the commandos are sometimes given the option to arrest or kill their prey. Nowhere in the available documents is that list printed in full, but a total of 84 reports about JPEL operations can be filtered out of the thousands of documents. It is not possible to work out from the documents exactly how many JPEL targets there are in Afghanistan, but the four-digit process numbers are enough to suggest that the total number of targets is large.

It was the four-digit process numbers that the Guardian used to determine their figure. Simply put, they counted.

The pursuit of these "high value targets" is evidently embedded deep in coalition tactics. The Jpel list assigns an individual serial number to each of those targeted for kill or capture and by October 2009 this had reached 2,058.

But however they did it, the New York Times came up with a much different and drastically lower number.

Secret commando units like Task Force 373 — a classified group of Army and Navy special operatives — work from a “capture/kill list” of about 70 top insurgent commanders. These missions, which have been stepped up under the Obama administration, claim notable successes, but have sometimes gone wrong, killing civilians and stoking Afghan resentment.

The dramatically lower of numbers reported may be a fudged way of looking at figures. They say "top insurgent commanders", and this may be a subset of the total of 2000 or more. But the Times never reports the larger number, or even that it runs into the four digits. The import of this is to underplay the amount of killings. It’s unlikely there are 2000 or more "top insurgent commanders." So, who is the U.S. seizing or killing?

Operation Phoenix Redux

The Guardian article by Nick Davies reports much more than the single paragraph the New York Times dedicates to the story, emphasizing the legal, moral and political ramifications of the Task Force’s actions.

The United Nations’ special rapporteur for human rights, Professor Philip Alston, went to Afghanistan in May 2008 to investigate rumours of extrajudicial killings. He warned that international forces were neither transparent nor accountable and that Afghans who attempted to find out who had killed their loved ones "often come away empty-handed, frustrated and bitter".

Now, for the first time, the leaked war logs reveal details of deadly missions by TF 373 and other units hunting down Jpel targets that were previously hidden behind a screen of misinformation. They raise fundamental questions about the legality of the killings and of the long-term imprisonment without trial, and also pragmatically about the impact of a tactic which is inherently likely to kill, injure and alienate the innocent bystanders whose support the coalition craves.

The Guardian story documents some of the cases of killings of women and children, and notes that there is also likely a British version of Task Force 373 operating in Afghanistan as well. The parallels with Vietnam are extraordinary, where U.S. counterinsurgency amounted to a large degree to a capture, torture and assassination program known to us today as Operation Phoenix.

It was only a few weeks ago that I noted (based on an observation in a Guardian story by Ian Cobain and Owen Bowcott) that documents released in Britain in the Binyam Mohammed et al. suit had referenced what sounded like extrajudicial killings associated with the rendition program. "Is it clear that detention, rather than killing, is the objective of the operation?" asks a protocol for MI6 operatives working with the U.S. on rendition operations.

Now we have evidence of massive killings underway by secretive U.S. forces, and of plenty of deaths of civilians who get in the way. But the U.S. press has mostly deep-sixed this aspect of the Wikileaks Afghan logs. A story by CNN makes no mention of how many people might be on TF373′s target list, but does add a word of dissent:

“You have people going in with a kill list and the public accountability simply doesn’t exist,” said Sarah Knuckey, director of the Project on Extrajudicial Executions at the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at the New York University School of Law.

Marc Ambinder on Task Force 373

Mainstream bloggers appear to be taking the lead of the major U.S. press. Take Marc Ambinder’s story on the release at The Atlantic, and his own reference to TF373:

The task forces themselves — well, there’s TF 373, the Joint Special Operations Command task force for Afghanistan, which has since morphed into something else. The structure is different today. There are, however, references to the activities of Task Force 2-2, a multi-element special operations element that has — and I emphasize has — the authority to basically self-task, to take bad guys off of the JPEL list (the joint prioritized effects list) and decide whether to capture or kill them based on the situation at hand.

There are several incidents in which 2-2 and other 373 elements killed civilians and saw those killings covered up or obscured in official press releases.

Ambinder’s link is to the same Guardian story on TF373 that I have quoted here, so I’ll give him that. But the failure to report the extent of the targets, and the reference to "take bad guys off the JPEL list" makes them sound, well, sort of innocuous, basically good guys. His view that the TF is "basically self-task" is belied by the Guardian’s coverage, which reports, "The process of choosing targets reaches high into the military command." Additionally, the idea that there have only been "several incidents" underplays the extent of damage done by the secret U.S. death squad.

Consider this "incident", reported by Speigel Online:

The documents don’t just reveal the existence and activities of the Taliban hunters, they also show why these special units cause so much anger in the Afghan population. Mistakes made by special units are kept secret. One particularly sensitive report of a TF 373 operation dated June 17, 2007 is classified so secret that details of the mission must not be passed on to other ISAF forces. On this day the soldiers appear to have committed a particularly fatal error. The aim of the mission seems to have been to kill the prominent al-Qaida official Abu Laith. The unit had spent weeks watching a Koran school in which the Americans believed the al-Qaida man and several aides were living. But the five rockets they launched from a mobile rocket launcher ended up killing the wrong people.

Instead of the finding the top terrorist, the troops found the bodies of six dead children in the rubble of the completely destroyed school.

The Guardian reports, "The logs reveal that TF 373 has also killed civilian men, women and children and even Afghan police officers who have strayed into its path."

It is a sign of how debased our society has become that reports of "targeted killings" and assassinations are met with little outrage in the press or by the public. Perhaps this is because we use terms that will not offend as much. Indeed, in the title of this very piece I use the term "extrajudicial killings" rather than "death squads" (which I do clearly use in the text) because I fear that this reality will be so discordant to readers that they will shun the article, perhaps too psychologically defended to accept the terrible truth about the government they have and the country they live in.

Let us say, too, that the mainstream press plays a major role in this. The downsizing of the figure of killings — really murders — by the Special Operations task force, as reported by the New York Times, or underplayed by major bloggers such as Marc Ambinder, lulls the population into believing the terror wrought by the U.S. military in Afghanistan is really not so bad. But it is bad. It is a war crime, and Julian Assange, who orchestrated the release of the documents upon which this story is based is correct in saying that they give evidence of war crimes. I’m reminded of recent stories that have cited the Harvard study (PDF) that showed how the media dropped using the word "torture" after Abu Ghraib.

One wonders what kind of schizoid state exists at the New York Times. One minute their ed board calls President Obama’s forcible deportation of an Algerian Guantanamo prisoner back to a country where he feared persecution, torture, or death "an act of cruelty that seems to defy explanation.” The next minute, the editorial news staff is minimizing the number of targets on a U.S. military task force hit list. I’ll let them figure that one out for themselves.

As for the rest of us, we need to step up the demand that U.S. and NATO forces pull out of Afghanistan.

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

11:51 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

Cross-posted from Daily Kos

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

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

The Times editorial continues the story:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is There Anything to Be Done?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Ignore This Issue

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

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

NYT Backs Torture Accountability Law, ACLU To Conduct Friday “Flash Mob” Event

8:38 am in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

In a June 24 editorial, the New York Times called for the passage of a New York State law that would bar health professionals from licensure it they had participated in torture. Known as the Gottfried-Duane Bill to Stop Health Professional Participation in Torture, the legislation has 45 co-sponsors, and the vote on the legislation could happen as soon as today. (See here for PDF text of the bill.)

"Health professionals who facilitate torture are violating the most fundamental medical ethics and ought to be punished," the Times editorial states, noting that the refusal of Congress and the Obama administration to investigate or prosecute "on a national level" means that we must turn to what options we have to turn back U.S. torture. Earlier this month, the NY Times also wrote an editorial in support of investigations by the executive branch and Congress into charges of illegal human experimental research undertaken in support of Bush and Cheney’s torture program. The charges were made by Physicians for Human Rights in a report released on June 6, "Experiments in Torture: Evidence of Human Subject Research and Experimentation in the ‘Enhanced’ Interrogation Program" (PDF).

The website, When Healers Harm, describes the background to the NY state anti-torture bills:

In April 2009, the Bush administration’s “torture memos” as well as reports by the Senate Armed Services Committee and the International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed that doctors and psychologists have been directly involved in the design, justification, supervision and execution of torture at U.S. military and intelligence facilities. This violates state, federal and international law and professional ethics.

Despite proof of wrongdoing, the health professionals involved in torture still hold their professional licenses to practice. To ensure accountability for torture and to prevent such atrocities from happening again, New York State Legislators have introduced Bills A. 6665-B in the Assembly and S. 4495-A in the Senate, new legislation that:

* Confirms that NY-licensed health professionals’ duty to do no harm applies to their professional relationships with all patients and under all employers;
* Reaffirms that health professionals licensed in New York are prohibited from involvement in torture or other abuse of prisoners, wherever that abuse takes place;
* Removes NY-licensed health professionals from interrogations; and
* Helps NY-licensed health professionals resist unlawful orders that could place them at risk of criminal prosecution and civil damages lawsuits.

The legislation has the backing of top medical professionals in New York State (see PDF list), the New York Civil Liberties Union, NY State Psychological and Nursing Associations, the NY Chapter of the American College of Physicians, Center for Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, Human Rights First and other professional, religious and human rights organizations. Sign a petition urging the New York Legislature to pass the N.Y. Anti-Torture Bill in 2010.

Meanwhile, as New York State awaits the vote on Gottfried-Duane, the ACLU announced this morning a "flash mob" event for Torture Awareness Month, to take place today. From a press release:

ACLU Plans Torture Awareness Event Friday In New York

On Eve Of International Day In Support Of Victims Of Torture, Group Calls For Accountability

NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Civil Liberties Union announce a "flash mob" event today, June 25, at 12:00 p.m. EDT in Union Square in New York City to remind the public that the United States has yet to hold accountable government officials who knew about and authorized torture under the Bush administration. The event marks the signing of the Convention Against Torture and the eve of International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.

Through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation, the ACLU has unearthed thousands of pages of documents that show that hundreds of prisoners were abused or tortured in CIA and Department of Defense custody, and that the torture policies were devised and developed at the highest levels of the Bush administration. Despite extensive documentation, however, the U.S. has yet to hold any high-level officials accountable for their roles in the torture program. Today’s event aims to visually depict the 150,000 pages of torture documents made public through the ACLU’s FOIA litigation and renew the call for meaningful accountability.

Many of the formerly-secret documents can be viewed online at www.thetorturereport.org, where the ACLU has been posting and writing about them throughout June in observance of Torture Awareness Month.

WHAT:
Torture Awareness Day public "flash mob" event to remind the public about the need to hold government officials accountable for the torture of detainees in U.S. custody

WHO:
Representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union national office and NYCLU will converge in a high-traffic area of Union Square to interact with members of the public.

WHEN:
Friday, June 25
12:00 p.m. EDT

WHERE:
Union Square
Near 14th Street
New York, NY