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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 →

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

2:06 pm in Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

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

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

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

“From the moment you are detained (if some kind of exploitation is your Detainer’s goal) everything your Detainer does will be contrived to bring about these factors: CONTROL, DEPENDENCY, COMPLIANCE AND COOPERATION,” Jessen wrote. “Your detainer will work to take away your sense of control. This will be done mostly by removing external control (i.e., sleep, food, communication, personal routines etc. )…Your detainer wants you to feel ‘EVERYTHING’ is dependent on him, from the smallest detail, (food, sleep, human interaction), to your release or your very life … Your detainer wants you to comply with everything he wishes. He will attempt to make everything from personal comfort to your release unavoidably connected to compliance in your mind.”

Jessen wrote that cooperation is the “end goal” of the detainer, who wants the detainee “to see that [the detainer] has ‘total’ control of you because you are completely dependent on him, and thus you must comply with his wishes. Therefore, it is absolutely inevitable that you must cooperate with him in some way (propaganda, special favors, confession, etc.).”

What is “Exploitation”?

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

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

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

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

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

Show Trials, False Confessions, Spying, Medical Experimentation

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

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

Q. Because he decided not to continue the collaboration?

A. Not to continue the cooperation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Welner Defends His Testimony in Khadr Trial, Spreads Administration Propaganda on Detainee “Recidivism”

9:17 pm in Military, Terrorism, Torture by Jeff Kaye

On Christmas Eve, the Washington Post published an op-ed by forensic psychiatrist Michael Welner, “What I really said about radical jihadism.” Dr. Welner achieved some notoriety for his testimony in the sentencing phase of the trial of fomer child soldier and Guantanamo prisoner, Omar Khadr. Mr. Khadr was the first former child soldier tried for war crimes by the United States in living memory. Sentenced to forty years in prison, due to a stipulation that was part of a plea bargain that garnered a confession from the formerly tortured Khadr, his sentence has been reduced to eight years, some at Guantanamo, where he remains imprisoned in solitary confinement, and some in Canada, upon a presumed repatriation at some point in the future.

As I pointed out at the time, even before he testified, Dr. Welner was telling Steven Edwards of the Canadian National Post that the young Khadr had failed to “publicly repudiat[e] al Qaida, as civilized Muslims should.” Nor was Dr. Welner above a sly comparison of the young Omar Khadr, who has spent his entire brief adulthood in U.S. custody, with America’s arch enemy (and former ally) Osama bin Laden.

“When one leaps to the conclusion about Omar Khadr’s future because he is friendly, one might recall that Osama bin Laden has always been described as gentle, likeable and charming,” New York-based Welner told Postmedia News.

The “Context” of “Radical Jihadism”

In a December 5 op-ed, also for the Washington Post, “Radical jihadism is not a mental disorder,” retired Brigadier General (and child and adolescent psychiatrist) Stephen N. Xenakis, critiqued Welner’s testimony at trial. Xenakis himself was a member of the Khadr defense team, and spent approximately 200 hours in clinical meetings with Mr. Khadr. While he was on the witness list for the sentencing phase of the military commissions trial, Dr. Xenakis never testified. (Andrea Prasow’s theory for the failure to testify, posted at The Jurist, strikes me as more likely than Xenakis’s own statement that the defense thought Omar Khadr’s own testimony more powerful than that of his mental health witnesses.)

In his op-ed, Dr. Xenakis wrote:

“In my professional opinion, Omar Khadr is at a high risk of dangerousness as a radical jihadist,” Welner said. Based on hundreds of hours of reviewing records and interviewing witnesses, and 7 to 8 hours of examining the prisoner, the doctor said he concluded that Khadr was a radical jihadist who was at risk of inspiring others to violent acts in the future.

Dr. Welner was nonplussed, replying that Xenakis had “mischaracterized” his testimony. “Assessing risk of dangerous jihadist activity borrows from clinical understandings about criminal and violent recidivism,” Welner wrote, “but it must reflect the context of actual jihadist violence or an individual’s ability to facilitate that violence.” He added that his risk assessment on Mr. Khadr relied upon “statistical base rates” and cited a recent report from the director of national intelligence which noted that “the figures of released Guantanamo detainees who return to active battle have climbed sharply from just 6 percent in 2008 to 25 percent.”

Lies, damned lies, and statistics

Now, Dr. Welner never bothers to mention that at the time of trial, the latest figures on recidivism from Guantanamo detainees was around 5%, as reported by the Department of Defense, as was finally conceded by the New York Times in an article in June 2009, after considerable controversy about over-reporting recidivism statistics. The Times noted that discrepancies which led them to report the figure as a higher 1-in-7 recidivism rate were due to adding in those detainees identified as “suspected of engaging in terrorism.” (See also this May 2009 article by Lara Jakes in USA Today, which directly reports the Pentagon as giving a 5 percent recidivism rate.)

But even the latter figure is extremely questionable, as an earlier report by Professor Mark Denbeaux, attorneys Joshua Denbeaux and R.David Gratz, and researchers from the Seton Hall Law Center for Policy and Research proved in a scholarly examination of government recidivism claims published last year. The Seton Hall report demonstrates shoddy record-keeping by the Pentagon (at least two reported recidivist “terrorists” were never even at Guantanamo; some of those released took up arms against Morocco, Russia, and Turkey, but not the United States). More egregiously, former detainees are described as “returning to the fight” solely because they engaged in “anti-U.S. propaganda.”

Many of the same problems occur in the report, “Summary of the Reengagement of Detainees Formerly Held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba” (PDF), released earlier this month. The report claims that of the released detainees, “[t]he Intelligence Community assesses that 81 (13.5 percent) are confirmed and 69 (11.5 percent) are suspected of reengaging in terrorist or insurgent activities after transfer.” Suspicion of terrorist activities doesn’t rely anymore on engagement in “anti-U.S. propaganda,” but is predicated upon “[p]lausible but unverified or single-source reporting” (emphasis added).

In a press release following the Pentagon’s latest release on “recidivism” figures for former Guantanamo detainees, Center for Constitutional Rights commented, the government “persists in using the language of ‘re-engagement’ to describe individuals, despite the fact that the majority of them should never have been detained in the first place and were known early on by the government to be innocent. It is not possible to return to the battlefield if you were never there in the first place.” Furthermore, “the latest report only summarizes its figures without actually naming any alleged recidivists or including any information that would enable meaningful scrutiny.”

Whatever the actual figures, and the Pentagon is hardly a trustworthy source, Dr. Welner doesn’t bother to mention that the “confirmed” figure is actually around 13 percent, not the 25 percent he cites. Of course, if Welner were honest, he would admit that he didn’t have any such figures at the time of his evaluation, and that the only figures then open to him were those of the approximately 5 percent reported earlier.

In addition, as a psychiatric professional, Dr. Welner must know that extrapolation of dangerousness from “clinical understandings about criminal and violent recidivism” about which he is familiar, i.e., an American population, on a population largely culturally different is extremely problematic. For instance, norms on psychological tests refer to specific populations, and one would never think of administering, for instance, a recent journal article states that use of the Psychopathy Checklist, widely used to predict violent and non-violent recidivism, is based on of Anglo-American samples, and its generalizability “beyond these groups… is still in question and requires further research.” But it is just for this reason that Dr. Welner relied so heavily upon the work of Danish correctional psychologist Nicolai Sennels, “precisely because Sennels has studied and treated large-scale groups of young Muslim and non-Muslim inmates.”

Racist Psychology

In his op-ed, Dr. Xenakis wrote:

As the defense explained during cross-examination, Sennels is also known for inflammatory views on Islam, having claimed that “massive inbreeding within the Muslim culture during the last 1,400 years may have done catastrophic damage to their gene pool.” Sennels has described the Koran as “a criminal book that forces people to do criminal things.” Welner specifically repudiated these views in court.

But in this duel of op-eds, Dr. Welner went further, defending Sennels as a professional “lauded by the Danish Psychological Association.” That Sennels “has now become a foe of unregulated Muslim immigration to Europe,” Welner wrote, “does not negate what he learned from giving of himself to help Muslims stay out of prison.”

Sennels is a racist ideologue, who uses psychological jargon to argue for the ejection of Muslims from Europe. He spews his views, based upon his work as a social worker and psychologist working with “antisocial individuals.” Despite the fact that he admits, “I did not keep statistics of any kind,” he believes he has enough evidence to conclude that “very few Muslims have the will, social freedom and strength of personality” to be integrated into European society.

Sennels continues. “Many young Muslims become assailants,” he writes. “This is not just because of the Muslim cultural acceptance of aggression, but also because the Muslim honor mentality makes them into fragile, insecure men. Instead of being flexible and humorous they become stiff and develop fragile, glass-like, narcissistic personalities.” And from this, the Danish psychologist, “lauded by the Danish Psychological Association,” and Dr. Welner, concludes that the presence of Muslim populations in many Western countries means “the possibility that violent conflict will happen in Western cities all over the world is very great.” His solution: “draconian measures”; “shutting down Muslim immigration;” “tightening the thumb screws on integration”; “and perhaps even sending Muslims who proved themselves unable to adjust to our Western secular laws back to their countries of origin.”

Any data stemming from the work of Nicolai Sennels is irretrievably biased and unusable. It is to the ever-lasting detriment of the U.S. armed forces that they used an expert who relied upon unscientific approaches and racist ideology to testify on the dangerousness of a Guantanamo prisoner.

Predicting Dangerousness Has “Very Low Reliability”

Dr. Welner certainly sounds on the defensive in his article. He cites a previous Supreme Court decision, Estelle v. Smith (1981), and says that since that decision “forensic psychiatry has refined such dangerousness evaluation to focus on context.” Welner has reason to be defensive. For one thing, Estelle v. Smith concerned the throwing out of such a dangerousness evaluation because the defendant’s rights had been violated. The irony of this is not lost on those of us who have castigated the military commissions and the entire “war on terror” detainee policy as being outside the law. Additionally, the case includes this notable aside:

…some in the psychiatric community are of the view that clinical predictions as to whether a person would or would not commit violent acts in the future are “fundamentally of very low reliability,” and that psychiatrists possess no special qualifications for making such forecasts. See Report of the American Psychiatric Association Task Force on Clinical Aspects of the Violent Individual 23-30, 33 (1974); A Stone, Mental Health and Law: A System in Transition 27-36 (1975); Brief for American Psychiatric Association as Amicus Curiae 11-17.

In a widely-cited 1994 essay, “The Dimensions of Dangerousness Revisited: Assessing Forensic Predictions About Violence” in Law and Human Behavior, sociologist Robert Menzies and colleagues, concluded that while some forensic clinicians “were able to predict some people, under limited temporal and contextual conditions, some of the time, under no circumstances could even the most encouraging performances be mustered as an argument for clinical or psychometric involvement in the identification of potentially violent clinical or correctional subjects.” A later 2000 study on sexual predator evaluations and evidentiary reliability concluded there is a “large and consistent body of empirical evidence indicates that the standards of the profession include no ability to accurately predict dangerous behavior” (emphasis added).

That’s not the kind of evidence that Dr. Welner would wish to enter into the record. Meanwhile, Omar Khadr, victimized more ways than one would care to count, now resides in the “fortress-like” maximum security prison, called Camp 5 at Guantanamo, where he endures near-24 hour solitary confinement, which as an article on isolation in the case of purported Wikileaks whistleblower Bradley Manning recently describes, is a pernicious form of torture.

Propaganda Kabuki in Jury Verdict on Omar Khadr

10:14 pm in Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

Andy Worthington has posted his take on the Khadr verdict last Sunday, where a 7-person military jury ignored all evidence of torture and sentenced former child soldier Omar Khadr to 40 years in prison. For more on my take on the verdict, see my live-blogging of the event at Firedoglake.

While a plea bargain with the Pentagon allowed Khadr to plead guilty in exchange for an 8-year sentence, making the jury deliberation a fancy piece of propagandistic kabuki, he will spend one more year at Guantanamo before being transferred to Canada (if everything works out, and in my opinion that’s a big “if”). Meanwhile, the 24-year-old prisoner, who has spent all of his adult years at Guantanamo, was sent upon announcement of the sentence, back to solitary confinement, itself a hideous form of sensory and social deprivation torture.

In Andy’s article, Omar Khadr Jury Hammers the Final Nail Into the Coffin of American Justice, he notes that the plea bargain, with its admission of guilt, followed by the jury’s 40 year sentence (even if shaved by the plea bargain to 8 years), was a major propaganda coup for the government. As I noted in my “live-blogging” article the other day,  “This propaganda show is one example of how prisoners are used for exploitation, i.e., psychological warfare purposes. It is no different than the Stalinists using show trials of dissenters, complete with confessions and fake juries, the entire panoply of juridical proceedings, but with none of the content.”

From Andy Worthington’s article:

In other words, then, a former child prisoner, who should have been rehabilitated rather than punished, because the responsibility for his actions lay with his militant father, was convicted on war crimes charges that were invented by Congress and were then reworked by the Obama administration so that the glaring contradiction between real war crimes and invented war crimes could be papered over with a veneer of legitimacy.

Small wonder then that, in the “Statement of Fact” that Khadr signed as part of his plea deal, he was also obliged to waive his right to appeal, in a passage that stated that he “does not have any legal defense to any of the offenses to which he is pleading guilty.”

With such grotesque distortions of justice taking place over the last week, it is easy to forget that the judge, Army Col. Patrick Parrish, had also prevented Khadr’s lawyers from drawing on their client’s well-chronicled reports of his torture and abuse in US custody….

n their closing comments, his lawyers managed to introduce a statement, written by Khadr, referring to the terror he felt when an interrogator, Sgt. Joshua Claus, threatened him with being sent to a US jail where he would be raped by “four big black guys”….

In conclusion, while those who exult in the depths to which America has sunk over the last nine years, since “the gloves came off” following the 9/11 attacks, will rejoice in Khadr’s 40-year sentence (and will complain that his real sentence is only eight years), anyone who retains a shred of decency and respect for the rule of law will be more inclined to accept the words of Dennis Edney, one of Khadr’s long-term Canadian civilian lawyers, who stated after the military jury announced its sentence:

The fact that the trial of a child soldier, Omar Khadr, has ended with a guilty plea in exchange for his eventual release to Canada does not change the fact that fundamental principles of law and due process were long since abandoned in Omar’s case. Politics also played a role. To date, there have been in excess of 1,200 US troops killed in Afghanistan, yet it is only Omar who has been put on trial.

In a comment at the Emptywheel blog the other day, I noted some strange threads hanging from the government’s Khadr story:

The question of how Omar Khadr got to the compound where he would later experience the firefight, and perhaps participate (although his family is clear he was sent only as a translator), is an interesting one because it involves, as the stipulation notes, the appearance of “Sheikh Abu Leith al-Libi, a senior LIFG and al Qaeda military commander.” Somehow, Sheikh al-Libi was to absent himself from this firefight, only to be killed as one of the numerous ostensible number threes of Al Qaeda by CIA airstrike in January 2008.

Al-Libi was a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) which the stipulation document noted, with some strained language, “is a designated terrorist organization and was associated with Al Qaeda at the time of Omar Khadr’s offenses. “Is?” “Was?” In fact, the LIFG was not considered a terrorist organization prior to 9/11, and according to numerous accounts in the British Press (based on a document leak and the testimony of ex-MI5 agent David Shayler, had received British funds and arms in an attempt to overthrow Libyan leader Colonel Moammar al-Qadhafi.

Besides Abu Leith al-Libi, another leader of LIFG was Anas Al-Libi, who worked closely with the dubious Ali Mohamed (who worked closely with portions of the U.S. government and military, as a double or triple agent, no one can be sure). It was a raid on Anas Al-Libi’s house that brought us the famous Manchester document, otherwise known as the Al Qaeda manual, including its interrogation component.

Omar Khadr’s link to Sheikh al-Libi isn’t necessarily sinister or anything more than it seems (apparently, Omar’s father was later furious with al-Libi for endangering his son), but it does point to some strange connections. You can’t probe too closely on any of these affairs and not find something nefarious; in this case, the Judge’s reticence to notice that the man who brought Omar Khadr to the compound in 2002 was only a few years before a paid coup plotter, if not assassin, for the British government. And Omar Khadr showed poor judgment?

—— Khadr’s case is one of the more egregious of countless cases of torture, false imprisonment, kidnapping and murder by the U.S. government. The fact this was done to someone who would not even have been tried in an adult court in most of the United States only adds to the special nature of the Khadr case. It speaks personally to many, and says, this is a vulnerable human being. This person should not be used as a piece of propaganda. His fate dehumanizes all of us.

Liveblogging Twitter: Khadr Jury Deliberations

11:12 am in Military, Torture, Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

Breaking, 5:30pm. After 8 hours of deliberations by the seven-person military jury, the jury reached a decision, sentencing Omar Khadr to prison for 40 years. The decision is subject, reportedly, to the plea deal made with Khadr and his legal team, whereby the young man confessed to murder and other crimes, for a promise of an eight year sentence — one year in Guantanamo, followed by seven years in Canada. The following liveblogging started earlier today.

+++++++++++++++++++

After a day’s break in the proceedings of the Omar Khadr military commissions trial, and five hours of jury deliberation yesterday, the trial picked up at 12: 27pm today, Eastern time. The trial is being live-tweeted by a number of journalists present in Guantanamo, most notably Carol Rosenberg, Andrew Mayeda, Michelle Shephard, Derek Stoffel, French journalist Malorie Beauchemin, and others, who are watching proceedings on a video feed. Other journalists and observers, such as Daphne Eviatar, are in the courtroom, and we can expect reports from them later.

It has been a contentious week, and I’ll assume if you’re reading this you have already been following the trial. I should mention up front, that I find the military commissions trial of Omar Khadr to be a kangaroo court, meant to produce a false confession for show trial, propaganda purposes. The purpose of liveblogging this proceeding via twitter-feed is to give as up-to-date information on the breaking news of this important trial — the first trial of a former child soldier in modern, Western history — and a forum for readers to discuss and process the proceedings.

For those interested in such things, Twitters own license, agreed to by those who sign up via Twitter, says that anyone using Twitter agrees “to make your Tweets available to the rest of the world and to let others do the same.” The two relevant feeds from Twitter can be directly accessed here and here.

Right now, it appears the 7-person military jury has asked to have the video replayed of the testimony of Captain Patrick McCarthy, the former legal adviser at Guantanamo, who testified earlier that Omar Khadr had the “potential to rehabilitate.”

The following are not inclusive of all the Tweeting being done, but selected samples. Besides the journalists, I’m adding what I feel are relevant or interesting tweets from others following on Twitter:

@DerekStoffelCBC Derek Stoffel
#Khadr jury wants to see transcript of Cpt. McCarthy’s testimony. Court has no transcript but Judge Parrish offers to let them see it again. [~1:02pm ET]

@JulietONeill Juliet O’Neill
Following my colleague @mayeda at #Khadr jury deliberations at #Gitmo. Will report Ottawa #cdnpoli reaction to jury decision/plea bargain. [~1:03pm ET]

@carolrosenberg Carol Rosenberg
At 30 minutes into deliberation jury revisiting testimony of Capt McCarthy, the 06-08 prison staff lawyer who spoke by video from Kabul. [~1:05pm ET]

@shephardm Michelle Shephard
They don’t have transcript so #GTMO judge is now re-playing a recording of his testimony for 7-member #Khadr jury from earlier this week. [~1:07pm]

@carolrosenberg Carol Rosenberg
While jury watches, we can see prosecutors Jeffrey Groharing and Michael Grant are talking to each other behind their hands. On video…
[~1:08pm]

Now this seems of special interest:

@carolrosenberg Carol Rosenberg
Human Rights Watch observer spotted four #Khadr jurors and widow of soldier he killed taking brunch in same #Guantanamo dining room today. [~12:17pm ET]

This would be before court had resumed for the day.

@carolrosenberg Carol Rosenberg
Debating difference in definition of sequestration between civilian juries, war court. Factoring in #Guantanamo has one Sunday brunch venue. [~1:19pm ET]

@DerekStoffelCBC Derek Stoffel
#Khadr jury spent an hour re-listening to Cpt. McCarthy's testimony. They're now back deliberating. We're back to waiting. [2:07pm ET]

@amayeda Andrew Mayeda
McCarthy testified that #Khadr appeared to have a "positive" influence on other inmates [2:11pm ET]

@carolrosenberg Carol Rosenberg
#Khadr's jury is back deliberating after 1-hour re-run. McCarthy urged different "standard of accountability" for 15 year old than adult. [~2:14pm ET]

@amayeda Andrew Mayeda
#Khadr was originally housed in camp 5, highest security facility at #Gitmo; but eventually transferred to camp 4. for "compliant" inmates [~2:14pm ET]

@amayeda Andrew Mayeda
McC notes that #Khadr never kicked out of camp 4, despite zero tolerance on misbehaviour under #Gitmo rules [~2:14pm ET]

@amayeda Andrew Mayeda
But McC seemed to back down under prosecution cross-examination; prosecution read him several reports by prison guards on #Khadr
[~2:16pm ET]

The deliberations over the potential rehabilitation of Omar Khadr is a staple portion of the sentencing phase of a criminal trial. According to news reports, Khadr has already made a stipulation to guilt, one that has been seriously questioned by many, and it’s worth looking at Marcy Wheeler’s blog post on this, as well as Daphne Eviatar at the Huffington Post.

Back to it…

@amayeda Andrew Mayeda
“15 year olds, in my opinion, shouldn’t be held to the same standard of accountability as adults should be,” McCarthy said [~2:26pm ET]

@amayeda Andrew Mayeda
The jury has now resumed deliberations; they’re now approaching their sixth hour … [~2:27pm ET]

@m_beauchemin Malorie Beauchemin
Procès #Khadr. Les journalistes auront 15 min pour se rendre en Cour entendre la sentence. On sursaute chaque fois que le téléphone sonne. [~2:40pm ET] [Google translator: "Journalists will have 15 minutes to go to court to hear the sentence. We jump every time the phone rings."]

Some other commentary on Twitter:

@BridgetGuevara Bridget Guevara
Whaaaat?! // MT @vickersty #Khadr prsctrs trying to use forced plea as evidence he can’t be rehabilitated. YOU can’t be rehabilitated

@CanadaLiberty CanadaLiberty
If Khadr had been a15 yr.oldAmericanDefendingtheAlamo,He’dBeAnAmerican Hero! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YX_W8Ih8c0A #ondp #lpc #khadr

@GeorgieBC Georgie BC
It is ok for US soldiers to murder children, but it is a war crime for children to murder US soldiers. .. http://tinyurl.com/34fsnfd #Khadr

Now, here’s a curious point I had not noticed:

@amayeda Andrew Mayeda
@LadyLibertine22 #Khadr defence never called their mental-health experts to testify

I know that one of the people who had been prepared to testify was Brig. Gen. (ret.) Stephen Xenakis, “Omar Khadr’s unlikely defender.” See Michelle Shephard’s story in The Star:

Xenakis, now 62 and retired from the army, is one of the court-approved medical experts granted access to Khadr over the last few years. He has spent more than 100 hours meeting with the Toronto-born captive and considered an important witness for the defence in the trial that is finally set to begin on Monday….

“There’s nothing that makes me think this guy’s dangerous in any way,” says Xenakis. “For us to use him as a symbol or icon of us being hard on terrorists, which is something that has been the position all along, is wrong.”….

“I think it’s wrong to take a person who’s a 15-year-old, who’s basically a child soldier, and for us to treat him as something other than an adolescent who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time,” says Xenakis.

3:01 pm ET, via Carol Rosenberg. Jury still out. Total deliberation time: 6.5 hrs.

For readers who may not know, whatever the jury decides, if it is more than the amount of years agreed in the plea bargain (8 years, with approx. one more in Guantanamo, and then supposed transfer to Canada), the plea deal will be honored. If the amount of time decided is less, then Khadr could go free in under 8 years, theoretically. However, the U.S. really threw the book at Khadr to get him to stipulate guilt for their phony show trial.

Additionally, the U.S. has a habit of going back on its deals, most recently in the case of Ibrahim al-Qosi. See this posting by Marcy Wheeler.

3:34pm ET

@m_beauchemin Malorie Beauchemin
Sept heures de délibérations pour le jury d’Omar Khadr, chargé de déterminer la sentence. Toujours pas de décision. [Google Translator: "Seven hours of deliberation the jury of Omar Khadr, charged with determining the sentence. Still no decision."

More background:

@uruknet uruknet
Canada’s role in the persecution of child soldier Omar #Khadr http://bit.ly/bl4KcW #guantanamo #humanrights [~2:57pm ET]

bmaz is answering some questions, with his legal expertise, over at Emptywheel, lots of interesting commentary re possibility of a Khadr appeal, other matters:

http://emptywheel.firedoglake.com/2010/10/28/the-boys-of-war/#Respond

A few new tweets in past half hour, reminding us…

@Perkel Colin Perkel
If sentencing jury at #Khadr can’t agree, then convening authority can order new sentencing hearing or impose no punishment.

@Perkel Colin Perkel
Further, for a sentence of 10 years or more, six of seven #Khadr jurors must agree . . .

It’s now 4:30 pm, ET, and Michelle Shephard is reporting from Gitmo:

@shephardm Michelle Shephard
Coming up eight hours for #Khadr jury. Past #Gitmo sentence deliberations for Australian, Yemeni and Sudanese detainees was under two hours

BREAKING: Jury will have decision in 14 minutes, reported via multiple tweets — It’s now 4:50pm ET

@brynweese Bryn Weese
#Khadr jury has sentencing decision. About to tell court in 15 mins.

@DerekStoffelCBC Derek Stoffel
Media being told a sentencing decision in #Khadr case will come in 15 minutes.

@amayeda Andrew Mayeda
Reporters at #Gitmo scrambling to get up to court to hear the #Khadr sentence

@carolrosenberg Carol Rosenberg
The Omar #Khadr jury has returned a sentencing verdict in slightly over 8 hours. Media scrambling to #Guantanamo war court.

@amayeda Andrew Mayeda
He will be the first detainee convicted of murder (in violation of the laws of war) by the #Gitmo tribunal

Convicted? Is that how it will be spun? How apart, first detainee to be forced to confess for the Gitmo show trial?

More Mayeda:

@amayeda Andrew Mayeda
Also, #Khadr is the first #Gitmo detainee to be sentenced who committed his crimes as a juvenile

Flash – 40 years sentence:

@DerekStoffelCBC Derek Stoffel
BREAKING: #Khadr military jury recommends 40 years in prison.

@DerekStoffelCBC Derek Stoffel
#Khadr jury recommends 40 years… BUT plea deal Khadr signed limits his sentence to 8 years – can apply for transfer to Canada after 1 yr.

At first they couldn’t hear it:

@carolrosenberg Carol Rosenberg
Omar #Khadr is standing. The sentence was announced but the jury wasn’t miked and we in #Guantanamo’s filing center didn’t hear it.

So, the military jury says it will ignore the child status of Omar Khadr at the time of capture, or ignore the torture of Omar Khadr. They appear to be channeling the racist demagoguery of hand-picked psych expert, Dr. Michael Welner. What was the purpose of this show?

More from Guantanamo, 5:11pm:

@carolrosenberg Carol Rosenberg
Tabitha Speer, #Khadr’s victim’s widow cheered at the sentence. The Toronto-born war criminal looked straight ahead.

@carolrosenberg Carol Rosenberg
RECAP: Omar #Khadr’s military jury returned a 40-year sentence and the judge told him, out of earshot of the panel, that he will serve 8.

And the reaction on Twitter at #khadr? A sampling:

@habibahamid habiba hamid
Breaches UN convention on rights of child @amayeda #Khadr sentenced to 40 years, military confirms

@RS_Chang Richard S. Chang
Really wonder how jury came to 40-year sentence for Omar #Khadr, who was a 15-year-old child soldier when he was caught on battlefield.

@dgardner Dan Gardner
A fitting conclusion for an unconscionable and unjust proceeding. RT @DerekStoffelCBC: #Khadr military jury recommends 40 years in prison.

@progress_report Brodie Conley
are you f*cking kidding me? 40 years recommended sentence. what do you expect from a jury made up of military personnel. #khadr

@rmazar Rochelle
WTH this is how we deal with child soldiers?! RT @DerekStoffelCBC: BREAKING: #Khadr military jury recommends 40 years in prison

Michelle Shephard notes:

#Guantanamo sentence 15 more than even Pentagon prosecutors asked for in #Khadr case.

The verdict will be used by right-wing commentators to “prove” that Khadr was “worst of the worst,” and by implication all of the prisoners at Guantanamo. This propaganda show is one example of how prisoners are used for exploitation, i.e., psychological warfare purposes. It is no different than the Stalinists using show trials of dissenters, complete with confessions and fake juries, the entire panoply of juridical proceedings, but with none of the content.

A sad, shameful day for America. A country that will not own up to its own use of torture. How much irritating crap will I have to read about this or that little political mini-tempest on various blogs, while the soul of the country shades into infamy?

What now?

@carolrosenberg Carol Rosenberg
#Khadr attorney: “Omar was given a choice to plead guilty or be prosecuted in an unfair process with the possibility of a life sentence.”

@carolrosenberg Carol Rosenberg
#Khadr is #Guantanamo’s youngest and last Western detainee among 174 now held in the prison camps. He is now the convicted 3rd war criminal.

@amayeda Andrew Mayeda
Am told by military spokeswoman here that the plea-deal docs (and hopefully diplomatic notes between Canada-US) will be released

@carolrosenberg Carol Rosenberg
He had been held in #Guantanamo’s communal camp for cooperative detainees. Now he goes into single cell, maximum security confinement.

Back into solitary confinement, i.e., back into torture, since isolation is a very specific kind of torture. What a massive clusterfuck! Submit Khadr to this charade, kill his sense of self-integrity via false confession, then shove him into solitary with the “belief” (and how can I not this put this word into quotes?) that he will be released to custody in Canada for another seven years…

Omar Khadr is you or me. This is what the U.S. rulers have in store for anyone who they decide to make an example of.

More on the reality that solitary confinement constitutes torture. From a Wired interview with psychologist Craig Haney, who has worked on this subject for a long-time:

…let me note that solitary confinement has historically been a part of torture protocols. It was well-documented in South Africa. It’s been used to torture prisoners of war.

There are a couple reasons why solitary confinement is typically used. One is that it’s a very painful experience. People experience isolation panic. They have a difficult time psychologically coping with the experience of being completely alone.

In addition, solitary confinement imposes conditions of social and perceptual stimulus deprivation. Often it’s the deprivation of activity, the deprivation of cognitive stimulation, that some people find to be painful and frightening.

Some of them lose their grasp of their identity. Who we are, and how we function in the world around us, is very much nested in our relation to other people. Over a long period of time, solitary confinement undermines one’s sense of self. It undermines your ability to register and regulate emotion. The appropriateness of what you’re thinking and feeling is difficult to index, because we’re so dependent on contact with others for that feedback. And for some people, it becomes a struggle to maintain sanity.

That leads to the other reason why solitary is so often a part of torture protocols. When people’s sense of themselves is placed in jeopardy, they are more malleable and easily manipulated. In a certain sense, solitary confinement is thought to enhance the effectiveness of other torture techniques.

And, no press appearance from the jury:

@shephardm Michelle Shephard
#Guantanamo prosecutors, #Khadr lawyers on the way to media hangar for press conferences. #Military jurors have declined to be interviewed.

@carolrosenberg Carol Rosenberg
Pentagon spokeswoman advises: All seven military officers on #Khadr jury were asked if they’d take questions from the media and all refused.

For those who felt Omar Khadr should not have taken the plea deal, consider this from Michelle Shephard:

@shephardm Michelle Shephard
If #Khadr had not taken the plea deal of 8 years and was instead given the jury sentence he would be 64 when released.

It’s time for me to sign off here. Carol Rosenberg and others are headed for the news conference. Carol tweets:

@carolrosenberg Carol Rosenberg
Off to a press conference in the Camp Justice hangar with prosecutors, observers. Story updating regularly here. http://ow.ly/32f0Z

My thanks again to all the reporters and commentators who have worked on this story. I look forward to what those in the courtroom saw and felt, the feedback from Khadr’s attorneys, the prosecutors (gag), and assorted media.

A low and sad day for justice. A terrifying day for Omar Khadr. And to Mrs. Speer and others, who thought they would never see this day, a thought or two:

“Vengeance taken will often tear the heart and torment the conscience.”
Arthur Schopenhauer

“The noblest vengeance is to forgive.”
Proverbs

Postscript, thanks to harpie:

DoD Statement on Khadr’s sentence
http://www.defense.gov/releases/release.aspx?releaseid=14023

Exchange of Diplomatic notes on Khadr
http://media.miamiherald.com/smedia/2010/10/31/20/dipnotes.source.prod_affiliate.56.pdf

Jury sentences ‘child soldier’ to 40 years at Guantanamo; Carol Rosenberg; 10/31/10
http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/10/31/1901309/khadr-jury-deliberates-second.htmlv

from US Diplomatic note to Canada:

The Government of the United States proposes that were Mr. Khadr to request a transfer to Canada to serve any sentence there, the United States and Canada could implement such a transfer under the Treaty between Canada and the United States of America on the Execution of Penal Sentences (the “‘Treaty”) and existing domestic authorities….

The Government of the United States specifically understands that such transfer would result in Mr. Khadr being subject to Canadian law pertaining to detention and in Mr. Khadr being able to apply to the National Parole Board (an independent administrative tribunal operating autonomously from the Government of Canada) for parole following the completion of one-third of his sentence. The Government of the United States understands that eligibility for parole does not mean that the release will be granted; only that it will be considered.

from Canada’s Diplomatic Note to the US:

The Government of Canada shares the view of the United States that were Mr. Khadr to request a transfer to Canada to serve any part of his sentence in Canada, the United States and Canada could implement such a transfer….

The Government of Canada therefore wishes to convey that, as requested by the United States, the Government of Canada is inclined to favourably consider Mr. Khadr’s application to be transferred to Canada to serve the remainder of his sentence, or such portion of the remainder of his sentence as the National Parole Board determines, provided the aforementioned conditions are met and the Government of the United States approves Mr. Khadr’s transfer to Canada.

“Inclined to favorably consider…” “Could implement such a transfer” — Perhaps this is simply diplomatic language, but I look forward to hearing more analysis on this. Not that I trust what I hear anymore, or even what I see. But there it is, and I hope the U.S. and Canada hold to their agreement.

None of this takes away from the truth Mr. Khadr lives at this very moment, returned to solitary confinement, a form of torture, having had to endure the ignominy of a forced confession and the huzzah of blood lust from his purported victims.

Nice country, this, eh?

Final addition (really):

Omar Khadr’s Oct. 13 Plea Deal Agreement (PDF) (my bold emphasis)

I understand that this agreement permits the Military Commission to find me guilty for all offenses to which I plead guilty without the need for the government to present evidence that would prove my guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. I offer to plead guilty because it will be in my best interest that the Convening Authority grants me the relief set forth in this agreement. I understand that I waive my right to a trial of the facts and to be confronted by the witnesses against me, and my right to avoid self:incrimination insofar as a plea of Guilty wilI incriminate me.

Some more interesting material there. For instance, as Carol Rosenberg notes, “Omar #Khadr’s plea bargain spelled out the only four people who could testify on his behalf at #Guantanamo sentencing hearing. Page 4 C3″.

I will not seek to offer the testimony, either in court or via VTC of any witness, other than: (I) Dr. Katherine Porterfield: (2) Dr. Steven Xenakis. (3) Captain McCarthy; and (4) Dr. Arlette Zinck, all of whom the Government has agreed to produce at U.S. Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay. Cuba for sentencing. [understand that sentencing proceedings will not be delayed to of these witnesses are unavailable.

But they certainly did not all testify. Where was Dr. Xenakis?

The Wikileaks Effect: UK Guardian Reveals British Interrogation Manuals Authorize Torture

6:22 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

As the controversies over the Iraq logs released by Wikileaks last Friday escalate, with the United Nations’ special rapporteur on torture calling on Barack Obama to initiate an investigation into the war crimes revealed in the documents’ release, not least U.S. connivance with wide-scale Iraqi torture, it is not surprising that other leakers and whistleblowers are wanting to get in on the act.

The story reported here also comes on the same sad day that Omar Khadr, after years of torture and solitary imprisonment in the U.S. prison at Guantanamo, locked away at age 15 for eight years, pleaded guilty to “terrorism” and multiple murders — including crimes for which he had never been charged — in a show trial confession engineered by the Pentagon. More will be written on this later.

The UK Guardian is reporting that secret training materials used by the British military in recent years include actions and behaviors that are clearly abusive and outside the treatment of prisoners mandated by the Geneva conventions. The article emphasizes the use of humiliation and sensory deprivation as primary tools of the British interrogator. Even “recent training material [say] blindfolds, earmuffs and plastic handcuffs are essential equipment for military interrogators.”

The story comes from the magnificent Iab Cobain, who has been on fire of late:

The British military has been training interrogators in techniques that include threats, sensory deprivation and enforced nakedness in an apparent breach of the Geneva conventions, the Guardian has discovered.

Training materials drawn up secretly in recent years tell interrogators they should aim to provoke humiliation, insecurity, disorientation, exhaustion, anxiety and fear in the prisoners they are questioning, and suggest ways in which this can be achieved….

Prisoners should be “conditioned” before questioning, with conditioning defined as the combined effects of self-induced pressure and “system-induced pressure”. Harsh questioning – or “harshing” – in which an interrogator puts his face close to the prisoner, screaming, swearing and making threats, is recommended as a means to provoke “anxiety/fear”. Other useful responses include “insecurity”, “disorientation” and “humiliation”.

The training material recommends that after a prisoner’s clothes are removed, the interrogator ensures he is searched behind his foreskin and that his buttocks are spread. This is part of the conditioning process, rather than as a security measure. One section of the training course is entitled “positional asphyxiation – signs and symptoms”.

Well, I think readers can get the idea, and should definitely read the entire story at the UK Guardian. The actions of the British military are consistent with the charges of torture in the torture-killing of Iraqi hotel receptionist Baha Mousa in Basra in 2003, and of other atrocities committed by British troops. It is also redolent of the torture of IRA prisoners in Northern Irish prisons run by the British in the 1970s and 1980s. (Here’s a link to the diary of a famous hunger striker from another era, Bobby Sands.) The newly revealed British techniques are also similar to those in the U.S. Army’s Army Field Manual on Interrogation, which has a special appendix that describes the use of isolation, forms of sensory deprivation and sleep deprivation, and combines them with techniques that rely on threats and even possible use of drugs in the main portion of the manual. Abuse of prisoners linked to the Army Field Manual was recently the subject of a report by the George Soros-supported Open Society Foundations.

Between the U.S. crimes most recently revealed, and these admissions of British torture — and if not “torture,” a word most terrifically massaged these days, certainly cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, outlawed by the world — we have a veritable concatenation of horrific messages, all of which add up to one huge conclusion: the leaders of the United States and the United Kingdom are war criminals, and the political machinery of these countries allow precious little, outside of creaky and corrupt electoral processes for the people of these countries to do much about it. And maybe that’s why we don’t see much outward protest yet… as if the entire rotten edifice, weakened by economic chicanery and greed in high places, and rent through with generations of lies, might totter over entirely if too much truth, too much protest were made.

In any case, for those who thought that the Wikileaks tempest might blow straight into a teapot, the latest revelations show that the Iraq logs might only be the beginning, that the military and civilian governments of these countries are full of disgusted patriots tired of serving amoral and criminal regimes. Who knows, maybe even the U.S. press might awake and do its duty. That might be hoping too much, but one never knows.

The British revelations should put new pressures upon a supposed British investigation into torture that was announced last July. As Amnesty International and eight British NGOs wrote in September to the putative head of this British inquiry, Sir Peter Gibson (PDF):

A sufficiently empowered and transparent inquiry could discharge the United Kingdom’s duty to effectively investigate damaging allegations of knowledge and/or involvement by state actors or agents in the torture, ill-treatment or rendition of individuals that have arisen in the last decade. Such an inquiry could also play an important role in clarifying how involvement in torture, ill- treatment or rendition might be prevented in the future.

It is incumbent on governments to promptly and effectively investigate all allegations of torture and other related human rights abuses.

It is time for such an inquiry in the United States. Who will call for it? Who will organize it? How can we keep such an investigation prompt, independent, thorough, transparent and subject to public inquiry and oversight? Even more important, what will happen if we don’t have such an inquiry, if the torture regime, which is obviously out of control and still in existence, continues?

I think everyone knows the answer to that, and with a shudder, rejects it. We must not let cowardice and fear and confusion prevent us from pursuing the terrible chore history has thrown upon us. We need a far-reaching societal discussion of these issues, and we need it now.

The Psychiatric Demonization of Omar Khadr

3:49 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

As the intense negotiations over a possible plea bargain for former child "soldier" Omar Khadr come to a head, "internationally acclaimed" forensic psychiatrist Dr. Michael Welner has given an exclusive interview to Steven Edwards of the Canadian National Post. Khadr, captured at age 15, has been imprisoned for eight years in U.S. custody, and tortured at both Bagram and Guantanamo, accused of killing a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan in a firefight in July 2002. Dr. Welner has consulted for the FBI, and is a frequent guest on network television. He is a vigorous self-promoter and has been a forensic examiner on a number of high-profile criminal cases.

From Edwards story:

There is no evidence that Omar Khadr has ever independently sought to promote peace with the West and renounce Muslim Jihad, the internationally acclaimed forensic psychiatrist who pioneered efforts to quantify evil reveals ahead testifying about his examination of the Canadian-born terror suspect….

“When one leaps to the conclusion about Omar Khadr’s future because he is friendly, one might recall that Osama bin Laden has always been described as gentle, likeable and charming,” New York-based Welner told Postmedia News.

“There is no record of (Khadr’s) publicly repudiating al Qaida, as civilized Muslims should, not even a letter composed for him by Dennis Edney,” he added in a reference to one of Khadr’s two Canadian lawyers. There is “no call… to radical Islamists to mature beyond their elemental intolerance.”

By the use of terms such as "elemental intolerance", Dr. Welner exposes his bias and political animus towards Mr. Khadr. It carries the same whiff of fanaticism as the statements of former Chief of Neuropsychiatry at Guantanamo Bay, Dr. William Anderson, who wrote that Islamic "hard-core zealots" had "brains that are structurally and functionally different from us," and that 100,000 "zealots" within the Muslim body politic would have to be eliminated, the way "malignant [cancer] cells" are removed from a healthy body.

One wonders what responsibility the young Mr. Khadr had to reach out to "radical Islamists." The entire accusation is preposterous on its face. The attempt to link Mr. Khadr to Osama bin Laden is even worse. It is character assassination, and the evident bias shown by Dr. Welner should be more than enough reason to have his entire testimony and evaluation thrown out of court.

But then this isn’t any old court. It’s the kangaroo proceedings that are the Obama revamped Military Commissions, a judicial setting that allows no courtroom observers, that banned reporters for stating the name of a witness that was otherwise a matter of public record, that allows the judge to admit hearsay evidence from third parties who were coerced, as long as the judge finds it doesn’t cross over into "cruel, inhuman, or degrading" treatment as defined in the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005.

As Daphne Eviatar pointed out last year:

While that sounds good, remember that the Detainee Treatment Act was interpreted by the Bush administration’s Justice Department to allow such “enhanced interrogation techniques” as sleep deprivation, food deprivation, shackling, forced standing in stress positions, and a variety of “corrective techniques” that include physical slaps and grabs – either alone or in combination. The new “protections” in the MCA amendments are therefore not all that reassuring.

Omar Khadr was to be the first sample of "justice" in the new Obama-blessed military commissions. We got a sample of what kind of justice that would be when last August, the MC judge, Army Col. Patrick Parrish, announced there was "no credible evidence" of torture upon Mr. Khadr. And yet, even in the testimony in the case thus far, early interrogations of the then-15 year old prisoner were proven to contain theats of violent rape. Moreover, the U.S. has been contemptuous of international protocols that juveniles under 18 years of age require "special attention", and that "the physical and psychosocial rehabilitation and social reintegration of children who are victims of armed conflict" of such child prisoners is of essential importance.

Andy Worthington described the torture of Omar Khadr in an article last May (or read Mr. Khadr’s own affadavit describing his treatment – PDF):

Khadr stated that he was short-shackled in painful positions and left for up to ten hours in a freezing cold cell, threatened with rape and with being transferred to another country where he could be raped, and, on one particular occasion, when he had been left short-shackled in a painful position until he urinated on himself:

Military police poured pine oil on the floor and on me, and then, with me lying on my stomach and my hands and feet cuffed together behind me, the military police dragged me back and forth through the mixture of urine and pine oil on the floor. Later, I was put back in my cell, without being allowed a shower or a change of clothes. I was not given a change of clothes for two days. They did this to me again a few weeks later.

Ethical Transgressions?

The rest of the Welner interview continues the doctor’s rant. "Civilized Muslims" have repudiated Al Qaeda, implying that without a strong statement from Mr. Khadr doing the same, he is not "civilized." According to Edwards, Dr. Welner states in the interview that "Khadr is known to have expressed peace-loving intentions only to “those advancing [h]is public image…” Even more, Dr. Welner describes Mr. Khadr as "socially agile, charming and more sophisticated," only to remind us — "lest we forget" — that Omar’s father looked "good" enough to gather money for an orphanage, "’yet he was raising money for al Qaida, and (was) a high-ranking member’ of the terror group."

In reference to Dr. Welner’s last example, what should people think who believed once that the politicians who told them they were activating the defense of the United States and promoting the safety of their loved ones from a WMD-armed Iraq, only to find out their tax money was used to invade a country that had no WMD, that the entire story was gamed by the top leaders of the United States to destroy the infrastructure of another nation, kill 100,000s of people, and turn millions more into homeless refugees? These crimes make Omar Khadr’s father look like a mere amateur.

It is difficult to discern the motives behind Dr. Welner’s interview, but the fact there is pending a possible sentencing hearing for Mr. Khadr, or that the issue of Canadian repatriation of the former child soldier is currently a matter of some controversy in Canada (Prime Minister Stephen Harper is adamantly against it), calls Dr. Welner’s actions into some question.

One wonders if Dr. Welner has ever read the Specialty Guidelines for Forensic Psychology (PDF):

Ordinarily, forensic psychologists avoid making detailed public (out-of-court) statements about particular legal proceedings in which they have been involved. When there is a strong justification to do so, such public statements are designed to assure accurate representation of their role or their evidence, not to advocate the positions of parties in the legal proceeding. Forensic psychologists address particular legal proceedings in publications or communications only to the extent that the information relied upon is part of a public record, or consent for that use has been properly obtained from the party holding any privilege.

Perhaps Dr. Welner, who is a forensic psychiatrist and not a forensic psychologist, does not feel himself bound by the ethics of his sister profession. Even so, the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law’s Ethical Guidelines for the Practice of Forensic Psychiatry state that as a matter of confidentiality in a forensic, legal setting, "A forensic evaluation requires notice to the evaluee and to collateral sources of reasonably anticipated limitations on confidentiality. Information or reports derived from a forensic evaluation are subject to the rules of confidentiality that apply to the particular evaluation, and any disclosure should be restricted accordingly." Moreover, the process of gaining consent for an evaluation should include "notice… to the evaluee of the nature and purpose of the evaluation and the limits of its confidentiality."

Did Dr. Welner tell Omar Khadr that he planned to give a public interview to the press on certain aspects of his evaluation of him, an interview moreover on the eve of an important legal hearing for him?

Edward’s interview liberally cites Dr. Welner’s credentials, but never mentions that he has worked closely with the FBI, or that his highly-touted "Depravity Scale" project is the subject of much academic controversy.

It is hard to believe the extent to which the advocates of the demonization of Omar Khadr will go. The U.S. government, and their ally in the Canadian Prime Minister’s office, evidently will go to no end to press their vendetta against the Khadr family. This is the morality of the mob, the morality of true moral depravity. Dr. Welner, look in the mirror.

Or better yet, review this videotape of an interrogation of Omar Khadr in 2004. Did the young man, then age 16, use the opportunity to "call… to radical Islamists to mature beyond their elemental intolerance"? You tell me.

H/T to skdadl for tipping me to the Welner interview

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

10:24 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

Andy Worthington writes:

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Dennis:

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

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

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

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

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

Your truly son,

Omar

26 May 2010 at 11:37am

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

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

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

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

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

U.S. Legal Actions, UK Inquiry: Noose Tightens on Torture Criminals

10:05 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

Before taking up the question of the UK torture inquiry, announced the other day, we should consider other important developments on the anti-torture front today.

Omar Khadr, captured as a child, abused, mistreated and tortured for years at Guantanamo, has fired his military attorneys — most likely because he seeks some method to exert control over his situation. God knows how we would respond if placed in his situation.

Meanwhile, Daniel Shulman at Mother Jones has posted an article describing two new actions taken to strip licensure from two former Guantanamo psychologists, Major John Leso and retired Colonel Larry James. James is now dean of the professional psychology program at Wright State University in Ohio, and was the subject of a complaint against him in Louisiana, which was dismissed by the Louisiana State Board of Examiners of Psychologists, and subsequently brought to the Louisiana Court of Appeal. Leso is the infamous "Maj. L" in the interrogation log released by Time Magazine some years ago in the torture case of Mohammed Al-Qahtani.

Both Leso and James were members of the Behavioral Science Consultant Team, or BSCT, at Guantanamo. Indeed, James was in charge of the BSCT while he was there. The complaint against Leso, filed by the Center for Justice and Accountability, can be viewed here. The James filing — the work of Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic — is available in PDF format.

These filings were separate from yet another complaint, this one filed with the Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists, against James Mitchell, one of the principals for CIA torture contractors Mitchell-Jessen and Associates, who has also been identified as one of the interrogators involved in reverse-engineering SERE techniques for the interrogation-cum-torture experiments made upon Abu Zubaydah in the spring and summer of 2002. (PDF link to full document here.)

These actions have been taken in the context of the refusal of the Obama administration to undertake the necessary criminal investigations against the work of torturers under governmental employ during the Bush/Cheney era. While there is a secret investigation supposedly underway in the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, congressional oversight and action on the subject of interrogations has been minimal. While the Senate Armed Services Committee conducted a wide-ranging investigation of the spread of SERE-style torture in the military, the committee refuses to release a less-redacted version of their report, and moreover, issued their findings without recommendations. Even worse, they allowed SERE psychologists, like James Mitchell, to remain in charge of Special Operations battlefield interrogations and detention.

Keeping the lid on the torture scandal is the SOP of the Obama administration lately. According to a July 2 report by Mike Scarcella at The Blog of Legal Times, the Holder Justice Department has filed hundreds of papers in court arguing against an ACLU suit "that blacked-out passages in the [Office of Professional Responsibility] report [on the Office of Legal Counsel torture memos] should remain confidential in the interest of national security and the privacy of government lawyers."

It is in the context over this war over information and accountability that we must look across the Atlantic to see what is unfolding in the United Kingdom, where the new British administration of Prime Minister David Cameron (with coalition partner Nick Clegg) announced that there would be a "judge-led investigation" of the complicity of UK intelligence personnel in the torture of detainees in the U.S.-led rampage that incarcerated an untold number of prisoners, rendered them to countries that would torture, or sent them into CIA secret prisons. These crimes were committed in part to coerce "intelligence" and confessions that would link Saddam Hussein to Al Qaeda, the better to drum up fake evidence to justify an unprovoked attack upon Iraq.

UK Torture Inquiry Questions

The announcement of the UK inquiry has been met with a mostly uncritical positive reception in the U.S. And who can blame the American human rights, anti-torture and civil liberties movement? They’ve had to put up with the "don’t look back" policy of President Obama, not to mention the latter’s embrace of Bush-era positions on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, indefinite detention, support for the Army Field Manual’s Appendix M, governmental secrecy, and even this administration’s own operation of black site prisons (run now by JSOC, not, apparently, the CIA).

A press release by the ACLU captured the general attitude of U.S. opponents of the Pentagon/CIA torture program:

"An investigation into the role of government personnel in the abuse and torture of prisoners is exactly what the Obama administration should be initiating. And while we welcome Prime Minister Cameron’s commitment to ensuring that torture survivors are acknowledged and compensated, this announcement also serves as a reminder of how little has been done here in the United States to reckon with the abuses of the last nine years," said Jameel Jaffer, ACLU Deputy Legal Director.

While the sentiment is understandable (see a similar statement by Tom Parker at Amnesty International), even though we dearly need an investigation, it is not certain that the UK inquiry is exactly what the doctor ordered. The British press and human rights agencies, while approving of Cameron/Clegg’s decision to make good on their campaign promise and initiate an investigation into UK intelligence services complicity with torture, are dubious about the details of how the investigation will proceed.

For one thing, proceedings will be held in secret. While the three-person investigating panel will have ample access to UK documents, they will not be allowed to study U.S. documents. Moreover, the inquiry cannot begin until all current criminal and civil complaints are settled. This led U.S. blogger-commentator Marcy Wheeler to wonder if the inquiry weren’t meant in part to limit the disclosures that could still surface if the cases now outstanding were adjudicated fully.

The investigation panel is supposed to include Dame Janet Paraskeva, head of the civil service commissioners, and retired journalist Peter Riddell. No less a UK government critic than Craig Murray finds these two to be independent-minded and fair (though some question their experience in these matters). But Murray — and as we’ll see, many others — is concerned about the ex-judge Sir Peter Gibson, named to head the investigation.

The 76-year-old Gibson is an odd choice, especially, as John Ware at BBC Panorama put it, "for an inquiry deemed to be fully independent." He is closely linked to intelligence circles, as he is Intelligence Services Commissioner, responsible for monitoring secret bugging operations by MI5, MI6 and GCHQ (Britain’s version of the NSA). In the past, Gibson has refused to say how many instances of bugging have taken place, because it would “assist those hostile to the UK”. There has also been some criticism regarding Gibson’s propensity for secrecy.

Peter Oborne at the UK Daily Mail has more to say about Gibson and "judge-led" "independent inquiries:

Sir Peter is a thoroughly acceptable figure to British spies because he has been Commissioner of the Intelligence Services since 2006, and was reappointed only last year.

Most of his work is carried out away from the public eye, but I have heard no reports of Sir Peter asking probing questions of MI5 and MI6 bosses over the past few years, despite the publication of a mass of troubling material during that period.

This is not the first time Gibson has been asked to head a secretive investigation, as he also led the inquiry into the 1998 IRA Omagh bombing, after a BBC report that GCHQ withheld info from the police that could have led to an interdiction of the bombers. The report itself was, of course, kept secret, but there were many questions about how Gibson conducted the affair. According to John Ware:

Sir Peter’s report, published in January 2009, angered relatives of Omagh’s victims and survivors when it focused only on whether the Omagh bombing could have been stopped. He concluded it could not have been.

Sir Peter later acknowledged he "deliberately did not" investigate why intercepts that he found had been shared between GCHQ and Special Branch were not also shared with the CID.

He told MPs on the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee (NIAC) that he had not seen it as part of his remit to "go into questions like why certain things were done or not done".

An mixture of hopefulness and ominous foreboding emanates from British anti-torture human rights groups. Addressing worries that the inquiry will focus on lower-level interrogators and let government officials like former Prime Minister Tony Blair off the hook, London director of Human Rights Watch said, "To be credible and to get to the bottom of what went wrong, any inquiry must be as public as possible, examine all cases of alleged complicity that are brought to its attention and examine the degree to which decisions by UK ministers and officials contributed to abuse."

The British human rights group, Reprieve, who like the U.S. Center for Constitutional Rights, sponsors many attorneys currently defending Guantanamo prisoners, noted a number of concerns about the proposed inquiry. Top on the list of concerns is the pervasive secrecy surrounding the investigation. Not only will they be held in secret, but only the Prime Minister can decide what will be made public in the proceedings or final report. "Under the Government’s plan," Reprieve reports, "there is no formal mechanism for civil participation — so Reprieve and other civil organisation[s] will not be allowed access to documents and proceedings."

Another outstanding demand is that the government produce the old, secret official policy that governed UK intelligence agents. The new policy, itself recently published, still allows unnamed "ministers" the ability to approve "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment": "…a wide spectrum of conduct and different considerations and legal principles may apply depending on the circumstances and facts of each case." What, Reprieve asks, were in the old rules, if these are the new rules? Any real inquiry would make this public.

What Now?

The no-accountability policy of the Obama administration has proven bankrupt, and recent legal actions taken against Leso, James, and Mitchell are laudable and hopefully will provide a decent chill among those health care providers who serviced (or still serve) the CIA and Pentagon torture and human experimentation programs. The UK inquiry certainly is a response to a societal repulsion in Great Britain against crimes against humanity, and perhaps, at a remove, to the widespread hatred of Britain’s participation in the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But it would be naive to believe that the British government, which sees itself as the best ally of the U.S. intelligence services, will open itself up to the kind of scrutiny needed — not without a fight. To agree to the form in which the investigation is now proposed threatens to direct the fight for accountability and justice into a blind alley. As Peter Oborne reminds us, we should remember that other "judge-led" inquiry/cover-up in 2003, when "Lord Hutton’s investigation into the death of government scientist David Kelly… failed to ask the right questions, while reaching conclusions that flew in the face of evidence."

In addition, instead of sparking a renewed bid for a real investigation in the U.S., which is the fond hope of many anti-torture activists, a limited hang-out in the UK will only stifle the movement for accountability in the U.S., as enthusiasm for an open inquiry and prosecutions of high government officials is buried by demoralization and a feeling of futility.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Activists can support the moves by Britain to have an investigation into Britain’s role in torture, while demanding that it be a real investigation, with open, televised hearings (as much as is feasible), the inclusion of civil organizations, such as Reprieve, and a published protocol that includes a programmatic insistence that all lines of evidence will be followed, no matter how high up the governmental ladder such inquiry leads, and no matter what other countries’ crimes may also be implicated. One could start by refusing to accept the appointment of Peter Gibson as head of the investigating panel.

Those who sponsored, support, and defend the torture and rendition programs of the past ten years must feel the noose of real justice tightening ever further around them, and they will fight with all their might and subterfuge to protect themselves and the monopoly of state violence and terror they administer. We must take this opportunity and push even harder to have a real investigation, one that will truly bring justice, and a giant step toward the complete abolition of torture and cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment of prisoners everywhere. That was the program of the European and American Enlightenment, and over 200 years later, it must be our program, too.

Sgt. Joshua Claus, Racist Rape Threats, & Supposed Rapport Techniques of Interrogation

2:34 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

This is posted under a different title at Daily Kos and Invictus

(See note on Rachel Maddow’s claims about the use of the "Fear Up" interrogation technique at end of this article)

It is difficult to write about this outrage without descending into mere shouts of anger about the perfidy of the Obama administration and the Pentagon’s insults against justice and the first amendment. The outrageous attempts by Obama and his military subordinates to legitimate a kangaroo court aka military commissions is similar to the actions of the previously hated Bush/Cheney regime.

The first of Obama’s trials is of the former child soldier, Omar Khadr, captured after a U.S. raid on his family’s compound, and then interrogated from his hospital bed, where he was laying seriously wounded from being shot in the back and in his shoulder. His first interrogator was the notorious Sgt. Joshua Claus, later implicated and briefly imprisoned for his role in the death of the prisoner Dilawar at Bagram Prison.

The journalists who dared report Claus’s name in their reports from Guantanamo — even though Claus’ name had been reported in a number of published media over the years — were banned by the Pentagon from all further Guantanamo hearings, since Barack Obama’s Pentagon decided that now they would make Claus’s name classified. This move to erase the past and make illegal what was formerly public domain is the worst sort of dictatorial action, and typical of tyrannies around the world. If allowed to stand, it is an evil harbinger of what we can expect of this and future administrations.

The reporters banned are Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald/McClatchy; Steven Edwards of Canwest, Paul Koring of the Globe & Mail, and Michelle Shephard of the Toronto Star. Spencer Ackerman of the Washington Independent has posted the DoD letter to the reporters. Meanwhile, other great articles reporting on the affair have been written by Scott Horton, Marcy Wheeler, Jim White, and Dan Froomkin.

To demonstrate the totally arbitrary and unfair aspect of the ban, the announcement of the ban on reporting Claus’s identity was made nearly 24 hours after the article noting Claus’s name was published. The subsequent banning of the reporters can only be understood as a deliberate and manufactured attack against the press for reporting the travesty of these military commissions. The entire affair is described in a report for McClatchy last Thursday by Nancy Youssef.

Claus, Racist Rape Threats, and Supposed Rapport Techniques of Interrogation

In the reports of Claus’s interrogation of Omar Khadr, we read the following, from Spencer Ackerman’s reporting ("Interrogator #1" was Sgt. Joshua Claus, Khadr’s primary interrogator at Bagram):

Interrogator #1 would tell the detainee, “I know you’re lying about something.” And so, for an instruction about the consequences of lying, Khadr learned that lying “not so seriously” wouldn’t land him in a place like “Cuba” — meaning, presumably, Guantanamo Bay — but in an American prison instead. And this one time, a “poor little 20-year-old kid” sent from Afghanistan ended up in an American prison for lying to an American. “A bunch of big black guys and big Nazis noticed the little Afghan didn’t speak their language, and prayed five times a day — he’s Muslim,” Interrogator #1 said. Although the fictitious inmates were criminals, “they’re still patriotic,” and the guards “can’t be everywhere at once.”

“So this one unfortunate time, he’s in the shower by himself, and these four big black guys show up — and it’s terrible something would happen — but they caught him in the shower and raped him. And it’s terrible that these things happen, the kid got hurt and ended up dying,” Interrogator #1 said. “It’s all a fictitious story.”

Besides the incredibly racist threats about "big black guys", this was also an implicit death threat, since the case presented to Khadr ends in the prisoner’s horrific death. On the stand, Claus said all he wanted was to create a "symbiotic relationship" with the young prisoner.

But Joshua Claus is not someone who would come up with the idea of forming a “symbiotic relationship” with his prisoner, and even less likely to have made such a conceptual leap at age 21.

In fact, the use of terms like "symbiotic relationship" is closely associated with the formation of a highly dependent relationship, similar to the Stockholm Syndrome, i.e., attempting to create a relationship of close psychological allegiance, in order to exploit [their terminology] the prisoner for information or other purposes. It is an orthodox strategy employed by the intelligence services, and is often the reality behind the polite mask of creating a “rapport” with the prisoner.

For those who might remember, fostering of a Stockholm syndrome in a prisoner was a primary attribute of the alternate CITF interrogation plan for Al Qahtani in Guantanamo. (Michael Gelles of NCIS is briefly noted as speaking of this in the SASC report.) I wrote about this kind of interrogation motive in an article at Firedoglake December.

Ironically, the focus on Claus and First amendment rights, and the outrageousness of administration censorship pulls us away from considering who was conducting policies for government detention and interrogation/torture policies to begin with. The “court” (a word in the instance of the Guantanamo Military Commissions one can only say aloud with gall and vomit in one’s mouth) is duly constituted to do one thing: legitimate the invasions and actions of the U.S. government, including its prisoner and torture policies.

If the lions of the press should happen to read this, then consider this: if you had a semblance of integrity, you would assemble a boycott of the next White House briefing in protest of how your colleagues were unfairly treated.

For more on the Omar Khadr story and the military commissions trial, see "Prosecuting a Tortured Child: Obama’s Guantanamo Legacy" by Andy Worthington, posted at the Future of Freedom Foundation website.

NOTE on use of "Fear Up": The interrogation technique known as "Fear Up" has been a feature of the military’s approved techniques described in the Army Field Manual for almost two decades now, at least. See a discussion of the use of this technique, and it’s dangers within this article. The core of that discussion can be summarized from a quote. Rachel Maddow, please take notice, the use of "Fear Up" was not something recently dreamed up, nor a creation of the Bush administration:

In the last version of the AFM (FM 34-52), published in 1992, the use of fear-based techniques was divided into Fear Up Harsh and Fear Up Mild, with a strong warning issued that the use of Fear Up "has the greatest potential to violate the law of war." In the contemporary version of the AFM, the division of the technique into harsh and mild categories is abandoned, while the cautionary language is weakened.