You are browsing the archive for war crimes.

Japanese WWII Torture Document Eerily Reminiscent of US Torture Program

9:44 am in Torture by Jeff Kaye

The following is taken from a 63 year old book published in the early days of the Cold War. Titled Materials on the Trial of Former Serviceman of the Japanese Army Charged with Manufacturing and Employing Bacteriological Weapons (Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1950), the book contains trial summaries and testimony from the Khabarovsk war crimes trial in December 1949.

Derided as just another Stalinist show trial at the time, historians have since confirmed the evidence regarding the crimes prosecuted, including deadly biological experiments on prisoners by special units of the Japanese Imperial Army, the most famous of which was Unit 731.

page from Soviet war crimes trial book

photo from war crimes book with Japanese text of torture instuctions

The selection below is one of the exhibits contained in the book, collected in a section labeled “Documentary Evidence.” The book itself has been out of print for decades, and is generally unavailable, except via some few libraries and antiquarian bookstores.

The selection included here is on the Japanese Army use of torture. The reader will notice that the Japanese Army demonstrated many of the same techniques and concerns the U.S. showed when it was implementing its own torture program under the CIA and the Department of Defense.

The Japanese torture program included, as described here, use of stress positions, physical attack, and a form of waterboarding. The interrogators were instructed to be aware of possible false information by prisoners in order to get “relief from suffering.” They appeared to also be concerned in the truthfulness of information obtained, and the possibility of deception.

Moreover, the Japanese were quite worried about others knowing about the torture. While they do not outright call for the murder of prisoners, one is left to guess at what “measures must be taken” so that prisoners did not talk of the torture “afterwards.”

The material from the Khabarovsk trial is consistent with that published in a report by the Supreme Commander of Allied Powers on “Japanese Methods of Prisoner of War Interrogation” (June 1, 1946). Techniques described there include: beatings of various sorts (derided, though, as “the most clumsy method”); threats of “murder, torture, starving, deprivation of sleep, solitary confinement, etc.”; psychological threats; water torture, which sometimes resulted in fatalities; attaching a prisoner’s thumbs to a “motor car which proceeds to pull him around in a circle until he falls exhausted,” and other tortures. Some Japanese soldiers and officers were prosecuted for war crimes after the war for such inhumane and criminal conduct.

What Made the Khabarovsk Trial Special

What makes the selection from the Khabarovsk trial unique is the degree to which the document discusses the importance of hiding the torture, and how to deal with deception. Interestingly, there is no discussion of producing false confessions.

It is noteworthy, too, to understand that thousands of prisoners who were sent to Unit 731 had also been, or were interrogated and/or tortured, at the site where biological experiments on them were done. All the prisoners were killed after the experiments were completed. The results of the experiments were operationalized in biological warfare campaigns by the Japanese in China that killed, recent estimates claim, perhaps as many as half a million people.

In future stories, I will discuss at much greater length aspects of this material that has gone unreported for years. The reasons for such a lack of historical writing is not lack of interest, but the fact that what materials the Japanese did not destroy were kept classified by the Americans for decades as part of an amnesty deal made with the leaders of the Japanese biological warfare program. The deal included a transfer of data on the fatal human experiments to the U.S. Army and intelligence services. Both the Department of Defense and (most likely) the CIA were involved in the decision to give amnesty to the Unit 731 et al. criminals.

For more information on the deal made between the U.S. and the Japanese described here see Peter Williams and David Wallace, Unit 731: The Japanese Army Secret of Secrets, 1989, Hodder and Stoughton, London; Sheldon H. Harris, Factories of Death: Japanese Biological Warfare, 1932-1945, and the American Cover-up, rev. ed. 2002, Routledge, New York; and Daniel Barenblatt, A Plague Upon Humanity: the Secret Genocide of Axis Japan’s Germ Warfare, 2004, Harper, New York.

The Khabarovsk selection reprinted below appears on pages 235-237 of Materials. I have tried my best to reproduce the material as it is in the book. What is italic or bold here is italic or bold in the book. Extra spacing between letters is as in the printed material. Case has been preserved. Paragraph breaks are by extra lines, while in the book they are by indent.

Book Excerpt

File No. 48. Pages 90, 112, 113, 124, 125, 126. “Operation Officer’s Guide (Part I).” From the files of the Mutankiang J.M.M.

Translated from the Japanese
S t r i c t l y  C o n f i d e n t i a l

Read the rest of this entry →

DoD Cover-up: Gitmo detainee found hanged with hands tied behind back

2:24 pm in Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

The government has withheld for years the actual facts surrounding the deaths of two of the six completed Guantanamo “suicides” to date. For instance, they hid the fact that one of the detainees was supposedly found hanged with his hands tied behind his back. Another detainee supposedly used an underwear elastic band (or “ligature”) to strangle himself — except the type of underwear described was not used by the detainees, and the ligature itself has gone missing. It was not provided to the autopsy examiners.

I have found that my ground-breaking investigation into the deaths of two Guantanamo detainees, Abdul Rahman Al Amri and Mohammad Ahmed Abdullah Saleh Al Hanashi, based on hitherto-unexamined autopsy reports, has been largely ignored by the mainstream media and the blogosphere. Except for Jason Leopold, Andy Worthington, Marcy Wheeler and the good folks at Eurasia Review, there has been a decided reluctance to report what I have found.

So I must go public all on my own, and the powers that be know that I will not be silent. Whether it is former Guantanamo officials, or well-known journalists who regularly cover Guantanamo, none have disputed what my investigation found, not publicly, and not privately. I believe that purposeful inattention to the crimes at Guantanamo, facilitated by both government cover-up and the vagaries of the electoral season, which discourages anything that would embarrass the Obama administration and the Democrats as a whole, are responsible for this inattention to important new documented facts.

But the UN Special Rapporteur for Extrajudicial Killings, Summary and Arbitrary Executions, Christof Heynes, has informed me he is looking into these matters. I don’t care if the grand poohbahs of the MSM and the blogosphere are going to ignore this story. “Murder will out,” and I will remind the villains involved in these affairs that murder has no statute of limitations. The changes to the war crimes laws implemented by both the Bush and Obama administrations will not protect you. Hence, I understand why you wish to sweep all this under the rug. Maybe you will succeed. Let’s see what readers think when actually informed of these materials.

*************

Originally posted at Truthout.org

Autopsy reports released last year by the Department of Defense raise stark questions about the circumstances surrounding the deaths of two prisoners at Guantanamo. Both deaths – of Abdul Rahman Al Amri in May 2007 and Mohammad Ahmed Abdullah Saleh Al Hanashi in June 2009 – were labeled suicides by Department of Defense (DoD) investigators.

But the details in the autopsy reports show that Al Amri was found dead by hanging with his hands tied behind his back, calling into question whether he had actually killed himself. (He is referred to as Abd al-Rahman al-Umari in the report.) Al Hanashi was found wearing standard-issue detainee clothing, the undergarments from which he supposedly used to kill himself, and not the tear-proof suicide smock issued to detainees who are actively suicidal. It remains an open question if he were in fact under suicide watch, even though he had been repeatedly banging his head on prison walls, and had made five suicide attempts in the four weeks prior to his death.

Both Al Amri, who was housed in isolation at Guantanamo’s high-security Camp 5, and Al Hanashi, who was resident at the prison’s Behavioral Health Unit, were supposed to be under constant video surveillance, and according to camp officials, someone was supposed to be checking on them every three to five minutes.

A number of outside observers had deemed both prisoners’ deaths suspicious, but the autopsy reports are the first public documentary evidence of what possibly occurred. The autopsies were declassified by the DoD a year ago, but apparently went unexamined, part of a 1,100-plus-page release of documents inresponse to an American Civil Liberties Union Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit.

Al Amri was a 34-year-old former member of the Saudi Arabian Army. According to his May 2006 Detainee Assessment (released by WikiLeaks), he allegedly had “knowledge about, and connections to many high-level Al-Qaida members and operations.” He was also accused of making a film about the USS Cole bombing, a charge he denied. He was reportedly considered a “high-value” detainee, and had been at Guantanamo since February 2002. Al Amri told the Combatant Status Review Tribunal that examined his case that he had not gone to Afghanistan to kill Americans, and that if it had been his intent, he would have had ample opportunity when he was in the Saudi Army.

Al Hanashi was a 31-year-old Yemeni national who, as a young man, had left Yemen to join the Taliban side in the Afghan civil war. His father is said to be the leader of the 4,000-member Hanashi tribe in Yemen. Like Al Amri, DoD claims he was affiliated with al-Qaeda, a charge al Hanashi had denied. Captured after the Qala-i-Jangi prisoner uprising at Mazar-e-Sharif, he was transferred to Guantanamo, arriving two days before Al Amri. According to one prisoner who last saw him six months before his death, Al Hanashi had agreed to be a representative for prisoners’ grievances before camp officials.

Both prisoners had been on long hunger strikes, and at times had weighed at or under 90 pounds. Each had been force-fed while on hunger strike. Both prisoners had never met with an attorney.

“They Covered Up the Crime”

Al Amri’s autopsy (PDF) states that the “male civilian detainee” was “found hanging by his neck in his cell with a ligature made of braided strips of bed sheet. By report, similar fabric bound his hands loosely behind him.”

Despite the fact that Al Amri’s hands were bound behind him, the media was kept unaware of this fact. But it apparently was not unknown among some of the other detainees.

In a 2010 letter to his attorney, released as part of a court filing, longtime Guantanamo hunger striker Abdul Rahman Shalabi told his attorney, “You know what happened to (Abdul Rahman Al-Amri) who was killed in camp five two years ago, hanging while his hands were tied behind his back, and he was in solitary confinement…. When the Americans released the news of his death, they said that they found him dead in his cell and he was on hunger strike and they covered up the crime.”

Authorities consulted for this article agreed, as one source put it, that having hands tied behind one’s back in a hanging “does not necessarily indicate homicide but certainly requires additional investigation.”

>Al Amri’s relatives, as well, were highly dubious about the suicide verdict and, according to a report in Arab News, demanded an inquiry into his death. A Saudi official involved in monitoring “the condition of Saudi nationals being held in Guantanamo … also ruled out the suicide theory.” A follow-up story for Arab News claimed that a Saudi Interior Ministry spokesperson had indicated “a special medical committee would do an autopsy and then prepare a report that will be sent to US authorities on any particular inquires.” No such report has ever surfaced publicly. A request for comment by the Saudi Interior Ministry had not been returned by press time.

There are other curious aspects to the details surrounding Al Amri’s death. Authorities state that a ligature – the rope or other cord-like devise, in Al Amri’s case possibly torn or cut-up bed sheets, used in strangulation – must be long enough for the purpose of hanging. According to the autopsy report, the ligature in Al Amri’s case was only 22 and on-half inches long, inclusive of the portion around the neck.

Curiously, the ligature also had toward its more distant end “a 4-inch area of dark soiling with attached dark hairs.” The report does not state whose hairs these are or why they are there. Since a DNA test was run to verify the prisoner’s identity, presumably the hairs could have been identified as well, but there is no indication they were so identified.

The autopsy examiners assume that altered bed sheets were used for the hanging. But according to a summarized witness statement (pg. 7) by Maj. Gen. (ret.) Mike Dunleavy, who became commander of Guantanamo’s interrogation Task Force 170 in February 2002, the sheets used at Guantanamo were “changed” under his order “to the sheets in the federal prison system so they can’t be torn or tied.”

This previously unreported fact calls into question the narrative on Al Amri’s death, as well as that of the three 2006 Guantanamo “suicides,” who were said to have fashioned nooses, in part, out of torn bed sheets. Indeed, former detainees have questioned the suicides of these prisoners, in part, because they did not have “bed sheets that could easily be constructed into a noose.” Harper’s writer Scott Horton and a team of legal investigators at Seton Hall’s School of Law’s Center for Policy and Research have each conducted critical investigations of the 2006 deaths. More recently, Almerindo Ojeda, principal investigator at the  Guantánamo Testimonials Project, made a compelling argument that the 2006 deaths could have been examples of a torture technique called “dryboarding.” Another book by former Guantanamo guard Joe Hickman examining the 2006 deaths is due out later this year.

Important information appears to have been kept from Al Amri’s autopsy examiners. The examiners remark that the fact Al Amri’s hands were tied behind his back was something only known to them “by report,” but there should have been photographs taken and available to them.

The autopsy report, which does not provide a timeline for the events it describes, explains the supposed circumstances of Al Amri’s death:

“Investigation reveals that a razor blade from a razor was used to cut strips from one or more bed sheets and a ligature was fashioned by braiding these strips together…. The free end of the ligature was attached to a ventilation opening, and [redacted] likely stood on his bedroll to place the noose over his head.”

But, according to the official 2004 Camp Delta “Standard Operating Procedures” manual, razors were contraband items. Razors for shaving were allowed only during shower period, but guards were instructed to “Ensure the return of intact razors.” Moreover, detainees in “segregation” units, i.e., isolation, as was Al Amri, are not supposed to be issued razors during shower period at all, raising questions how he ever obtained a blade, if he did at all.

The autopsy report gives no explanation as to how Al Amri obtained a razor blade. It does mention a “superficial, incised wound” on the forefingers of each of his hands, and these could have come from a razor, although the autopsy report does not conclude what their source is. Neither does the report describe the ventilation opening or how the ligature was attached to it.

Finally, in the toxicology section of the report, the examiners note Al Amri was tested “for screened medications (including mefloquine) and drugs of abuse.” It is odd that screening for mefloquine is specially singled out. Mefloquine is a controversial antimalarial drug, which was mass administered to all detainees upon in-processing at Guantanamo. Over a year ago, Truthout examined the use of this drug, which may have been used for abusive purposes or as part of an illegal, secret experiment.

While no drugs were found, it is strange that Al Amri, who had been in Guantanamo for five years, mostly or entirely in solitary confinement, would be possibly thought to have mefloquine in his system. Only a small handful of Guantanamo prisoners were ever found to have malaria, and they came to the prison with the disease. Cuba is not considered to be malaria endemic, and US service personnel and contractors are not routinely administered mefloquine. Interestingly, one of the three purported Guantanamo suicides in 2006, but not the other two, was also tested for mefloquine.

“Stressors of Confinement”

The autopsy report of Guantanamo detainee number 78, Mohammad Ahmed Abdullah Saleh Al Hanashi, similarly raises serious questions about the circumstances surrounding his death. The prisoner was said to have strangled himself using elastic bands from his underwear.

The report provides details about the medical and psychiatric condition of the Yemeni detainee at the time of his death. According to the report, Al Hanashi had a “long history” of psychiatric problems at the Joint Task Force penal facility, including “adjustment disorder, anti-social personality disorder and stressors of confinement.” (Emphases added.)

The presence of psychiatric problems is consistent with a reported “history of suicide gestures and multiple failed suicide attempts” going back to 2003. The previous attempts included methods of killing oneself such as hanging, “self-inflicted sharp force injuries and frequent blunt force trauma to the head,” as well as “neck ligature,” which is the kind of self-strangulation that was the manner of death found by the autopsy examiners, whose identities were redacted in both Al Hanashi and Al Amri’s reports.

The autopsy document notes that Al Hanashi made five suicide attempts in the four weeks preceding his death. While the report’s authors describe medical authorities’ diagnoses given to the prisoner, including “anti-social personality disorder,” no diagnosis of depression is given, despite the history of serious suicidal behavior.

According to the diagnostic manual of the American Psychiatric Association, used by all government medical doctors and psychologists, a diagnosis of anti-social personality disorder is only given to individuals who show “a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others occurring since age 15 years.” It is difficult to believe that Guantanamo medical staff had this kind of information available to them, raising the possibility the diagnosis was given to taint the prisoner’s behavioral profile.

In addition, the autopsy examiners describe the presence of “dark small raised lesions” on Al Hanashi’s forehead, which they explained were “consistent with reported history of witnessed repeated self-inflicted hitting/banging of the head on the detention facility walls.”

Self-injurious and suicidal behavior are two serious psychiatric symptoms long associated with the kinds of detention conditions found in Supermax prisons, or prisons using special administrative measures, where long-term solitary confinement and forms of sensory and social deprivation are the norm.

Suicide Watch?

Despite the very recent multiple suicide attempts, it is unclear if Al Hanashi was on suicide watch at the time of his death the evening of June 1, 2009, in a cell in the Behavioral Health Unit (BHU) at Joint Task Force Guantanamo Bay. The autopsy report states he “has been on a suicide watch at BHU, where he is seen daily by medical staff.” (Emphases added.)

But was he on suicide watch the day he died? Multiple email requests for clarification from the DoD on this issue, as well as a number of others – such as what was meant by “stressors of confinement” – have gone unanswered. A Truthout FOIA request for the Naval Criminal Investigation Service (NCIS) report on his death is pending.

A June 2008 report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) described the procedures used after some Guantanamo suicide attempts. One detainee was “stripped naked, dressed in a green plastic rip-proof suicide smock, and placed in an individual cell under constant monitoring,” after a single December 2007 suicide attempt. Nothing was allowed in his cell that could be used to injure himself. He was questioned by BHU personnel daily, and only released after two months. Another detainee on suicide watch was also dressed in the suicide smock and allowed nothing “other than a mat for sleeping, a Koran and toilet paper” in his cell.

It is not known how long Al Hanashi had been at the BHU, but if he was on suicide watch, he was not wearing the special suicide smock worn by those typically held under special suicide surveillance. The 31-year-old was discovered on the floor of his cell in a fetal position under a blanket, dressed “in khaki shirt and pants without undergarments.” According to the autopsy report, the clothes were “general issue of the detention center.

The lack of undergarments is unexplained, but since the autopsy posits that Al Hanashi strangled himself using the elastic found in typical underwear distributed to detainees, it is possible that the undergarments are missing because they were used to construct the device by which it is said he asphyxiated himself.

Yet, there is some question about the type of underwear distributed to the detainees at this time. According to an October 17, 2007, article by Carol Rosenberg at the Miami Herald, after the three “suicides” in 2006, camp officials changed “procedures, including more careful monitoring of captives’ belongings, and the changing of captives’ underwear from more elastic briefs to cotton boxers less liable to be used in a hanging.” The report consistently refers to the underwear Al Hanashi supposedly altered as “briefs” or “white briefs.”

The autopsy does not mention any discovery of altered remnants of the undergarments. It says NCIS agents supplied the medical examiners with a replica of the “white brief” issued to the prisoners. The examiners found the ligature on Al Hanashi’s neck to be “identical to the elastic band of the examined brief.”

The autopsy states that “a civilian detainee” (Al Hanashi’s name is strangely redacted at this point in the document) “of unknown age, died from asphyxia due to ligature strangulation by tightly wrapping the elastic band of his underwear around the neck and apparently securing it with a twist on the right side of the neck and a head tilt.” Interestingly, on page 2 of the report, the autopsy examiners state the ligature was twisted “on the left side.” The method of securing the ligature is somewhat obscure.

An expert on asphyxiation, Dr. Steven Miles, told Truthout, “The description of the ligature, suggests garroting of a type that can be done by a person to themself or by another person, i.e., a rod, pen, utensil etc. is put into the ligature and given several twists and then it is removed.” The ligature marks are “consistent with but not conclusive of the use of an underwear band and quite unlike what would be seen with the use of a wire or cord.” Accordingly, along with other medical evidence as reported, Dr. Miles, who criticized the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology for “substandard investigations and reporting of prisoners’ deaths” in his 2006 book “Oath Betrayed,” concurs with the conclusions of the autopsy examiners that the cause of death for Al Hanashi was most likely suicide. He adds the phrase “stressors of confinement” in the report clearly is “a euphemism.”

Timeline Questions

The autopsy report redacts the date of death, but combining the hourly timeline provided in the report with news accounts, it is almost certain Al Hanashi died sometime in the hour prior to midnight on June 1, 2009.

According to the report, approximately 25 minutes elapsed from the time of the last observation of the prisoner to the discovery of his body on the cell floor. In the examiner’s narrative, at “approximately 2120 hours” (9:20 PM) Al Hanashi asked to speak to a nurse, asking for a “sleeping aid.” Indeed, there were two tranquilizers found in the toxicology reports done post-mortem. Both Lorazepam and the metabolite for clonazepam, two common benzodiazepine drugs commonly known as Ativan and Klonopin, were found in the dead man’s urine and blood.

However, it is not known if this is what Al Hanashi was given for sleep, or what drugs, if any, he was prescribed at this time. No other drugs are listed in the toxicology section of the report, except for acetaminophen and pseudoephedrine.

It was “10-15 minutes later,” after his request for medications, that Guantanamo personnel had their last communication with Al Hanashi. This would have been between 2130 and 2135 hours, or between 9:30 PM and 9:35 PM, when the prisoner asked the guard if he could close his “bean hole cover.” The report opines that this was a “sign he was ready to go to sleep.” (The “bean hole” was the slot through which food was given to prisoners.) According to guards, who presumably were interviewed by NCIS, Al Hanashi was in “in ‘good spirit’ and did not appear upset.”

Only “a few minutes later,” the prisoner was “viewed through the cell window and noted to not be breathing.” The report never states the exact amount of time elapsed, though the autopsy examiners report the time of discovery as “approximately 2155 hours,” or 9:55 PM. This would mean that 20 to 25 minutes elapsed before guards or medical staff checked personally on Al Hanashi in his cell, a period that seems to be more than “a few minutes.”

The efforts at resuscitation apparently lasted approximately an hour, as Al Hanashi was pronounced dead at 2259 or 10:59 PM. Medical intervention included use of an external automatic defibrillator, an endotracheal tube and the placement of a central venous line.

Whatever the timeline of the guards’ observations of Al Hanashi, press reports have stated there is “constant video surveillance” inside prisoner cells in the BHU. Furthermore, Guantanamo spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Brook DeWalt told Truthout in November 2009 that, while he couldn’t comment on whether Al Hanashi had been videotaped in his cell, no Guantanamo detainee goes more than “three minutes” without being checked, one way or another. That would be consistent with the “few minutes” noted in the autopsy report, but not with the narrative that presents a lapse of 20 minutes or more. It also tallies with what a prison doctor told journalist Naomi Wolf, who had visited the cells where Al Hanashi had been held in the day or so prior to his death. “They check on prisoners every three minutes,” he told her.

In addition, Wolf reported, “Cortney Busch of Reprieve, a British organization that represents Guantánamo detainees” told her “there is video running on prisoners in the psychiatric ward at all times, and there is a guard posted there continually, too.”

“Tougher Methods” Used on Hunger Strikers

By many accounts, Al Hanashi, like Al Amri, had participated along with other detainees in hunger strikes to protest their situation and treatment. As a result, Al Hanashi, like the other strikers, was forcibly fed at times. Indeed, the autopsy report states, “On January 2009 he started a hunger strike and has been fed enteraly,” that is, fed via a feeding tube. According to the autopsy report, Al Hanashi’s stomach was “distended with partially digested food.” The report does not say what this food could have been, or whether it was liquid food, such as would be fed through a tube. Some of this material was vomited up during the attempts to revive him.

While press reports state the Yemeni prisoner was a long-time hunger striker, Lt. Commander De Walt told reporters shortly after Al Hanashi’s death that the prisoner’s hunger strike had ended in mid-May. In an article for The Associated Press, Guantanamo attorney David Remes, who had a client in the Guantanamo BHU at the same time as Al Hanashi, told reporter David McFadden that “all the prisoners in the ward had been force-fed a liquid nutrition mix through a tube inserted in their noses and down their throats and that al-Hanashi had been the only one force-fed in a restraint chair.”

In another Associated Press article, Remes said there were seven detainees total in the BHU at the time of Al Hanashi’s death.

Guantanamo chronicler Andy Worthington noted in a 2010 article on the “shocking statistics of starvation” at the US “war on terror” Cuban camp that, up to and including Al Hanashi’s death, all the supposed suicides at Guantanamo had been hunger strikers.

A February 2006 story by Tim Golden at The New York Times noted, “tougher measures to force-feed detainees engaged in hunger strikes at Guantánamo Bay,” implemented by US authorities at the time. This includes the period when Al Hanashi was on his final hunger strike. Military authorities have maintained that force-feeding is conducted “in a humane and compassionate manner.”

Golden wrote, “In recent weeks … guards have begun strapping recalcitrant detainees into ‘restraint chairs,’ sometimes for hours a day, to feed them through tubes and prevent them from deliberately vomiting afterward. Detainees who refuse to eat have also been placed in isolation for extended periods in what the officials said was an effort to keep them from being encouraged by other hunger strikers.”

The “tougher measures” had reduced hunger strikers to only four by December 2005, suggesting that Al Hanashi was one of a handful of hunger strikers. Moreover, it means Al Hanashi initiated his 2006 hunger strike when the harsher methods were already in place. Attorney Elisabeth Gilson, who had a client on the psychiatric ward at the same time Al Hanashi was there, called the force-feeding “abusive and inhumane.”

Testimony From a Detainee Witness

One of the released Guantanamo detainees, Binyam Mohamed, told the press that Al Hanashi had been a leader among the prisoners. In a June 11, 2009, story published at the Miami Herald, he said Al Hanashi, whom he calls Wadhah, weighed only 104 lbs. the last time he saw him in January 2009.

Mohamed stated that he was “force-fed together” with Al Hanashi. According to Mohamed, he last saw Al Hanashi on January 17, 2006, when the Yemeni prisoner “was taken outside Camp 5 to meet with the Joint Task Force commander, Adm. David Thomas, and the Joint Detention Group commander, Col. Bruce Vargo.” According to Mohamed’s account, Al Hanashi had agreed to be a prisoner’s representative “on camp issues such as hunger strikes and other contentious issues.” Al Hanashi never returned to his cell, and nothing was known of his fate among the detainees outside BHU until his death was announced.

Given what is known of the six months prior to Al Hanashi’s purported suicide, we are to believe that at the same time Al Hanashi restarted his hunger strike, he also became a prisoner’s representative and met with top camp officials. At some point, he was placed in the camp’s BHU. By mid-May, he had ended his hunger strike, but had also began a series of suicide attempts, for which he was placed on suicide watch. On the night of his death, he appears to have not been on suicide watch, since he was not found wearing the regularly issued suicide smock. He was in “good spirit,” yet he supposedly killed himself minutes later, after taking two different sedating tranquilizers, all while under supposed constant or near-constant surveillance.

No medical staff, camp guard or other prison or military official has ever been disciplined for presumed failures of standard operating procedures surrounding any of the Guantanamo “suicides,” at least so far as is known.

Stress and Mental Illness at Guantanamo

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) found as early as June 2003 that the conditions of confinement at Guantanamo were “tantamount to torture,” as was documented in a “Memorandum for the Record to Major General Geoffrey Miller” on October 8, 2003. Questions about psychological torture at the Navy base prison were raised by ICRC as early as January 2003. According a New York Times article by Neil Lewis, “the Red Cross team found a far greater incidence of mental illness produced by stress than did American medical authorities, much of it caused by prolonged solitary confinement.”

The stressors of confinement at Guantanamo are many, and include the anxiety and tension associated with indefinite detention, isolation, long bouts of intense interrogation, behavioral controls of reward and punishment, periods of sleep deprivation, lack of access for years to an attorney, separation from family and loved ones, cruel treatment and at times torture.

A two-part series published at Truthout last year raised the question of whether waterboarding occurred at Guantanamo, and documented numerous occasions when similar forms of water torture was, in fact, used.

Other forms of detainee torture at Guantanamo, as documented in a 2006 report by the UN’s Commission on Human Rights, included sensory deprivation and sensory overload, exposure to cold, exposure to extreme violence and cultural and religious harassment.

One particular form of abuse that caused great controversy was the policy, still in place, of force-feeding hunger strikers. A report in the August 2007 Journal of the American Medical Association concluded, “force-feeding at Guantanamo Bay violates the Geneva Conventions, international human rights law, and medical ethics.”

Some of the Guantanamo detainees were persistently force-fed for years. The UN report noted that some forms of forced feeding, including accounts of the practice at Guantanamo, amount to torture.

Why Did Al Hanashi Die?

Whether or not Al Hanashi died a suicide, the question remains why he was driven to such a desperate measure, or why those in charge of his care failed so miserably to keep him alive. While his death may have been due to the stresses of torture and imprisonment, bringing the prisoner to despair and suicide, there may have been other, more distal causes affecting his situation.

Al Hanashi may have been singled out, along with Al Amri, as a trouble maker. Al Hanashi’s June 2008 detainee assessment, written as a memorandum for the commander of US Southern Command, labeled him a “HIGH threat from a detention perspective.” The report complained that Al Hanashi’s “overall behavior has been non-compliant and hostile to the guard force and staff.” The report, which was part of a large release of detainee files by WikiLeaks last year, listed “163 Reports of Disciplinary Infraction” up to that date, including “inciting and participating in mass disturbances, failure to follow guard instructions/camp rules, inappropriate use of bodily fluids, unauthorized communications, damage to government property, attempted assaults, assaults, provoking words and gestures, exposure of sexual organs, and possession of food and non-weapon type contraband.”

The report also describes the DoD’s version of Al Hanashi’s connections to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. While Al Hanashi admitted in a written response to a Combatant Status Review Tribunal hearing that he had associated with the Taliban, hedenied any association with al-Qaeda. The DoD relied for that claim on the interrogations of two detainees known to have been repeatedly torturedAbu Zubaydah and Sanad Ali Yislam al-Kazimi.

November 2009 Truthout article by this author speculated whether Al Hanashi’s death had anything to do with thepossibility that he was a material witness to the 2002 mass killings by Afghan Gen. Abdul Dostum, which possibly included knowledge or participation by US forces. (The Obama administration has refused to investigate the atrocity.) Al Hanashi had been imprisoned and then wounded at Qala-i-Janghi Prison, where there had been an uprising by Taliban prisoners. (His DoD assessment notes that, in interrogation, John Walker Lindh stated that Al Hanashi had helped negotiate the surrender of the prisoners.) Afterward, he was sent to Shabraghan Prison, where he spent the next four weeks or so recuperating in the prison hospital. In the hospital at the same time were survivors from the mass execution of Taliban prisoners. The bulk of the Taliban POWs had presumably been dumped in mass graves at Dasht-i-Leili.

A major news story by The New York Times on the Afghan mass graves, and a report on the forensic evidence gathered in the case was released in the month after Al Hanashi’s death. The Times report by journalist James Risen noted “several Afghan witnesses” to the slaughter “were later tortured or killed.” Had Al Hanashi talked to survivors of the massacre, and if so, what could he have said about it?

Interestingly, Dostum’s denial of any involvement in the murder of Taliban prisoners was posted just after the Times story broke at the web site for the US government-backed Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty web site, suggesting the US was actively involved in disseminating misinformation on the war atrocity.

Former detainee Binyam Mohamed, who knew Al Hanashi, found it difficult to believe he would take his own life, and felt Al Hanashi was murdered. “If he did take his life – after being forced into a BHU – what put him there?” Mohamed asked. “Who takes responsibility for making him lose hope after having held on for so many years, despite the inhumane treatment and conditions?”

Another Suicide

Al Amri’s death came almost exactly one year, and Al Hanashi’s death almost three years, to the day after three detainees were found dead on one night in June 2006. Another detainee, former British resident Shaker Aamer, was reportedly also beaten severely and suffocated by Guantanamo personnel on the same night. Aamer’s case has been a focus of British activists seeking his release.

All these deaths were called suicide by the DoD, and the investigations into them apparently proceeded with only the presumption of suicide. Even Al Amri, who had died with hands tied behind his back, was labeled a suicide by autopsy examiners only days after his death, with no indication of possible investigation into homicide.

In May 2011, a 37-year-old detainee, Inayatullah, also known asHajji Nassim, was found dead, reportedly hanging by bed sheets, in a recreation yard at Guantanamo. Nassim’s Guantanamo detainee assessment is one of 14 missing from the WikiLeaks Guantanamo release. Nassim’s attorney, federal public defender Paul Rashkind, has told the press that his client had attempted suicide twice before at Guantanamo, and was the long-time victim of “a paralyzing psychosis” that had begun long before he was sent to Guantanamo in September 2007.

According to the US government, Nassim was “an admitted planner for Al-Qaeda terrorist operations.” Nassim’s court filings also identify him under the alias “Harun Al-Afghani” and “Mohammed Naseem.” Other reports have described him as a father of six, “the owner of a black market cellphone store in Zahedan, Iran,” and someone who, sometime after his capture, stopped cooperating with US authorities under detention because he could not “afford his fellow Afghani detainees to believe that he cooperates with US intelligence.”

Rashkind would not answer Truthout queries about his client’s case, stating, “everything is classified.”

This work by Truthout is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why this report now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10:19 am in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

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

According to a November 13 NSA press release:

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

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

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

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

Revelations on U.S. Recruitment of Nazis

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to the UK Guardian:

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

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

Again, from the UK Guardian article:

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

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

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

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

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

War Criminal Kissinger Top Speaker at State Department Conference

3:36 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

There was also a deficiency in imagination likely to circumscribe the value of any study by Kissinger of Kissinger. Asked about his role in the Cambodian war, in which an estimated five hundred thousand people died, he’d said, "I may have a lack of imagination, but I fail to see the moral issue involved." — Joseph Heller, Good as Gold (Kissinger’s original quote is from William Shawcross’s Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon, and the Destruction of Cambodia)

Fred Branfman has a great article up over at AlterNet pillorying the State Department’s invitation to Henry Kissinger to address a conference on "the American Experience in Southeast Asia, 1946-1975." The conference was scheduled for September 29-30 at the George C. Marshall Conference Center at the U.S. Department of State. Along with bona fide war criminal Kissinger, the other invitees included current Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard C. Holbrooke, and Former Deputy Secretary of State, and Former Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte.

It was only last April here at The Seminal/Firedoglake that I reported on the declassification of a 1976 State Department cable from Henry Kissinger to "his assistant secretary of state for Inter-American affairs, Harry Shlaudeman, to cancel a formal demarche to the Uruguayan government, protesting the assassinations and other activities of Operation Condor." Only five days later, former Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier and his assistant Ronnie Moffat were assassinated on the streets of Washington, D.C. by a CIA-supported Chilean secret police killer.

But, as the Obama administration rehabilitation of the odious Kissinger demonstrates, memory is short in Washington, even when there is blood on the streets… unless that blood can be turned in for demagogic currency, as is the case with the deaths on 9/11. To have Kissinger honored as an authority on the Indochinese War is an obscenity of the first order. Branfman recalls some of the essential history:  . . . Read the rest of this entry →

Grand Guignol in Afghanistan: U.S. Soldiers Kill for “Sport”, Collect Fingers as “Trophies”

1:30 pm in Afghanistan, Countries in Conflict, Military by Jeff Kaye

UK Guardian: "Twelve American soldiers face charges over a secret ‘kill team’ that allegedly blew up and shot Afghan civilians at random and collected their fingers as trophies."

In the U.S., there’s been little coverage of this tale of U.S. atrocities, first reported last week. It must not be as important as the latest Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck piece. But here’s Hal Bernton at the Seattle Times reporting a story the New York Times and Washington Post have still failed to report:

As part of one of the widest-ranging U.S. war-crime cases to emerge from the conflict in Afghanistan, charging documents released Wednesday allege soldiers took finger bones and other body parts cut from Afghan corpses.

The documents provide new public details of the cases against a dozen soldiers who served a year in southern Afghanistan with a Western Washington-based Stryker infantry brigade.

But wait! Maybe there is a Palin angle:

Army investigators have built a substantial portion of their case upon the statements of Spc. Jeremy Morlock, of Wasilla, Alaska, who is alleged to have participated in some of the crimes.

War atrocities are unfortunately not that uncommon, but the U.S. sanitized coverage of the military actions of American soldiers abroad guarantees that this kind of thing rarely reaches the ears of "Homeland" citizens. For a disturbing, yet partial list of such atrocities in Afghanistan, see this CommonDreams article from last April. Of course, in no small measure, the impact of the Wikileaks leak of thousands of U.S. documents on Afghanistan was to publicize the killings of civilians and how they were repeatedly covered up. On the other hand, when last year there were reports the Taliban cut off the fingers of two Afghan voters, Fox News and the right-wing war propaganda machine were right on top of it.  . . . Read the rest of this entry →

NYT Editorial Calls for Investigations on Illegal Torture Experiments

9:55 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

The June 8 New York Times will carry an editorial, "Doctors Who Aid Torture," that endorses the recommendation of Physicians for Human Rights in their new report, "Experiments in Torture: Evidence of Human Subject Research and Experimentation in the ‘Enhanced’ Interrogation Program" (PDF), for investigations by the executive branch and Congress of the charges of illegal human experimental research undertaken in support of Bush and Cheney’s torture program. The editorial is online now.

Disturbing new questions have been raised about the role of doctors and other medical professionals in helping the Central Intelligence Agency subject terrorism suspects to harsh treatment, abuse and torture….

The report from the physicians’ group [PHR] does not prove its case beyond doubt — how could it when so much is still hidden? — but it rightly calls on the White House and Congress to investigate the potentially illegal human experimentation and whether those who authorized or conducted it should be punished. Those are just two of the many unresolved issues from the Bush administration that President Obama and Congressional leaders have swept under the carpet. [bold emphasis added]

Within only a day of the report’s release, there has been an amazing amount of coverage, from the New York Times itself, to Scott Horton at Harper’s, Jason Leopold at Truthout, Marcy Wheeler at Emptywheel, Adam Serwer at The American Prospect/Tapped, and dozens of other commentators and news outlets. I had my own article covering the report’s release yesterday.

Especially interesting was an interview at BoingBoing with the reports lead medical author, Dr. Scott Allen. The story has also penetrated the academic and scientific communities with stories at Nature and Scientific American.

You don’t charge "Nuremberg crimes" and not have people sit up and listen.

In their report, PHR charged that "Health professionals working for and on behalf of the CIA monitored the interrogations of detainees, collected and analyzed the results of [the] interrogations, and sought to derive generalizable inferences to be applied to subsequent interrogations." In other words, they engaged in research. Except, when you engage in research with human beings, you must get their full informed consent. The history of government research is replete with criminal failures to do that, with tragic results.

In recent history, the Tuskegee Syphilis Study and the U.S. government’s Human Radiation Experiments are two of the more egregious examples. Another example are the MK-ULTRA and Artichoke and other mind-control experiments of the 1950s-1970s.

In the case of the CIA "enhanced interrogation" program (EIP), the government used medical professionals (doctors and psychologists) to determine the parameters of the torture techniques, to make them conform to the twisted ideas of John Yoo, David Addington and Jay Bybee about the torture and what constituted "severe pain," so they could write a near-blank check for torture in the Office of Legal Counsel memos approving the EIP. While Yoo was gaming the system by drawing definitions out of obscure Medicare regulations, the doctors and psychologists at CIA black sites were determining whether or not extending sleep deprivation, the amount of water during waterboarding, and manipulating various combination of torture techniques would cause severe pain — or not. This patently constituted unethical research in the service of constructing an illegal, experimental torture program.

A Hideous Crime

Using people as guinea pigs without their consent, i.e., against their will, or indifferent to their will, in the name of science, is a crime. When practiced upon prisoners, it is a war crime. A hideous crime with special reference to the place of doctors and psychologists in our society.

Doctors/psychologists who work for the state to "refine the techniques" of torture upon unwilling subjects, subjects indeed held prisoner, are guilty of war crimes under a number of different laws, including laws that forbid illegal research and experimentation. It is like those doctors who were interested in how little food a concentration camp prisoner could survive on, so they studied the reactions of the prisoners to various diets. They did not want them to die (if they did), and one could say they were trying to help the prisoners. Just substitute interrogation for diet and one gets a sense of the issue. (In a bizarre similarity to the concentration camps example here, it is remarkable that the CIA doctors also experimented with putting waterboarded prisoners on a liquid diet "so their emesis would be soft and less likely to cause choking or aspiration pneumonia if the detainee were to vomit." See pg. 9 of PHR’s report.)

One important aspect of the PHR report covered the ways in which the government manipulated the war crimes laws in order to cover for their crimes. In 2006, Congress passed and Bush signed the Military Commissions Act. This law changed the wording of the 1996 War Crimes Act to soften the language around war crimes concerning "biological experimentation," which had formerly been derived from the Geneva Convention’s implementation of the Nuremberg protocols.

As I noted on June 6:

While there is some evidence that the Bush administration was concerned with loosening the legal parameters surrounding research using human subjects (story to come), there is no evidence, as PHR’s White Paper points out, that OLC ever considered the legality of the medical monitoring of prisoners as part of the CIA torture program. According to Director of PHR’s Campaign Against Torture and lead report author, Nathaniel A. Raymond, “Justice Department lawyers appear to have never assessed the lawfulness of the alleged research on detainees in CIA custody, despite how essential it appears to have been to their legal cover for torture.”

The failure to assess the lawfulness of the illegal experiments they were conducting may yet turn out to be the Achilles heel of the Bush/Cheney torture program. The use of prisoners as guinea pigs affronts every sense of decency. I salute the New York Times editorial board for making the right call and supporting PHR in their call for investigations.

The CIA has been quoted as denying any wrong doing. In James Risen’s article earlier today at the Times:

“The report is just wrong,” said Paul Gimigliano, an agency spokesman. “The C.I.A. did not, as part of its past detention program, conduct human subject research on any detainee or group of detainees. The entire detention effort has been the subject of multiple, comprehensive reviews within our government, including by the Department of Justice.”

I suspect the CIA did consider the issue of human subject research. There is too much evidence of manipulation of laws and policies surrounding research (some of which has not yet been reported upon) to make me think differently. My hypothesis is that they have some document or memo somewhere approving the use of medical monitors in what they will call the "field testing" of the EIP. But this will await the issuance of subpoenas to confirm.

In a phone conference this afternoon, Raymond told those present, "It is time for an investigation. We’ve shown our evidence, and it’s time for the administration to show theirs."

H/T to Jason Leopold for pointing me to the NYT editorial

Atrocity: U.S. Massacre of Afghan Children in Ghazi Khan

1:54 am in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

Blogger David Swanson has done yeoman’s work in directing attention to news reports of the U.S. counterinsurgency executions of ten people in the dead of night last week — eight of them schoolchildren as young as ten years old. Swanson’s website, AfterDowningStreet.org, has some excellent commentary on the story, including links to most of the major articles in the mainstream press.

According to the London Times, "Locals said that some victims were handcuffed before being killed." David Lindorff at AfterDowningStreet comments on how the atrocity of the killings was buried in the New York Times article on the story:

Let’s be clear here. If the charges are correct, that American forces, or American-led forces, are handcuffing their victims and then executing them, then they are committing egregious war crimes. If they are killing children, they are committing equally egregious war crimes. If they are handcuffing and executing children, the atrocity is beyond horrific. This incident, if true, would actually be worse than the infamous war crime that occurred in My Lai during the Vietnam War. In that case, we had ordinary soldiers in the field, acting under the orders of several low-ranking officers in the heat of an operation, shooting and killing women, children and babies. But in this case we appear to have seasoned special forces troops actually directing the taking captives, cuffing them, herding them into a room, and spraying them with bullets, execution style.

Given the history of the commanding general in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, who is known to have run a massive death squad operation in Iraq before being named to his current post by President Obama, and who is known to have called for the same kind of tactics in Afghanistan, it should not be surprising that the US would now be committing atrocities in Afghanistan. If this is how this war is going to be conducted, though, the US media should be making a major effort to uncover and expose the crime.

There have been protests by hundreds of university students in Jalalabad over a rise in civilian deaths in the Afghanistan war, and particularly over the shootings of the schoolchildren.

"The government must prevent such unilateral operations otherwise we will take guns instead of pens and fight against them (foreign forces)," students from the University of Nangahar’s education faculty said in a statement.

Marching through the main street of Jalalabad, the students chanted "death to Obama" and "death to foreign forces", witnesses said.

Meanwhile, Lindorff directs us to a New Years Day story in the London Times, which reports that Afghanistan President Hamid Kharzai’s security chiefs are demanding that the killers be turned over to the Afghan government, noting that the chief UN representative in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, has corroborated the story of the murder of the students.

The call heightens a war of words between the Afghan Government and its powerful military backers. It is the first time that Mr Karzai has tried to hold foreign forces directly accountable for killing civilians, although he has issued impassioned responses to civilian casualties that threaten to undermine Nato’s mission in Afghanistan.

It also reflects the growing assertiveness of a Government that precariously held its position after fraudriddled elections in August and open criticism from Nato countries over corruption.

The Times article continues, quoting NATO sources (bold emphasis added):

Conventional US units told investigators that they had no knowledge of the operation, in Narang district in eastern Kunar province. Assadullah Wafa, who led the investigation, said that US troops flew to Kunar from Kabul late on Saturday. Nato sources said that the foreigners involved were non-military, suggesting that they were part of a secret paramilitary unit based in the capital.

Mr Wafa said that they landed helicopters outside the village and walked in at the dead of night before shooting the children at close range. “They were children, they were civilians, they were innocent,” he said. “I condemn this attack"….

Nato’s International Security Assistance Force said there was “no direct evidence to substantiate” the Government’s claims that unarmed civilians were harmed in the “joint coalition and Afghan security force” operation.

Spencer Ackerman, who early on was reporting on the murky initial reports surrounding the massacre, has posted General Stanley McChystal’s call for a joint U.S.-Afghan investigation into the killings. The Pentagon statement is notable for its starchy sang-froid, given that eight students under 18 were brutally murdered in the middle of the night, most of them from the same family. The joint U.S.-Afghan unit that supposedly did the killings was supposedly investigating an IED bomb-making factory.

An initial review by a Government of Afghanistan delegation asserted that the dead were unarmed civilians removed by international forces from their homes and shot. While there is no direct evidence to substantiate these claims, ISAF has requested and welcomes an immediate joint investigation to reach an impartial and accurate determination of the events that occurred.

ISAF is a committed partner with the government and people of Afghanistan, and as such we embrace the responsibility to conduct our operations with the strictest degree of constraint to avoid civilian casualties. If we fail to meet this highest standard to which we subject ourselves, we will always look within to improve our capacity to avert unintended consequences in the future.

"… we will always look within"? What the hell is that supposed to mean? It reads like a not-so-veiled threat to others to back off. Well, it’s the U.S. government, and U.S. society as a whole, that should be looking within, deeply within. The news of a bloody, gangland-style execution of children by U.S. or U.S.-backed special operations unit, in a war led by a Special Operations general, should have members of Congress screaming hell, with hair on fire, to get that general back before a Congressional committee under oath, and find out what the hell is going on, and prosecute those responsible, up to and including those who ordered the mission.

Of course, the U.S. should not be in Afghanistan at all. The story that it is seeking out Osama bin Laden, or that it is fighting to end terrorism, has grown quite old over the last eight years. Instead, it is the U.S. government that has taken on the role of terrorist. The "war on terror" has exemplified Nietzsche’s dire adage, that if one spends too long staring into the abyss, the abyss stares back into you.

Also posted at Invictus