Monday, December 19, 2005

Our Backdoor to Torture Continues

America's Anti-Torture Tradition
By Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
The Los Angeles Times

Saturday 17 December 2005

It is nice that the Bush administration has finally been pressured into backing a ban on cruel and inhumane treatment of prisoners. But what remains shocking about this embarrassing and distasteful national debate is that we had to have it at all. This administration's newfound enthusiasm for torture has not only damaged our international reputation, it has shattered one of our proudest American traditions.

Every schoolchild knows that Gen. George Washington made extraordinary efforts to protect America's civilian population from the ravages of war. Fewer Americans know that Revolutionary War leaders, including Washington and the Continental Congress, considered the decent treatment of enemy combatants to be one of the principal strategic preoccupations of the American Revolution.

"In 1776," wrote historian David Hackett Fischer in "Washington's Crossing," "American leaders believed it was not enough to win the war. They also had to win in a way that was consistent with the values of their society and the principles of their cause. One of their greatest achievements was to manage the war in a manner that was true to the expanding humanitarian ideals of the American Revolution."

The fact that the patriots refused to abandon these principles, even in the dark times when the war seemed lost, when the enemy controlled our cities and our ragged army was barefoot and starving, credits the character of Washington and the founding fathers and puts to shame the conduct of America's present leadership.

Fischer writes that leaders in both the Continental Congress and the Continental Army resolved that the War of Independence would be conducted with a respect for human rights. This was all the more extraordinary because these courtesies were not reciprocated by King George's armies. Indeed, the British conducted a deliberate campaign of atrocities against American soldiers and civilians. While Americans extended quarter to combatants as a matter of right and treated their prisoners with humanity, British regulars and German mercenaries were threatened by their own officers with severe punishment if they showed mercy to a surrendering American soldier. Captured Americans were tortured, starved and cruelly maltreated aboard prison ships.

Washington decided to behave differently. After capturing 1,000 Hessians in the Battle of Trenton, he ordered that enemy prisoners be treated with the same rights for which our young nation was fighting. In an order covering prisoners taken in the Battle of Princeton, Washington wrote: "Treat them with humanity, and let them have no reason to Complain of our Copying the brutal example of the British Army in their treatment of our unfortunate brethren. Provide everything necessary for them on the road."

John Adams argued that humane treatment of prisoners and deep concern for civilian populations not only reflected the American Revolution's highest ideals, they were a moral and strategic requirement. His thoughts on the subject, expressed in a 1777 letter to his wife, might make a profitable read for Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld as we endeavor to win hearts and minds in Iraq. Adams wrote: "I know of no policy, God is my witness, but this Piety, Humanity and Honesty are the best Policy. Blasphemy, Cruelty and Villainy have prevailed and may again. But they won't prevail against America, in this Contest, because I find the more of them are employed, the less they succeed."

Even British military leaders involved in the atrocities recognized their negative effects on the overall war effort. In 1778, Col. Charles Stuart wrote to his father, the Earl of Bute: "Wherever our armies have marched, wherever they have encamped, every species of barbarity has been executed. We planted an irrevocable hatred wherever we went, which neither time nor measure will be able to eradicate."

In the end, our founding fathers not only protected our national values, they defeated a militarily superior enemy. Indeed, it was their disciplined adherence to those values that helped them win a hopeless struggle against the best soldiers in Europe.

In accordance with this proud American tradition, President Lincoln instituted the first formal code of conduct for the humane treatment of prisoners of war in 1863. Lincoln's order forbade any form of torture or cruelty, and it became the model for the 1929 Geneva Convention. Dwight Eisenhower made a point to guarantee exemplary treatment to German POWs in World War II, and Gen. Douglas McArthur ordered application of the Geneva Convention during the Korean War, even though the U.S. was not yet a signatory. In the Vietnam War, the United States extended the convention's protection to Viet Cong prisoners even though the law did not technically require it.

Today, our president is again challenged to align the conduct of a war with the values of our nation. America's treatment of its prisoners is a test of our faith in our country and the character of our leaders.


Robert F. Kennedy JR. is an environmental lawyer and a professor at Pace University Law School.


Go to Original

Torture Ban May Include a Backdoor
By William Fisher
Inter Press Service

Sunday 18 December 2005

US President George W. Bush suffered a stinging defeat Thursday when overwhelming congressional support forced him to abandon his opposition to anti-torture legislation and reach an agreement with its sponsor, Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican.
The president's reversal came after months of White House attempts - led by Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Advisor Steven Hadley - to weaken the measure, which would prohibit the "cruel, inhuman, or degrading" treatment of any detainee in U.S. custody anywhere in the world.

The administration had been negotiating with McCain to either drop the measure or to modify it so that interrogators, especially those working for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), would have significant exemptions.

Bush had previously threatened to veto the bill and Vice President Cheney lobbied hard to change the McCain proposal to give interrogators more flexibility to use a range of extreme tactics on terrorism suspects.

McCain, who was tortured as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War, made it clear that he would not change a single word in his proposal. The House of Representatives voted 308 to 122 to endorse the measure, which is an amendment to the massive defence spending bill that funds military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The supportive vote in the Senate was 90 to 9.

But in the deal worked out with the president, McCain was willing to add two paragraphs to give civilian interrogators legal protections that are already afforded to military interrogators. This means that civilians would be able to defend their use of interrogation tactics by arguing in court that a "person of ordinary sense and understanding would not know the practices were unlawful".

However, experts say that if CIA or civilian personnel believe they were being directed to use an interrogation technique that was illegal, they would be obligated to disobey the order.

The new rules reportedly outlaw practices never before mentioned explicitly, such as forcing prisoners into stress positions and using police dogs. McCain hopes these will clarify unacceptable practices.

But he and other lawmakers are concerned that other additions to the Army's Field Manual on interrogations - specifically, 10 new classified pages - may open a back door to condoning practices that McCain is trying to prohibit.

The president's support came in an appearance with McCain in the Oval Office Thursday. "We've been happy to work with (Sen. McCain) to achieve a common objective, and that is to make it clear to the world that this government does not torture and that we adhere to the international convention [on] torture, whether it be here at home or abroad," Bush said.

"We've sent a message to the world that the United States is not like the terrorists," McCain added at the joint appearance.

"We are a nation that upholds values and standards of behaviour and treatment of all people, no matter how evil or bad they are. And I think that this will help us enormously in winning the war for the hearts and minds of people throughout the world."

But the deal did not garner unanimous support. Rep. Duncan Hunter, a California Republican who is chairman of the powerful House Armed Services Committee, threatened yesterday to block the legislation unless the White House provides him with a written assurance that it would not interfere with the ability of intelligence officials to carry out their missions.

The Bush-McCain deal won applause from human rights groups.

"We've come a long way as a country since 9/11, and this development is a sign of that," said Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "We've gone from a sense of 'anything goes' to a recognition that torture hurts America even more than it hurts the enemy."

But human rights advocates were already looking beyond McCain's victory to a separate proposed amendment by Sen. Lindsey O. Graham, a South Carolina Republican and a former military judge, which would eliminate certain rights of detainees held at the U.S. facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The Graham amendment would prevent detainees from using U.S. courts to invoke the right of habeas corpus to contest their treatment, including claims that they have been tortured. It would also effectively allow the U.S. government to indefinitely detain people at Guantanamo based on evidence obtained through "coercion".

Tom Wilner, a lawyer who represents a group of Kuwaiti detainees at Guantanamo Bay, told the Washington Post that the Graham amendment would make McCain's prohibition against torture essentially unenforceable, by giving U.S. troops an incentive to engage in coercive interrogations of detainees, without fear of being held liable.

The significance of the suspension of habeas corpus is likely to be a major congressional concern as debate continues.

According to Brian J. Foley, a professor at the Florida Atlantic School of Law in Jacksonville, "Our lawmakers are deluded, and are deluding us into believing, that excluding the courts from addressing prisoners' claims about their treatment, which includes claims that they have been tortured, will somehow help us in the so-called war on terror."

"It won't, and it can't. Instead, allegations about torture will be both unprovable and, importantly, un-disprovable, which will give propaganda fodder to our enemies."

He told IPS, "Dangerously, the executive branch will be un-checkable, which will prevent us from knowing whether the president is actually fighting terrorists or merely beating confessions out of hapless, innocent men who were rounded up near a battlefield or sold to U.S. forces for a bounty - quite possibly by the real terrorists - and simply telling us we're 'winning the war'."

It is generally acknowledged that mistaken identity has been a problem at Guantanamo Bay. More than 800 prisoners were initially taken there for detention. That number is now down to slightly more than 500.

The Defence Department will not comment in detail on the disposition of those who are no longer there, but it has been widely reported that some have been sent back to law enforcement authorities in their home countries for further detention. Others have simply been released, presumably because the government had no evidence that they were terrorists.

Some continue to be held through what appears to be administrative incompetence. For example, U.S. forces freed Saddiq Ahmad Turkistani from a Taliban prison in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in late 2001. He told reporters that he had been wrongly imprisoned for allegedly plotting to kill Osama bin Laden.

He professed hatred for al Qaeda and the Taliban - groups he said tortured him in prison - and offered to help the United States. Though cleared by U.S. officials, Turkistani was first taken to a U.S. military base in Afghanistan, and then sent to Guantanamo Bay.

Unlike many others prisoners at Guantanamo, he was not captured on the battlefield, nor was he a suspected terrorist. He was arrested in the "fog of war" that marked the early days of the U.S. war in Afghanistan. Though he was a potential ally, he found himself unable to challenge his detention.

Nearly four years later, Turkistani remains imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, despite being cleared for release early this year after a government review concluded he is "no longer an enemy combatant".

Turkistani's lawyers and some U.S. officials speculate that he has been held by mistake. They say he remains incarcerated because the United States simply does not know what to do with him. (FIN/2005)

Rumsfeld Spies on Quakers and Grannies

Rumsfeld Spies on Quakers and Grannies
By Matthew Rothschild
The Progressive

Saturday 17 December 2005

Not to trouble you or anything, but the next time you're going to a protest, the eyes of the government may be upon you.

And I'm not just talking about local police filming your activity.

I'm not talking about the FBI under cover in your midst.

I'm talking about the Pentagon, too, getting into the act.

According to an MSNBC story on December 13, Rumsfeld's Pentagon is tracking some of the most innocuous and lawful protests.

For instance, the Pentagon has a file on an anti-war group that was gathering at the Quaker Meeting House in Lake Worth, Florida, to plan a counter-recruiting effort at local high schools.

That group of Quakers constitutes a "threat," according to a 400-page Pentagon document that MSNBC got hold of.

It was "one of more than 1,500 'suspicious incidents' across the country over a recent 10-month period" that caught the attention of the Pentagon snoops, MSNBC said. Of these, "nearly four dozen" were anti-war meetings or protests.

The Pengaton's partial file on the spying is available at

It lists 43 events in a six-month period alone, dating from November 11, 2004, to May 7, 2005. Pentagon political spying took place in the following states and the District of ColumbiA: Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, and Wisconsin.

One took place in Madison, Wisconsin, on April 26, 2005, according to the Madison Capital Times.

It was sponsored by the Student Labor Action Coalition and the Stop the War, the Capital Times reported. "Participants in the rally numbered only about 20," the paper said, and it was designed to protest recruitment in Madison. "A planned Air Force recruiting drive was abandoned as a result."

The Pentagon's database "listed the type of threat posed by the event as 'anti-DOD vandalism' and marked the source as 'not credible.' The case, however, was left on a status of 'open/unresolved,' " the Capital Times reported.

The Pentagon's snooped on another counter-recruitment protest, this one in Santa Cruz on April 5. It labeled the protest a credible "threat."

"Over 300 students marched into a campus job fair, occupying the building and holding a teach-in until all military recruiters left," according Santa Cruz Indymedia. It quoted third-year student Jen Low saying: "The notion of the Pentagon spying on peaceful protesters is a major threat to the freedoms that they claim to protect."

The Pentagon also surveilled Code Pink and the Raging Grannies in Northern California, starting a file on a November 10, 2004, protest at the Sacramento Military Entrance Processing Station ("Disposition: Open/Unresolved," the document states) and a May 7, 2005, counter-recruiting protest at the San Francisco Recruiting Station ("probably peaceful," it notes).

"It's just a big waste of time and money," says Natalie Wormeli, who is on the board of directors of the Northern California ACLU and is co-founder of the Davis chapter of Code Pink. "I think taxpayers should be outraged at that." She adds, "We are not the enemy of the state. And I do worry it could have a chilling effect on newcomers to the cause. I get concerned we're headed to a new COINTELPRO. The U.S. can do better this. We should not be living in a surveillance society."

Ruth Robertson of the Raging Grannies, who provided songs for the San Francisco rally, says, "I guess they still don't get it that grannies in flowery hats are peaceable."

Gail Sredanovic of the Raging Grannies makes an additional point: "Aside from the disturbing civil liberties aspects of the Pentagon spying on local peace groups, it makes me scared to think that the folks in charge of protecting us from possible terrorist attacks can't tell the difference between a terrorist threat and a peaceful citizen gathering. Are they really that stupid?"


Matthew Rothschild has been with The Progressive since 1983. His McCarthyism Watch web column has chronicled more than 150 incidents of repression since 9/11. His exclusive web commentaries, This Just In, run on the website several times a week. Monday through Friday, he does two-minute web radio commentaries that are also available as podcasts, as is his weekly half-hour interview show, Progressive Radio. He co-founded and directs the Progressive Media Project.

Terror and Torture Continue: Bob Herbert Speaks Out

December 19, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist
Dangerous Territory
There has been some encouraging news lately for those who cherish freedom, democracy and the rule of law.

No, I'm not talking about last week's election in Iraq. I mean the recent developments here at home, in the United States.

President Bush, who bloodied John McCain in the brutal Republican primary in South Carolina in 2000, had to cry uncle last Thursday and accept Senator McCain's demand that the U.S. ban cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners in American custody.

It was an embarrassing defeat for the Bush administration, which, in its high-handed approach to governing, has shown no qualms about trampling the fundamental tenets of a free, open and democratic society.

But worse was to come for the president. On Thursday night, The New York Times disclosed that Mr. Bush had secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for terrorist activity "without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying."

Warrants? Why bother with warrants?

The Times article reminded me of the famous scene from "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" in which the character played by Humphrey Bogart asks to see the badges of a group of Mexican bandits posing as government officials.

Incredulous, one of the bandits says: "We don't need no badges. I don't have to show you any stinking badges."

Mr. Bush apparently feels the same way about warrants. He said over the weekend that he had no intention of changing his eavesdropping policy.

Stubbornness is a well-known trait of this president. But increasing numbers of Americans are objecting to the administration's contemptuous attitude toward liberty and the law. On Friday, the Senate blocked reauthorization of the Patriot Act because of its dangerous intrusions on privacy and threats to civil liberties.

The domestic eavesdropping authorized by President Bush was an important and at times emotional part of the floor debate over the Patriot Act. "You want to talk about abuses?" said Senator Russell Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat. "I can't imagine a more shocking example of an abuse of power, to eavesdrop on American citizens without first getting a court order based on some evidence that they are possibly criminals, terrorists or spies."

Mr. Feingold worried that we were playing into the hands of terrorists by giving up such quintessentially American values as "freedom, justice and privacy."

The Bush version of American values, as least with regard to the so-called war on terror, has been a throwback to the Middle Ages. Detainees were herded like animals into the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where many were abused and denied the right to challenge - or even hear - the charges against them. Whether they were innocent or guilty made no difference. How's that for an American value?

Others were swept up in that peculiar form of justice called extraordinary rendition. That's when someone is abducted by Americans and sent off to a regime skilled in the art of torture. I spent a little time in Ottawa with Maher Arar, a family man from Canada who was kidnapped at Kennedy Airport and taken to Syria.

He wasn't a terrorist and he hadn't done anything wrong, but that was no defense against the sweeping madness of the Bush antiterror policies.

"It was so scary," Mr. Arar told me. "After a while I became like an animal."

Another blow to America's self- proclaimed standing as a pillar of moral values was the revelation that the C.I.A. has been operating a super-secret network of prisons overseas, presumably for terror suspects. If someone who is innocent gets caught in that particular hell, too bad. The inmates have been deprived of all rights.

This is dangerous territory, indeed. Nightmarish territory. These secret prisons are the dungeons of the 21st century.

The voices against the serial outrages of the Bush administration are growing steadily louder, and that's good news. It's widely understood now that the Bush crowd has gone much too far. When Americans cover their hearts and pledge allegiance, this is not the kind of behavior from their government they usually have in mind. This is not what the American flag is supposed to represent.

Copyright 2005The New York Times Company

United States Prefers Its Gulags Far, Far Away.


December 19, 2005
Rights Group Reports Afghanistan Torture
KABUL, Afghanistan, Dec. 18 - Eight men at the American detention camp in Guantánamo Bay have separately given their lawyers "consistent accounts" of being tortured at a secret prison in Afghanistan at various periods from 2002 to 2004, Human Rights Watch, a group based in New York, said Sunday.

The men, five of whom were identified by name, told their lawyers that they had been arrested in various countries, most commonly in Asia and the Middle East, the rights group said. Some recounted having been flown to Afghanistan and then driven just a few minutes from the landing strip to the prison, the rights group said, and hearing from Afghan guards that they were near Kabul.

A report released by the rights group to detail the accounts said that the detainees called the place the "dark prison" or "prison of darkness," and that they said they were chained to walls, deprived of food and drinking water, and kept in total darkness with loud rap or heavy metal music blaring for weeks at a time.

One detainee, identified as Benyam Mohammad, an Ethiopian who grew up in Britain, told his lawyer of being "hung up" in a lightless cell for days at a time, as his legs swelled and his hands and wrists became numb. He said that loud music and "horrible ghost laughter" was blasted into the cell, and that he could hear other prisoners "knocking their heads against the walls and doors, screaming their heads off."

The detainees said that they were guarded by Afghans and Americans in civilian clothes, the report said, and that their American interrogators did not wear uniforms, leading the rights group to suggest that "the prison may have been operated by personnel from the Central Intelligence Agency." The "dark prison" may have been closed in late 2004, the group said.

American military officials in Afghanistan declined to comment on the report of the men's accounts and referred all questions to the Department of Defense in Washington. A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Chris Conway, said Sunday night that it would be premature to comment because he had no details of the report.

The United States has not released the names of detainees at Guantánamo Bay.

Afghan officials denied any knowledge of secret prisons in Afghanistan. The foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, said that if such things existed, they should be made known to the Afghan authorities.

But midlevel Afghan intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they are not permitted to talk to the news media, said they were aware of several places where Americans currently detain people. One official mentioned the main military headquarters, Camp Eggers, in Kabul, and the Ariana Hotel, which is close to the presidential palace that C.I.A. officials have occupied since December 2001, when they first arrived in the capital after the fall of the Taliban.

Recent reports that the C.I.A. created a covert prison system after the terror attacks in 2001 have centered on Eastern Europe, and several European countries have begun investigating whether C.I.A. planes have made stops in various European countries as they carried suspects bound for those secret American prisons, in as many as eight countries.

There have been other reports suggesting that the United States operated a secret detention center in Afghanistan. One emerged in the case of Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen of Arab descent who said he was seized at the Macedonian-Serbian border in 2003 and turned over to the C.I.A., which apparently mistook him for a terror suspect of the same name. Mr. Masri said that he was flown to a prison and held for four months in 2004, and that he was told by his captors and fellow prisoners that he was in Kabul.

Human Rights Watch said it had identified 26 people who had been "disappeared" and were believed to be held in secret detention facilities operated by the United States. It also said that the United States may have used a center near Kabul to hold those "disappeared" detainees.

The detainees said that they were held incommunicado and that they were never visited by members of the Red Cross, the report says.

A spokesman for the International Red Cross said the organization knows that the United States has detainees who are not visited by the Red Cross, but that it does not know where in the world they are.

"In general we know, because we have various information, there are various detainees that we cannot visit, but we have no specific indications that they are held in Afghanistan," said Olivier Moeckli, spokesman for the organization in Afghanistan.

One detainee, identified in the Human Rights Watch report only as M. Z. at his lawyer's request, said he was arrested in 2002 outside Afghanistan and held in the "prison of darkness" for about four weeks. He was in an "underground place, very dark," in solitary confinement, where there was loud music playing continuously, the report said, and was interrogated in a room with a strobe light, and shackled to a ring in the floor. "During interrogations, he says, an interrogator threatened him with rape," the report said.

Another detainee, identified at his lawyer's request as J. K., was quoted as saying, "People were screaming in pain and crying all the time."

Some of the detainees said they were moved from one secret location to another, the report said, and some were eventually transferred to the main United States military detention facility at Bagram.

Another detainee, Abd al-Salam Ali al-Hila, a Yemeni, told his lawyers he was kept in the dark prison chained to a wall in 2003. Three others, Hassin bin Attash, Jamil el-Banna and Bisher al-Rawi, told their lawyers that they were held at the prison in darkness, and that they were shackled and beaten, the report said.

"The U.S. government must shed some light on Kabul's 'dark prison,' " said John Sifton, a terrorism researcher for Human Rights Watch. "No one, no matter their alleged crime, should be held in secret prisons or subjected to torture."

A hangar close to the Kabul airport is another suspected detention center. The hangar, covered in a huge tent, has its own entrance from the airfield. Afghan airport personnel noticed Americans using the hangar, and bringing aircraft close to the hangar for off-loading until a year ago. Anyone who approached the hangar from the city side was ordered away by guards via loudspeaker, as they are at the Ariana Hotel.

Another possible former detention facility is the so-called Brick Factory that lies not far from the United States air base at Bagram, on the New Bagram Road that runs from the industrial east side of the capital. It is not a brick factory, but a huge Soviet-era transport mechanics yard with different workshops, according to a mechanic who worked there in the early 1990's. After the fall of the Taliban it became a C.I.A. training base, according to an American military official who was based in Afghanistan in 2003.

A sign posted outside now says it is an Afghan military facility, but American and Afghan commanders work there together, and members for the Afghan Rapid Reaction Force of the National Security Directorate, the Afghan intelligence service, guard the entrance to the base. New mud walls, topped with razor wire, run for kilometers around it. Guards said they could not let anyone on the base and referred all questions to the Afghan National Security Directorate.

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