Friday, December 31, 2004

US Accepts Int'l Definition of Torture

Is it coincidental that a memo (.pdf), acknowledging the grievous error of so narrowly defining torture, was released on New Year's Eve? The Department of Justice has been working on it for six months. Well, lest it slip under the media radar, I post it here for all to read.

What does this memo really mean?

If for example, on December 29, a US agent pulled out fingernails of a detainee one by one, slowly, during interrogation, that was legal, essentially condoned by the US government. Why? Because it did not constitute "severe pain" meaning "equivalent to the intensity of pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or death."

But now, the US has decided to follow the international laws and treaties that have defined torture for decades. Torture, according to the new memo, includes actions which cause "mental anguish" and "physical suffering."

So, no fingernail yanking in 2005.

Bagram "Taleban" detainees to be amnestied?

The BBC reports from Kabul that American forces plan on releasing much of the detainee population at Bagram Air Base next year. The current prisoner population they cited indicated a major rise from earlier in the year. So the question is: why did the US increase the number of prisoners, only to release them early in 2005?

The commander of the US-led military coalition in Afghanistan says many suspected militants in US bases could be released in the new year.

The move would be part of efforts aimed at persuading Taleban members to abandon their insurgency. [...]

The idea is that the rest of the Taleban movement will no longer be targeted by US and Afghan forces if they hand in weapons and agree to abide by Afghanistan's new constitution.

However, although word of the amnesty has been around for over a month, attacks by suspected Taleban militants have continued.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Abu Ghraib whistleblower recognized by ABC

ABC News has picked Joseph Darby, a reservist military police officer from western Pennsylvania, as one of its "People of the Year." The profile of Darby gives us little insight into his motives, or the actual consequences of his anonymous note.

Darby, 25, slid an anonymous note under the door of his commanding officer, describing the terrible acts committed by his fellow soldiers. Soon the story was everywhere. Photo after photo made its way into public view, documenting humiliating and abusive treatment of prisoners by American forces.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Conservative response to prison abuses

I'm sure the reader knows that blogs are clearly not the most reliable sources for news analysis. However, an interesting debate arose in the blogosphere in the last week over the "conservative response" to the revelations of abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. This post at a liberatarian magazine, Reason, attempts to summarize the debate and provide a listing of prominent conservatives' opinions about the scandal.

...weblogger [Publius]... on Dec. 21 published a much-linked "Conservative Case for Outrage," which posed a question that's been asked a few times before: Where's the outrage from prominent conservatives?

To help begin to locate an answer, I conducted Lexis searches on "Abu Ghraib," "prison," "abuse," and the names of three prominent conservative commentators: William Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, and Rich Lowry.

Labels: ,

Monday, December 27, 2004

Prison statistics from Iraq HR Minister

Iraq's Human Rights Minister has announced the number of prisoners held in the country is near 10,000. The US military has stated that 353 of those held are "foreign terrorists." The US military stated that the announcement by the Iraqi transitional goverment was "generally correct," but refused to comment further. The US controls the Iraqi prison system and shares information with the transitional government as it sees appropriate.

But the ranks of prisoners may have shot up again after hundreds were detained during major operations against insurgents south of the capital, in Samarra and Mosul, north of Baghdad and the massive assault on the former rebel stronghold of Fallujah, west of Baghdad.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Afghan Human Rights group on 'foreign forces'

Reuters has circulated an interview with Sima Samar, the head of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), in which he speaks mostly of the culture of human rights in Afghanistan. One of his answers speaks to the issue of perceived violations by 'foreign forces.'

Q: Do you know of human rights violations by foreign forces based in Afghanistan?

A: Yes, we have recorded some violations by the US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan. After the issue of prison abuse in Iraq we had a similar case by coalition forces in Gardez [a southeastern city]. It was reported as "dishonouring and insulting" a prisoner. But when we investigated, unfortunately it was similar to the Iraq prison abuse. We sent a letter to coalition forces in Kabul, but unfortunately they did not reply nor let us have access to the coalition detention centres in Afghanistan.

We have [noted] around 120 to 140 violations by coalition forces, including prison abuse, entering people's houses in violent ways and the frisking of women by a male, which was reduced after serious complaints.

Labels: , ,

Washington Post concludes detainee abuse 'widespread'

A Washington Post article has summed up a lot of the information coming from the 9,000 pages released to the public about the detainee abuse scandal. They draw some important conclusions: the abuse took place over three years, that punishments were light for most offenders, and that the investigations were often not as thorough as seemed appropriate.

In many of the newly disclosed cases, Army commanders chose noncriminal punishments for those involved in the abuse, or the investigations were so flawed that prosecutions could not go forward, the documents show. Human rights groups said yesterday that, as a result, the penalties imposed were too light to suit the offenses.[...]

The variety of the abuse and the fact that it occurred over a three-year period undermine the Pentagon's past insistence -- arising out of the summertime scandal surrounding the mistreatment at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison -- that the abuse occurred largely during a few months at that prison, and that it mostly involved detainee humiliation or intimidation rather than the deliberate infliction of pain.


Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Whitehouse evades interrogation policy questions

President Bush evaded the issue of detainee abuse in his year-end press conference yesterday. Whitehouse Spokesman Scott McClellan, the artful dodger, also managed to sound authoritative while saying nothing today at a press briefing.

Q What I'm asking about in this particular case, you had the FBI expressing specific concerns from people who had been down there and seen what they considered abusive behavior. Are you saying, in that particular instance, those particular concerns were expressed to the White House?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, in terms of specifics, this information is becoming public so we're becoming aware of more information as it becomes public, as you are. I think that these are matters that are typically addressed with the Department of Defense, and the Department of Defense is the one who takes action to look into those matters. So I can't say that specific matters and memos, internal memos at the FBI, I can't say that we were necessarily aware of those. I'd have to check on individual matters.[...]

Q Well, would you just state for the record whether the President had ever signed any sort of order dealing with interrogation?

MR. McCLELLAN: There is no executive order relating to interrogation techniques. When it comes to military detainees and interrogation methods, those are determinations made by the Department of Defense.

Labels: ,

"Shock, awe and the human body"

The International Herald Tribune ran a provocative op-ed today. William Pfaff equates the torture (his word) of detainees to the "shock and awe" bombing campaign waged prior to the invasion of Iraq.

In March 2003, a Defense Department legal task force concluded that the president was not bound by any international or federal law on torture. It said that as commander in chief, he had the authority "to approve any technique needed to protect the nation's security." Subsequent legal memos to civilian officials in the White House and Pentagon dwelt in morbid detail on permitted torture techniques, for practical purposes concluding that anything was permitted that did not (deliberately) kill the victim.[...]

Torture doesn't even work that well. An indignant FBI witness of what has gone on at the Guantanamo prison camp says that "simple investigative techniques" could produce much information the army is trying to obtain through torture.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Bush administration is not torturing prisoners because it is useful but because of its symbolism. It originally was intended to be a form of what later, in the attack on Iraq, came to be called "shock and awe." It was meant as intimidation. We will do these terrible things to demonstrate that nothing will stop us from conquering our enemies. We are indifferent to world opinion. We will stop at nothing.

Labels: ,

Monday, December 20, 2004

FBI Director knew of GTMO and Abu Ghraib abuses

New memos released by the ACLU, obtained via Freedom of Information Act requests reveal that very high-up FBI officials were made aware of egregious physical abuses at Abu Ghraib in 2003. The New York Times reports memos about the abuse reached the attention of senior bureau officials long before the scandal broke in the Spring of 2004. They also cite one which was released after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke to the FBI Director. One memo alleges that military interrogators may have been posing as FBI agents.

The documents were in the latest batch of papers to be released by the government in response to a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups to determine the extent, if any, of American participation in the mistreatment of prisoners. The documents are the most recent in a series of disclosures that have increasingly contradicted the military's statements that harsh treatment of prisoners happened only in limited, isolated cases.

Anthony D. Romero, the executive director of the A.C.L.U., said the documents meant that "top government officials can no longer hide from public scrutiny by pointing the finger at a few low-ranking soldiers."

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Afghanistan detainee homicides 'below the radar'

The Baltimore Sun has published a long piece about the deaths of detainees in custody at Bagram Airbase outside of Kabul, Afghanistan. The author links the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion, responsible for the brutal interrogations in Bagram, to the abuses committed in Abu Ghraib. In fact the 519th served at the Iraqi prison in late 2003, when most of the abuses by military police Army reservists occurred.

And within a 10-day period in early December 2002, two Afghan prisoners were dead after being suspended by their arms from a ceiling and allegedly beaten by U.S. soldiers so severely that in each case, investigators wrote, if the prisoner had survived, "both legs would have had to be amputated."

Medical examiners classified the deaths as homicides, among the first of about a dozen suspicious detainee deaths investigated in Afghanistan and Iraq over the past two years. [...]

The death investigations have drawn less attention, and lesser punishments, than the photographed humiliation and mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib - even though at least one case involved some of the same figures.

Labels: , ,

Detainee scandal heats up in Britain

The Guardian details the developments leading to an inquiry into the use of "hooding" of detainees in Iraq. The headline overzealously states that hooding as been "banned" when in fact the Department of Defense's policies are merely being reviewed. Minister of Defense Geoff Hoon admitted recently that British forces have kept captives in hoods. Hooding has been banned in the UK since the early 1970s.

Following pressure from a Physicians group and the launching of an independent inquiry into the death of a detainee in Basra, the High Court as received demands for an investigation into the silence of Doctors who allegedly treated abused Iraqi prisoners. The Sunday Times reports.

Labels: ,

Lt. General Sanchez passed over for promotion

A story published by the North Jersey Media Group, authored by famous Mexican anchorwoman Maria Elena Salinas reveals that Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez was passed over for promotion recently. Sanchez commanded the Coalition forces in Iraq during the abuses at Abu Ghraib. In the story he seems to imply that he is currently in some sort of military "limbo." Salinas covered has covered the military's treatment of Sanchez since the Abu Ghraib scandal broke.

The jury is still out on whether the prison scandal will affect his military career. For now, Sanchez is back in Germany as commanding general of the 5th Corps' 1st Armored Division, although he was passed up for a position to head the Southern Command in South Florida.

"What will it take for you to get a fourth star?" I asked him.

"The only thing that's needed is to know the truth about what happened at Abu Ghraib," he said.

Sanchez is absolutely convinced that there is no chance he can be implicated in the scandal.


Diplomatic spat in Cuba: Enter Abu Ghraib

The Cuban government, outraged at reference to political prisoners in the US Mission's Christmas display, has put up huge billboard-sized photos of Abu Ghraib abuses facing the front of the Mission building in Havana. The billboard says "Fascistas" with a "Made in the USA" stamp over them, and the sequence concludes with a swastika. Read more.

Labels: ,

Newsweek recounts Whitehouse torture brainstorm

In the first article recounting the specific discussions that went on in the Whitehouse regarding torture, Newsweek tells in detail what techniques Whitehouse counsel Alberto Gonzales hoped to legally justify during interrogation. It is, even for the hardened cynic, disturbing to imagine this conservation occurring in a room at the President's office and residence.

One by one, the lawyers went over five or six pressure techniques proposed by the CIA. One such technique, a participant recalls, was "waterboarding" (making a suspect think he might drown). Another, mock burial, was nixed as too harsh. A third, the open-handed slapping of suspects, drew much discussion. The idea was "just to shock someone with the physical impact," one lawyer explained, with "little chance of bone damage or tissue damage." Gonzales and the lawyers also discussed in great detail how to legally justify such methods.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Former Abu Ghraib General mouths off

For whatever reason, Brig. General Janis Karpinski, the responsible General for the administration of Abu Ghraib, cannot keep quiet. (The Pentgaon is yet to hold her criminally responsible for the abuses that happened under her watch.)

She called up a Florida daily and began to lay into the Pentagon leadership over what she believes is discrimination against Reservists, blaming everybody but herself for the abuses in Abu Ghraib.

When photos of prisoner abuse emerged in April, Karpinski initially obeyed orders to keep mum. But she says she decided to speak out after higher-ups seemed intent on blaming her and a few other reservists.

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top commander in Iraq, "had no respect for me, he didn't like the military police, he didn't like this brigade doing this critical mission."

In countless interviews, Karpinski insisted that she was unaware of the abuse until she saw the photos, and that responsibility for what happened at Abu Ghraib went far up the chain of command.

Labels: , ,

Friday, December 17, 2004

Kirkuk man leaves US custody in coma with signs of torture

This story looks pretty well researched, by an Alaskan freelancer who publishes with alternative news sources such as The New Standard and Inter Press Service, Dahr Jamail. Some photos seem to substantiate the family's belief that he was tortured. Draw your own conclusions, as Jamail does interview a US military Public Affairs officer, as well as quote documents relating to Jamail's medical condition.

American soldiers detained [Sadiq] Zoman at his residence in Kirkuk on July 21, 2003 when they raided the Zoman family home in search of weapons and, apparently, to arrest Zoman himself.

More than a month later, on August 23, US soldiers dropped Zoman off, already comatose, at a hospital in Tikrit. Although he was unable to recount his story, his body bore telltale signs of torture: what appear to be point burns on his skin, bludgeon marks on the back of his head, a badly broken thumb, electrical burns on the soles of his feet. [...]

US Army documentation and interviews obtained so far also lack details of what happened to Zoman while in US Army custody for interrogation.

Labels: , ,

UK lawyers win inquiry on detainee death in Basra

A ruling in the UK held that the death of a civilian in custody of UK forces in Basra indeed fell within the jurisdiction of British courts, paving for an independent inquiry into the Iraqi's death.

Baha Mousa, 26, a Basra hotel receptionist, died in September 2003 after being arrested and taken to a British military base.

Mousa's family had asked the High Court to rule that European and British human rights laws applied to British soldiers in Iraq and that there should be an independent inquiry to determine whether he was unlawfully killed. The court agreed.

Labels: , , ,

Islamonline posts FOIA documents cataloguing abuses

While Islamonline's story is not particularly newsworthy, they have scanned and uploaded copies of the FOIA-obtained documents from the ACLU. See for yourself.

Labels: ,

FBI memo reveals Rumsfeld issued torture 'marching orders' for GTMO

A Salon opinion piece alleges, based on a memo released by the ACLU FOIA requests, that the FBI disagreed with the interrogation techniques used in Guantanamo. The techniques (defended by Generals in Guantanamo) came directly from the top the SecDef, Donald Rumsfeld. The name of the writer was removed, but the memo was directed to FBI counterterrorism officer Thomas J. Harrington.

Note: While I have refrained from posting on Guantanamo Bay, I have posted this due to the gravity of the claim, that orders for what the ICRC deemed as torture actually came from Donald Rumsfeld. The opinion piece draws the connections between Abu Ghraib and Guatanamo.

"I will have to do some digging into old files," the unnamed author begins. "We did advise each supervisor that went to GTMO to stay in line with Bureau policy and not deviate from that ... I went to GTMO ... We had also met with Generals Dunlevy & Miller explaining our position (Law Enforcement Techniques) vs. DoD [Department of Defense]. Both agreed the Bureau has their way of doing business and DoD has their marching orders from the SecDef [Secretary of Defense]. Although the two techniques [of interrogation] differed drastically, both Generals believed they had a job to accomplish."

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Ex-military lawyers protest 'Torture Guy' nomination

High-profile lawyers from the Judges Advocate General, or JAG, office of the Navy and from Army courts have announced they plan to protest Alberto Gonzales' nomination for Attorney General. They claim that he routinely ignored military lawyers' advice on the issue of interrogation procedure and torture, and has drafted policies which put our own troops at risk.

Hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the nomination are expected to begin next month. While Mr. Gonzales is expected to be confirmed, objections from former generals and admirals would be a setback and an embarrassment for him and the White House. [...]

Mr. Gonzales, as White House counsel, oversaw the drafting of several confidential legal memorandums that critics said sanctioned the torture of terrorism suspects in Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and opened the door to abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. [....]

Brig. Gen. James Cullen, retired from the Army, said on Wednesday that he believed that in supervising the memorandums, Mr. Gonzales had purposely ignored the advice of lawyers whose views did not accord with the conclusions he sought, which was that there was some legal justification for illegal behavior.

Labels: , ,

Rancid food at Abu Ghraib led to riots

Corpwatch details the connection between the rancid and poisoned food served by a virtually unknown private contractor and the riots in Abu Ghraib which apparently led to some of the abuses seen in photos from the prisoner abuse scandal in June.

[The US military] hired a small, virtually unknown contractor from Qatar, to provide food to the inmates.

A shocked Army Major, David Dinenna of the 320 Military Police Battalion, was one of the first to recognize the food problem. In a string of frantic e-mails to commanders during October and November of 2003, he called for assistance from his chain of command while working at the prison.

"Contract meals Disaster," he called it in an October 27 e-mail last year. "That is the best way to describe this issue … As each day goes by, the tension within the prisoner populations increases," he continued. "For the past two days prisoners have been vomiting after they eat."

Labels: , , ,

Defense Intelligence threatened over abuse complaints

A number of news sources have reported in the past week about a letter from a Senior Defense Intelligence official to the Pentagon complaining that his men were threatened by Special Ops forces in Abu Ghraib when they attempted to protest the torture occurring there. Here is the most complete, albeit complex, article we found, from the Muslim American Society.


130 troops punished or charged with abuse

AP reports that the total number of troops punished and charged with abuse is up to 130. Many more investigations are ongoing.

A total of 26 Army soldiers were referred to courts-martial, and 46 received nonjudicial or administrative punishment. Another 13 received letters of reprimand, and 17 others were dismissed from the military.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Complaint filed against Rumsfeld in German court

US and German lawyers filed a complaint in a Berlin court against Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, former CIA Chief George Tenet and eight other civilian and military officials for their connections to abuse of prisoners in Abu Ghraib. The Pentagon has already started threatening Germany, and time will tell if the complaint has any chance to lead to an indictment based on the "Universal jurisdiction" for crimes against humanity. The Center for Constitutional Rights, in New York, is behind the complaint.

Labels: , ,

Military defends its record in Afghanistan

Following the Pentagon's confirmation of eight deaths of detainees in US custody in Afghanistan, the military defended its record today.

"We can't go back and change the past,'' U.S. Maj. Mark McCann told reporters in Kabul. "What we can do is ensure that there are conditions in place now for in the future, where we ensure that this stuff will not happen again.''


Navy abuse case-load "exploding"

The LA Times reveals that ACLU digging has revealed 11 Marines have been disciplined since 2003. According to an anonymous Navy source, the abuse caseload is "exploding."

Marines in Iraq held mock executions of juvenile prisoners last year, burned and tortured detainees with electric shocks and warned a navy medical orderly they would kill him if he treated any injured Iraqis... The new documents are the latest in a series of reports, emails and other records the ACLU has obtained to bolster its contention that the abuse of prisoners goes far beyond the handful of soldiers charged with abusing detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.

Labels: , ,

Salon reveals military "kidnapping" whistle-blowers

This Salon report is quite frankly more surreal than the actual torture and abuse that has occured in Iraq.

On June 15, 2003, Sgt. Frank "Greg" Ford, a counterintelligence agent in the California National Guard's 223rd Military Intelligence (M.I.) Battalion stationed in Samarra, Iraq, told his commanding officer, Capt. Victor Artiga, that he had witnessed five incidents of torture and abuse of Iraqi detainees at his base, and requested a formal investigation. Thirty-six hours later, Ford, a 49-year-old with over 30 years of military service in the Coast Guard, Army and Navy, was ordered by U.S. Army medical personnel to lie down on a gurney, was then strapped down, loaded onto a military plane and medevac'd to a military medical center outside the country.

Labels: , ,