Archive for the ‘Torture’ Category

Another Death at Guantánamo

May 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Obama signing order to close Guantánamo, January 21, 2009

[Doug Mills/The New York Times]

An Afghan prisoner at Guantánamo died yesterday, apparently by suicide. In the NYT At War blog site, Andrew Lehren writes unquestioningly today that the detainee

had worked as a courier for senior officials for Al Qaeda in Pakistan, a job similar to those who ultimately were instrumental in leading the United States military to tracking down Osama bin Laden, according to government documents.

The United States government, in 2009 federal court filings, portrayed him as a courier who worked with senior Qaeda officials in Pakistan and Iran, delivering correspondence and supplies. He also helped guide soldiers into Afghanistan.

Lehrer provides no substantiation of these accusations. Do we really believe whatever the government says about Guantánamo detainees? If the guy is so obviously guilty, why was he never charged with a crime? Fortunately, the Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg provided a little more sanity.

Inayatullah, 37, was one of the last captives brought to the controversial camps in southeast Cuba by the Bush administration. He arrived in September 2007, and was described as an Al Qaeda emir in Iran who planned and directed the group’s terror operations.

His lawyer, Miami public defender Paul Raskind, countered that the man who died was never known as Inayatullah anywhere but in Guantánamo, never had a role in Al Qaeda and was in fact named Hajji Nassim and ran a cellphone shop in Iran near the Afghan border.

Rashkind also acknowledged that his client had a history of psychological problems that the military recognized at Guantánamo. “I have no doubt it was a suicide,” he said by telephone while traveling in St. Louis.

The Afghan’s mental health problems became so profound last year that Rashkind arranged to bring a civilian psychiatrist to the base to work with the man.

“This is really a sad mental health case … starting from childhood,” he said. At Guantánamo, “they treated him pretty humanely, I’d have to say.”

Legal sources familiar with the case added that the Afghan had spent long stretches in the psychiatric ward at Guantánamo and had previous episodes where he had tried to harm himself.


Less is known about Inayatullah than most Guantanamo captives at this stage. Publicly released Information on him, aside from the report of his death, comes from a single Sept. 12, 2007 Pentagon press release that announced his arrival at Guantanamo as the alleged confessed al Qaeda “emir,” or chief, in Zahedan, in southeastern Iran, near the Pakistan-Afghan border.

The press release alleged he “collaborated with numerous senior al Qaeda leaders” and had a personal hand in “global terrorist efforts” — notably smuggling foreign fighters between Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq.

He was never charged with a crime and was never known to undergo a combatant status review tribunal at Guantanamo, a procedure designed by the Pentagon to evaluate whether he met the criteria for indefinite detention as an “enemy combatant,” a standard established early in the administration of President George W. Bush. …

His attorney, Rashkind, called his case “an outlier” in the prison camp processes, partly because he was brought there so late in the camps’ history and partly because of his mental health issues. He was never designated for trial nor for indefinite detention nor release, Rashkind said.

“To me this is a human tragedy,” said Rashkind, who has defended four Guantánamo captives. “I don’t think he belonged there at all.”

Was I dreaming or did Obama issue an order when he took office to close Guantánamo in order to “restore the standards of due process and the core constitutional values that have made this country great even in the midst of war, even in dealing with terrorism.”? Let’s see. According to this NYT article on January 22, 2009, it really happened.

What a disgrace!

Categories: Law, Torture

War Criminals Ascendant

May 15, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s bad enough that in the wake of Bin Laden’s killing, Bush’s old torture crew came out of the woodwork to take credit. But worse, we’ve had guest appearances in the news this past week from criminal Secretaries of State.

I don’t know why Condi Rice thinks she deserves a free ride for her lead roles in lying about the basis for the Iraq War and sanctioning torture. But there she was a week ago, holding forth at Stanford Law School about international relations. She did not go unchallenged, as you can see in the video above. Whatever a viewer may think about violations of the rules of decorum, at least the protestors got their facts right.

And now Henry, shameless violator of international law, is back, cashing in yet again with a new book On China, reviewed by Max Frankel in today’s NYT.

I know Condi and Henry will never be held accountable. I know they will not show remorse for their actions. But why must we continue to reward them?

Categories: Politics, Torture, War

Life of a War Criminal

May 1, 2011 Leave a comment

[Robyn Twomey for The New York Times]

Ah, the life of a war criminal in 2011 America. Start wars based on manufactured evidence. Torture people. Then leave office and rake in the money with public appearances in front of idolizing crowds. Plus all those network TV cameos at major sporting events.

If you rank high enough in our country’s government, this is what awaits you. President will do. Vice-president. Secretary of Defense. And Secretary of State.

Condoleezza, life is good. And today you get to be the featured interviewee in the NYT Sunday magazine, with Andrew Goldman asking the tough questions.

I’ve read that people consider you almost incapable of admitting a mistake. What do you consider to be the biggest of your career?
You know, I’ve done pretty well. I don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on the past that way.

You can’t think of just one?
I’m certain I can find many. It’s just not a very fruitful exercise.

Of course, Obama set the tone on this three weeks into his presidency when he declared, “My view is also that nobody’s above the law and, if there are clear instances of wrongdoing, that people should be prosecuted just like any ordinary citizen. But that, generally speaking, I’m more interested in looking forward than I am in looking backwards.”

Bipartisanship at its best.

Categories: Politics, Torture

Change We Can Believe In, XIII

March 12, 2011 Leave a comment

Change We Can Believe In: Mainstreaming brutality

In the last two posts of my Change We Can Believe In series (here and here), I wrote about the recent escalation in the mistreatment of PFC Bradley Manning at the Quantico brig, where he is held in solitary confinement and now forced to spend nights naked. Thursday, while speaking to a small audience at MIT, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley described Manning’s treatment as “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.”

News of Crowley’s comments first appeared in a blog of Philippa Thomas, who was at the event, and who concluded her account with the note that:

A few minutes later, I had a chance to ask a question. “Are you on the record?” I would not be writing this if he’d said no. There was an uncomfortable pause. “Sure.” So there we are.

Crowley’s comments were widely covered yesterday, with Crowley confirming to Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin that they were indeed on the record, adding that “What I said was my personal opinion. It does not reflect an official USG policy position. I defer to the Department of Defense regarding the treatment of Bradley Manning.”

ABC’s Jake Tapper asked President Obama yesterday if he agreed with Crowley’s comments.

President Obama said Friday that he’d “asked the Pentagon whether or not the procedures that have been taken in terms of his confinement are appropriate and are meeting our basic standards.”

Pentagon officials, he said, “assure me that they are. I can’t go into details about some of their concerns, but some of this has to do with Private Manning’s safety as well.”

Asked if he therefore disagreed with P.J. Crowley, President Obama sidestepped the question, saying he’d responded “to the substantive issue.”

Manning’s safety! Yes, the Defense Department has said Manning may commit suicide, and if there’s even a kernel of truth to this, it’s because they have been systematically driving him crazy by using the same techniques used on prisoners in Guantánamo. But is he really going to kill himself with his underwear? As Manning’s lawyer, David Coombs, explained last week,

his client’s clothing was taken away at night after Manning commented that if he wanted to harm himself, he could do it with “the elastic waistband of his underwear or with his flip-flops.”

He now has to strip every night before bed and also stand outside his cell naked during an inspection every morning, after which his clothes will be returned. He will be allowed to have two blankets at night.

Military officials said the move was a “precautionary measure” to prevent Manning from injuring himself.

Obama’s response yesterday lends credence to Alex Knapp’s observation in a blog post at Outside the Beltway last Monday that Obama is mainstreaming brutality. Well, Knapp doesn’t lay the blame entirely on Obama. Rather, he lays out a familiar, decade-long process. Obama is just the endpoint.

What I find most troubling is that until Obama acquiesced in this process, one could imagine it was a short-term Bush-Cheney aberration. Indeed, many voted for Obama in the belief that he would ensure the short-term, aberrational character of the Bush-Cheney brutality. Instead, by sanctioning such brutality, Obama is ensuring instead that it will move into the mainstream. Knapp explains:

I’ve been trying for the past couple weeks to write about Bradley Manning, but I can’t. It makes me sick to my stomach. The whole trend of brutality and betrayal of American ideals over the past decade makes me sick to my stomach.

We have gone from being the first country that established the principle that prisoners of war should be treated respectfully to a country that operates black sites and sends prisoners to other countries to be tortured–when we don’t torture them ourselves.

In the American Revolution, the number one cause of death for American soldiers was maltreatment and disease in British POW camps. In the Civil War, Andersonville was a cause of national outrage. In the early 20th century, the United States emphatically supported the adoption of the Geneva Conventions. In World War II, German soldiers happily surrendered to Americans in the West, knowing they’d be well treated. But in the East, they fought the Russians to the last man because they knew they wouldn’t be.

Now, in the 21st century, we send robot planes to bomb civilians in a country that’s ostensibly an ally. We have prisons where people are routinely denied basic essentials, denied due process, are maltreated and tortured. We reverse decades of tradition and not only have legalized assassination, but have legalized assassination of United States citizens.


Then in 2008, one major reason why I voted for Barack Obama was because he forcefully claimed to be opposed to such policies. And I was mad that that was actually a voting issue for me, because you’d think that not torturing people is a moral no-brainer.

But, as it turned out, Obama lied.

Now, as I look to vote in 2012, I realize that just like in 2000, no part of my consideration for any of the candidates will involve their positions on torture, war crimes, secret prisons, renditions, etc.
Because both candidates will be in favor. Without apology.

Categories: Law, Politics, Torture

Change We Can Believe In, XII, Part 2

March 6, 2011 Leave a comment

Change We Can Believe In: Torturing US Citizens Awaiting Trial

Three days ago, I wrote of the latest mistreatment of PFC Bradley Manning, being held in solitary confinement and, in recent days, overnight forced nudity at the Quantico brig. Over the last nine months, as summarized here, these are the conditions of his detention:

23-hour/day solitary confinement; barred even from exercising in his cell; one hour total outside his cell per day where he’s allowed to walk around in circles in a room alone while shackled, and is returned to his cell the minute he stops walking; forced to respond to guards’ inquiries literally every 5 minutes, all day, everyday; and awakened at night each time he is curled up in the corner of his bed or otherwise outside the guards’ full view.

And now forced nudity. This because he released classified documents, an act for which he has yet to be tried, much less convicted. Regardless of one’s views about the damage done by WikiLeaks (and the newspapers that published the documents released by WikiLeaks, though as I mentioned three days ago, I haven’t seen the NYT’s Keller arrested), what is the justification for this treatment? UCLA professor Mark Kleiman, no fan of WikiLeaks, wrote this on Friday under the heading Bradley Manning, meet George Orwell (boldface mine, and hat tip, Glenn Greenwald):

The United States Army is so concerned about Bradley Manning’s health that it is subjecting him to a regime designed to drive him insane. That’s old news. Now we learn that the Army is so concerned about his right to privacy it refused to explain why he is being stripped naked and forced to stand outside his cell.

Yes, yes, PFCs don’t get to decide to release a bunch of classified material. Manning has probably earned himself a prison cell. And I can understand the desire to pressure him into implicating Julian Assange.

All of that said: This is a total disgrace. It shouldn’t be happening in this country. You can’t be unaware of this, Mr. President. Silence gives consent.

Those last two sentences were the point of my previous post, though I failed to say make the point as well.

See also this piece by Ryan Gallagher in today’s Guardian (h/t to Greenwald again). Here is Gallagher’s closing paragraph:

“Government whistleblowers are part of a healthy democracy and must be protected from reprisal,” said Barack Obama in 2008. But the stench of his hypocrisy is no longer bearable. It is time, now more than ever, that Bradley Manning received the justice he so clearly deserves.

Categories: Law, Torture

Change We Can Believe In, XII

March 3, 2011 Leave a comment

Change We Can Believe In: Torturing US Citizens Awaiting Trial

Didn’t President Obama announce the end of torture shortly after taking office? Let’s see. Here’s an article by Charlie Savage In the NYT of January 23 in which we find:

Mr. Obama sought otherwise to send a signal to the world that he was breaking with Bush administration policies, which he often called wrong and counterproductive during his presidential campaign. In one move, he ordered his government not to rely on any legal opinions concerning interrogation produced by the Justice Department or other agencies between Sept. 11, 2001, and Tuesday, when he assumed the presidency.

“We believe we can abide by a rule that says, We don’t torture, but we can effectively obtain the intelligence we need,” Mr. Obama said in his televised statement.

Okay. Then how do we describe what is being done to PFC Bradley Manning of WikiLeaks fame? As Glenn Greenwald first reported, in December, Manning

has never been convicted of [leaking classified documents], nor of any other crime. Despite that, he has been detained at the U.S. Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia for five months — and for two months before that in a military jail in Kuwait — under conditions that constitute cruel and inhumane treatment and, by the standards of many nations, even torture. Interviews with several people directly familiar with the conditions of Manning’s detention, ultimately including a Quantico brig official (Lt. Brian Villiard) who confirmed much of what they conveyed, establishes that the accused leaker is subjected to detention conditions likely to create long-term psychological injuries.

Since his arrest in May, Manning has been a model detainee, without any episodes of violence or disciplinary problems. He nonetheless was declared from the start to be a “Maximum Custody Detainee,” the highest and most repressive level of military detention, which then became the basis for the series of inhumane measures imposed on him.

From the beginning of his detention, Manning has been held in intensive solitary confinement. For 23 out of 24 hours every day — for seven straight months and counting — he sits completely alone in his cell. Even inside his cell, his activities are heavily restricted; he’s barred even from exercising and is under constant surveillance to enforce those restrictions. For reasons that appear completely punitive, he’s being denied many of the most basic attributes of civilized imprisonment, including even a pillow or sheets for his bed (he is not and never has been on suicide watch). For the one hour per day when he is freed from this isolation, he is barred from accessing any news or current events programs. Lt. Villiard protested that the conditions are not “like jail movies where someone gets thrown into the hole,” but confirmed that he is in solitary confinement, entirely alone in his cell except for the one hour per day he is taken out.

That was then. Now we learn that the conditions under which Manning is being held are worsening. Manning’s lawyer, David Coombs, writes today (see also Charlie Savage’s coverage in tomorrow’s NYT) that

Last night, PFC Manning was inexplicably stripped of all clothing by the Quantico Brig. He remained in his cell, naked, for the next seven hours. At 5:00 a.m., the Brig sounded the wake-up call for the detainees. At this point, PFC Manning was forced to stand naked at the front of his cell.

The Duty Brig Supervisor (DBS) arrived shortly after 5:00 a.m. When he arrived, PFC Manning was called to attention. The DBS walked through the facility to conduct his detainee count. Afterwards, PFC Manning was told to sit on his bed. About ten minutes later, a guard came to his cell to return his clothing.

This type of degrading treatment is inexcusable and without justification. It is an embarrassment to our military justice system and should not be tolerated. PFC Manning has been told that the same thing will happen to him again tonight. No other detainee at the Brig is forced to endure this type of isolation and humiliation.

This is in the wake of yesterday’s news (see Savage in the NYT again) that “The Army announced 22 additional charges . . . against Pfc. Bradley Manning, the military intelligence analyst who is accused of leaking a trove of government files to WikiLeaks a year ago. The new charges included ‘aiding the enemy’ … .”

The charge of aiding the enemy is a stunner. As Greenwald suggested earlier today, “whatever Manning’s behavior was in terms of ‘aiding the enemy,’ that exact same behavior was engaged in by The New York Times, The Guardian, and numerous other newspapers that published these classified documents and thus enabled the Taliban, Al Qaeda and all the other Enemies Du Jour to access them.” Yet I don’t see (NYT executive editor) Bill Keller in solitary confinement and forced to spend the night naked. Indeed, the NYT is not being charged with anything.

But let me not stray. The point is, Manning is being subject to conditions that constitute torture. And he isn’t even convicted of any crimes yet. Not that conviction would justify any of this.

Change we can believe in indeed.

Categories: Law, Torture

Change We Can Believe In, XI

February 7, 2011 Leave a comment

Change We Can Believe In: de facto life sentences at Guantánamo

It’s been so long since I’ve had an entry in my Change We Can Believe In series that I’ve lost count of where I am. I think this is right. Anyway, in the news last week, if you’ve looked hard enough, was the death at Guantánamo of Awal Gul.

The Defense Department announced on Thursday that Awal Gul, 48, an Afghan who had been held at the military prison in Cuba since October 2002, collapsed late Tuesday after exercising on an elliptical machine.

The statement described Mr. Gul as “an admitted Taliban recruiter and commander of a military base in Jalalabad” who operated a guesthouse for Al Qaeda. It said he also admitted meeting with Osama bin Laden “and providing him with operational assistance on several occasions.”

But W. Matthew Dodge, a lawyer who represented Mr. Gul in a habeas corpus lawsuit, called those claims “outrageous” and “slander.” He said that his client had resigned from the Taliban, and that in three years of litigation, the government never claimed or pointed to any evidence that his client had run any Qaeda house or admitted providing support to Mr. bin Laden.

Mr. Gul was the seventh detainee to die at the prison since it opened in January 2002.

As long as we get to hold people in indefinite detention without due process, many more will find themselves serving unintended life sentences. What’s that? President Obama said he’s closing Guantánamo? Yes, he did say that once, didn’t he? It seems he wasn’t serious.

For more details, see Glenn Greenwald’s report last Friday. I’ll quote one paragraph:

This episode also demonstrates the absurdity of those who claim that President Obama has been oh-so-eagerly trying to close Guantanamo only to be thwarted by a recalcitrant Congress. The Obama administration has sought to “close” the camp only in the most meaningless sense of that word: by moving its defining injustice — indefinite, due-process-free detention — a few thousand miles north onto U.S. soil. But the crux of the Guantanamo travesty — indefinite detention — is something the Obama administration has long planned to preserve, and that has nothing to do with what Congress has or has not done. Indeed, Gul was one of the 50 detainees designated by Obama for that repressive measure. Thus, had Gul survived, the Obama administration would have sought to keep him imprisoned indefinitely without any pretense of charging him with a crime — neither in a military commission nor a real court. Instead, they would have simply continued the Bush/Cheney policy of imprisoning him indefinitely without any charges.

If Obama doesn’t watch out, he may find himself in the same boat as Bush, unable to travel to Switzerland after his presidency. President Obama, you better get over there now. Do some sightseeing. Have some schnitzel mit spaetzle. Chocolate too.

Categories: Law, Torture