Sunday, November 25, 2007

French prosecutors throw out Rumsfeld torture case

PARIS (Reuters) - The Paris prosecutors' office has dismissed a suit against Donald Rumsfeld accusing the former U.S. defense secretary of torture, human rights groups who brought the case said on Friday.

The plaintiffs, who included the French-based International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH) and the U.S. Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), said Rumsfeld had authorized interrogation techniques that led to rights abuses.

The FIDH said it had received a letter from the prosecutors' office ruling that Rumsfeld benefited from a "customary" immunity from prosecution granted to heads of state and government and foreign ministers, even after they left office.

It said in a statement it was "astonished at such a mistaken argument" and said customary immunity from prosecution did not exist under international law.

The suit was filed in October during a visit to France by Rumsfeld.

The Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq hit the headlines in April 2004 when details of physical abuse and sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers were made public, badly damaging the reputation of the U.S. military.

Former prisoners at the U.S. detention camp in Guantanamo Bay are suing Rumsfeld and 10 military commanders, alleging torture and violations of their religious rights during their detention there.

The CCR and FIDH filed suits in Germany in 2004 and 2006 in an attempt to have Rumsfeld tried for rights abuses.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Growing Awareness of the Problem

Andrew Sullivan:
A couple of things need to be stressed, because I've learned the hard way that intelligent people simply refuse to absorb what is staring them in the face, when what is staring them in the face is so staggering:
Never in history had the United States authorized such tactics.

There is no doubt - no doubt at all - that these tactics are torture and subject to prosecution as war crimes. We know this because the law is very clear when you don't have war criminals like AEI's John Yoo rewriting it to give one man unchecked power. We know this because the very same techniques - hypothermia, long-time standing, beating - and even the very same term "enhanced interrogation techniques" - "verschaerfte Vernehmung" in the original German - were once prosecuted by American forces as war crimes. The perpetrators were the Gestapo. The penalty was death. You can verify the history here.

We have war criminals in the White House. What are we going to do about it?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Troops Don't Know the Rules?

The documents, released today by the American Civil Liberties Union ahead of a lawsuit, total nearly 10,000 pages of courts-martial summaries, transcripts and military investigative reports about 22 cases. They show repeated examples of troops believing they were within the law when they killed local citizens.

The killings include the drowning of a man soldiers pushed from a bridge into the Tigris River as punishment for breaking curfew, and the suffocation during interrogation of a former Iraqi general believed to be helping insurgents.

In the suffocation, soldiers covered the man’s head with a sleeping bag, then wrapped his neck with an electrical cord for a “stress position” they said was an approved technique.

Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer was convicted of negligent homicide in the death of Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush after a January 2006 court-martial that received wide attention because of possible C.I.A. involvement in the interrogation.

But even after his conviction, Mr. Welshofer insisted his actions were appropriate and standard, documents show.

So who is to blame for the troops not knowing the rules?

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Haditha Massacre-- Likely to Go Unpunished

A US Marine was ordered to execute a room full of Iraqi women and children during an alleged massacre in Haditha that left 24 people dead, a military court heard Thursday.

The testimony came in the opening of a preliminary hearing for Marine Sergeant Frank Wuterich, who faces 17 counts of murder over the Haditha killings, the most serious war crimes allegations faced by US troops in Iraq.

Wuterich, dressed in desert khakis, spoke confidently to confirm his name as the hearing to decide if he faces a court martial began at the Marines' Camp Pendleton base in southern California.

The 27-year-old listened intently as Lance Corporal Humberto Mendoza recounted how Marines had responded after a roadside bomb attack on their convoy in Haditha on November 19, 2005 left one comrade dead.

Mendoza said Marines under Wuterich's command began clearing nearby houses suspected of containing insurgents responsible for the bombing.

At one house Wuterich gave an order to shoot on sight as Marines waited for a response after knocking on the door, said Mendoza.

"He said 'Just wait till they open the door, then shoot,'" Mendoza said.

Mendoza then said he shot and killed an adult male who appeared in a doorway.

During a subsequent search of the house, Mendoza said he received an order from another Marine, Lance Corporal Stephen Tatum, to shoot seven women and children he had found in a rear bedroom.

"When I opened the door there was just women and kids, two adults were lying down on the bed and there were three children on the bed ... two more were behind the bed," Mendoza said.

"I looked at them for a few seconds. Just enough to know they were not presenting a threat ... they looked scared."

After leaving the room Mendoza told Tatum what he had found.

"I told him there were women and kids inside there. He said 'Well, shoot them,'" Mendoza told prosecutor Lieutenant Colonel Sean Sullivan.

"And what did you say to him?" Sullivan asked.

"I said 'But they're just women and children.' He didn't say nothing."

Mendoza said he returned to a position at the front of the house and heard a door open behind him followed by a loud noise. Returning later that afternoon to conduct body retrieval, Mendoza said he found a room full of corpses.

In cross-examination, however, Major Haytham Faraj suggested a girl who survived the shootings had identified Mendoza as the gunman, sparking an angry reaction from prosecutors.

"The girl in question already identified another Marine," Sullivan stormed. "This is completely unethical, inappropriate and has no basis in fact."

Mendoza had given similar testimony during a preliminary hearing against Tatum earlier this year.

Investigating officer Lieutenant Colonel Paul Ware, who is presiding in Wuterich's hearing, last week recommended dropping murder charges against Tatum, describing Mendoza's evidence as "too weak".

Prosecutors allege Marines went on a killing spree in Haditha retaliation for the death of their colleague in the bomb attack.

Defense lawyers will argue that Wuterich followed established combat zone rules of engagement.

A total of eight Marines were initially charged in connection with the Haditha deaths.

Four were charged with murder while four senior officers were accused of failing to properly investigate the killings.

Of the four Marines charged with murder, two have since had charges withdrawn, while allegations against Tatum are also expected to be dismissed.

Monday, August 06, 2007

CIA Black Sites Expose

Inside the black sites, detainees are subject to psychological and physical abuse -- from simulated drowning to prolonged nudity -- so severe that CIA officials fear prosecution. Yet many CIA veterans describe the interrogations there as "nothing like Abu Ghraib or Guantánamo," in the words of a former chief of the agency's Counterterrorism Center, Robert Grenier. "They were very, very regimented. Very meticulous."

Some of the methods employed in the black sites, however, did appear in both Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, where the U.S. military, not the CIA, primarily handled detention and interrogation operations. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the architect of 9/11, was paraded on a dog leash, much like at Abu Ghraib. Black-site denizens, additionally, are subject to exposure to extremely cold cells, which can induce hypothermia, and extended periods of sleeplessness, both of which have been documented by official inquiries (pdf) into Guantanamo Bay. While Mayer's article does not explore the connection, she reports that psychologists from the Special Forces' program to survive torturous interrogations, known as SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape), helped design the interrogation regime, much as they had at Guantanamo.


The SERE program was designed strictly for defense against torture regimes, but the C.I.A.’s new team used its expertise to help interrogators inflict abuse. “They were very arrogant, and pro-torture,” a European official knowledgeable about the program said. “They sought to render the detainees vulnerable—to break down all of their senses. It takes a psychologist trained in this to understand these rupturing experiences.”

The use of psychologists was also considered a way for C.I.A. officials to skirt measures such as the Convention Against Torture. The former adviser to the intelligence community said, “Clearly, some senior people felt they needed a theory to justify what they were doing. You can’t just say, ‘We want to do what Egypt’s doing.’ When the lawyers asked what their basis was, they could say, ‘We have Ph.D.s who have these theories.’ ” He said that, inside the C.I.A., where a number of scientists work, there was strong internal opposition to the new techniques. “Behavioral scientists said, ‘Don’t even think about this!’ They thought officers could be prosecuted.


It's clear from Mayer's piece that several officials inside the CIA believe that the black-site interrogations worked. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed divulged significant information about the 9/11 plot, and officials state unequivocally that his interrogations yielded information that helped avert three active terrorist conspiracies. But he also confessed involvement in additional terrorist acts that he probably had nothing to do with, such as the 2002 murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. CIA officials, like George Tenet's former chief of staff, John Brennan, accept the likelihood of false information as a cost of doing business in coercive interrogation. Another told Mayer that "ninety per cent of the information was unreliable."

What remains unclear is whether the black sites still exist, and what's allowed within their walls. Last year's Supreme Court ruling in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld provided for the application of Geneva Conventions protection to all detainees in U.S. custody, which led the CIA to transfer fourteen "high value targets" -- including Mohammed -- to Guantanamo Bay. But some remained in CIA custody after the transfer, including an al-Qaeda operative named Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi -- turned over to the Pentagon in April -- and President Bush recently signed an executive order detailing new, presumably less harsh rules for future CIA interrogations. Critics have said that the new rules appear to allow sleep deprivation to continue, meaning that the debate over the efficacy and morality of coercive interrogations will as well.

Monday, June 18, 2007

More on Taguba from Sy Hersh

In a Saturday interview with CNN's Late Edition, veteran New Yorker reporter Seymour Hersh revealed new details about the coverup of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. His new piece in the magazine can be read here.

"The notion... that our leader, Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense and his aides, they all went and testified in May after the stories about Abu Ghraib became public that 'oh my God, we just didn't know about, we didn't realize how serious it was,' is simply not true."

Blitzer asks Hersh about a quote given by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba said in a May 6, 2004 meeting with Rumsfeld, then-Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and top brass at the Pentagon.

"I described the naked detainee lying on the wet floor, handcuffed, with an interrogator shoving things up his rectum and said, 'That's not abuse, that's torture,'" Taguba said. "There was quiet."

Taguba Says Abu Ghraib Abuse Directed from Higher-Ups

The Army two-star general who led the first investigation into detainee abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq believes that senior defense officials were involved in directing abusive interrogation policies and said that he was forced to retire early because of his pursuit of the issue, says an article to be published tomorrow in the New Yorker magazine.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Bush Administration War Criminals-- Nazi Style

The Nazi Gestapo used the techniques of "Verschärfte Vernehmung" to interrogate prisoners. "Verschärfte Vernehmung" can be translated to the term "enhanced interrogation" (also "intensified interrogration" or "sharpened interrogation"). The techniques the Nazis used are the same as what has been used by the Bush administration.

Critics will no doubt say I am accusing the Bush administration of being Hitler. I'm not. There is no comparison between the political system in Germany in 1937 and the U.S. in 2007. What I am reporting is a simple empirical fact: the interrogation methods approved and defended by this president are not new. Many have been used in the past. The very phrase used by the president to describe torture-that-isn't-somehow-torture - "enhanced interrogation techniques" - is a term originally coined by the Nazis. The techniques are indistinguishable. The methods were clearly understood in 1948 as war-crimes. The punishment for them was death.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007


US 'victory' against cult leader was 'massacre'
By Patrick Cockburn in Baghdad
Published: 31 January 2007
There are growing suspicions in Iraq that the official story of the battle outside Najaf between a messianic Iraqi cult and the Iraqi security forces supported by the US, in which 263 people were killed and 210 wounded, is a fabrication. The heavy casualties may be evidence of an unpremeditated massacre.

A picture is beginning to emerge of a clash between an Iraqi Shia tribe on a pilgrimage to Najaf and an Iraqi army checkpoint that led the US to intervene with devastating effect. The involvement of Ahmed al-Hassani (also known as Abu Kamar), who believed himself to be the coming Mahdi, or Messiah, appears to have been accidental.

The story emerging on independent Iraqi websites and in Arabic newspapers is entirely different from the government's account of the battle with the so-called "Soldiers of Heaven", planning a raid on Najaf to kill Shia religious leaders.

The cult denied it was involved in the fighting, saying it was a peaceful movement. The incident reportedly began when a procession of 200 pilgrims was on its way, on foot, to celebrate Ashura in Najaf. They came from the Hawatim tribe, which lives between Najaf and Diwaniyah to the south, and arrived in the Zarga area, one mile from Najaf at about 6am on Sunday. Heading the procession was the chief of the tribe, Hajj Sa'ad Sa'ad Nayif al-Hatemi, and his wife driving in their 1982 Super Toyota sedan because they could not walk. When they reached an Iraqi army checkpoint it opened fire, killing Mr Hatemi, his wife and his driver, Jabar Ridha al-Hatemi. The tribe, fully armed because they were travelling at night, then assaulted the checkpoint to avenge their fallen chief.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007


(CBS/AP) U.S. helicopter gunships launched new attacks Tuesday against suspected al Qaeda members, a Somali official said, a day after American forces launched airstrikes in the first offensive in the African country since 18 U.S. troops were killed there in 1993.

The latest attacks killed at least 27 civilians in the town of Afmadow in southern Somalia, lawmaker Abdiqadir Daqane told The Associated Press.

The attack helicopters were trying to kill Islamic extremists, said a defense ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak.