Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Former military interrogator says torture cost hundreds ‘if not thousands’ of American lives

A 14-year military interrogator has undercut one of the key arguments posited by Vice President Dick Cheney in favor of the Bush Administration’s torture techniques and alleged that the use of torture has cost “hundreds if not thousands” of American lives.

The interrogator, who uses the name “Matthew Alexander,” says he oversaw more than 1,000 interrogations, conducting more than 300 in Iraq personally. His statements are captured in a new video by Brave New Films (below).

“Torture does not save lives,” Alexander said in his interview. “And the reason why is that our enemies use it, number one, as a recruiting tool…These same foreign fighters who came to Iraq to fight because of torture and abuse….literally cost us hundreds if not thousands of American lives.”

Moreover, Alexander avers that many — as many as 90 percent — of those captured in Iraq said they joined the fight against the United States because of the torture conducted at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.

“At the prison where I conducted interrogations,” Alexander said, “we heard day in and day out, foreign fighters who had been captured state that the number one reason that they had come to fight in Iraq was because of torture and abuse, what had happened at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.”

Friday, May 22, 2009

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Gonzales approved ‘borderline torture’ months before ‘torture memos’ issued

Months before the first “torture memo” was issued by Bush administration lawyers in 2002, Alberto Gonzales – then White House counsel – personally approved “borderline torture” techniques used on Abu Zubaydah, according to a new report.

An anonymous source told NPR that in April and May of 2002 CIA contractor James Mitchell sought approval on a daily basis for so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” via top-secret cables to the CIA’s counterterrorism center. The CIA forwarded those cables to the White House, according to National Public Radio, and Gonzales would approve the technique, thus granting a legal basis for Mitchell’s actions – in theory at least.

Yesterday, the CIA sent the ACLU a document that corroborates the source’s account. The document shows that during the spring and summer of 2002 many top-secret cables went from Zubaydah’s black site prison to CIA headquarters every day.

Military attorney: Waterboarding is ‘tip of the iceberg’

A military attorney who represented a now-freed Guantanamo detainee told CNN on Wednesday that waterboarding is only “the tip of the iceberg”.

Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Yvonne Bradley was the lawyer for Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian national who was arrested by the Pakistani government in April 2002 on suspicion of being a member of al Qaeda. He was then shuffled through a series of CIA “ghost prisons” before being imprisoned at Guantanamo for five years. Last winter, President Obama ordered him released to the United Kingdom, where he had been a legal resident.

Bradley told CNN that when she was first assigned to represent Mohamed, she did not question he was a hardened terrorist, because “my government was saying these were the worst of the worst.” However, she now says, “There’s no reliable evidence that Mr. Mohamed was going to do anything to the United States.”

According to Bradley, when Mohamed was first held at a CIA prison in Morocco, “They started this monthly treatment where they would come in with a scalpel or a razor type of instrument and they would slash his genitals, just with small cuts.

Following that torture, Mohamed confessed that he had attended an al Qaeda training camp and discussed plans to make a dirty bomb. He also answered “No” to the question, “While in U.S. military custody have you been treated in any way that you would consider abusive?”

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Some Abu Ghraib Torture Photos Leaked in 2006

Today’s Telegraph incorrectly reports, “The images emerged from Australia yesterday where they were originally obtained by the channel SBS in 2006 in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal. They were not distributed around the world at the time but are now believed to be among those the president is trying to block.”

It’s unknown if any American television network has posted any of these photos in the last three years.
The pictures are disturbing, but should be seen in their entirety so I have decided not to just put one or two here. They can be seen at the Rawstory link.

Ongoing Spanish Investigation Painting Devastating Picture US Brutality

The investigation focuses in particular on a squad whose standard procedure is to crush even minimal resistance or uncooperativeness by Guantanamo prisoners with a maximum degree of violence. “The force is officially known as the the Immediate Reaction Force or Emergency Reaction Force,” Scahill writes, “but inside the walls of Guantánamo, it is known to the prisoners as the Extreme Repression Force.”

Released prisoners, their lawyers, and former guards have all previously told their parts of the story, but as Scahill draws the pieces together, the extent of the deliberate burtality and dehumanization becomes agonizingly apparent.

The IRF teams’ official guidelines indicate that they should use only the minimum amount of force necessary on unruly detainees and should never use force as a method of punishment. However, witnesses tell a very different story. Michael Ratner, the president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, describes the IRF as “Black Shirts” and Clive Stafford Smith, who has represented 50 Guantanamo prisoners, calls them simply “goons.”

It appears that the teams were even directed to create pretexts for brutality where none existed in order to make sure that all the prisoners were fully intimidated.

According to legal expert Scott Horton, the extrajudicial actions of these teams — which include beating prisoners, using attack dogs, rubbing pepper spray directly in their eyes, and leaving them hog-tied and in excruciating pain for hours — were “fully approved” by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in consultation with the Justice Department.

All actions by the teams are supposed to be documented and videotaped, but it is not clear to what degree this was actually done or whether any tapes still exist. However, Stafford Smith does say that “there is photographic evidence.”

Full Scahill article here-- which should be read in its nauseating entirety.

Researcher seeks probe of Bush-era ‘homicides by torture’

A human rights researcher said Friday that any investigation into abuse of terror war prisoners should focus on what he called the Bush administration’s “homicides” — prisoners who died while being subjected to torture.

John Sifton, a private investigator with One World Research, appearing on Democracy Now with host Amy Goodman, said that up to 100 terror war prisoners have died in U.S. custody, many of whom were clearly murdered, some by way of torture.

Friday, May 15, 2009

More Evidence Torture Was Used to Connect al Qaeda to Iraq

The chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell says that the Bush Administration authorized torture of detainees before even rendering a legal opinion on the practice — and that they sought to torture detainees in an effort to produce intelligence tying Iraq to al Qaeda.

“What I have learned is that as the administration authorized harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002–well before the Justice Department had rendered any legal opinion–its principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qa’ida,” former Powell chief of staff Lawrence Wilkerson wrote Wednesday evening.

Also this:
One of the big developments yesterday was Robert Windrem's report about Dick Cheney's attempt to get Charlie Duelfer, the guy then in charge of investigating Iraqi WMD in the aftermath of the invasion, to waterboard a senior Iraqi intelligence official to get him to admit that Iraq had WMD and any stuff about a link between Iraq and al Qaida. Remember, at this point it's about getting a retrospective rationale for the invasion. Rachel Maddow had Windrem and Duelfer on her show last night discussing what happened. Check it out here. Maddow has a really good run-down of the key events and then the key interview begins a bit after six minutes in.
(see link for link to the show)

Bush Admin/CIA Misled Congress on Torture

Bush Failure To Disclose Waterboarding to Congress Appears To Violate Law

Pelosi Says CIA Misled Her on Torture (more here)

Former Senator Bob Graham says CIA admitted making up dates of torture briefings

Philip Zelikow: How BushCo Gamed the Briefing Process

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

CIA Fought For Sleep Deprivation


The Los Angeles Times reports that sleep deprivation was "one of the most important elements in the CIA's interrogation program, used to help break dozens of suspected terrorists, far more than the most violent approaches." It was also "among the methods the agency fought hardest to keep."

In fact, former CIA director Michael Hayden reportedly (and unsuccessfully) lobbied the White House not to expose its use by releasing the memos that described it, asking: "Are you telling me that under all conditions of threat, you will never interfere with the sleep cycle of a detainee?"

(It's not clear why exposing the use of sleep deprivation would prevent it being used in the future -- it's hard to train for 11 days without sleep).

President Obama banned the use of sleep deprivation soon after taking office, though a task force is reviewing its use, as well as that of other methods.

A CIA inspector general's report from 2004 is said by the LAT to have been more critical of the use of sleep deprivation than any other method aside from waterboarding.

Here's how the recently released memos described the technique:

Detainees were clad only in diapers and not allowed to feed themselves. A prisoner who started to drift off to sleep would tilt over and be caught by his chains.


When detainees could no longer stand, they could be laid on the prison floor with their limbs "anchored to a far point on the floor in such a manner that the arms cannot be bent or used for balance or comfort," a May 10, 2005, memo said.

"The position is sufficiently uncomfortable to detainees to deprive them of unbroken sleep, while allowing their lower limbs to recover from the effects of standing," it said.

And James Horne, the sleep expert whose work was cited in one memo to justify keeping detainees awake for up to 11 days, reiterated to the paper his claim that the memo's authors badly distorted his work.

Reports the LAT:

"My response was shocked concern," Horne said in an e-mail interview. Just because the pain of sleep deprivation "can't be measured in terms of physical injury or appearance . . . does not mean that the mental anguish is not as bad."
Sleep deprivation is not an effective way to get information-- it's a way to mentally break down a person. Severe sleep information induces psychosis-- including hallucinations.


Saturday, May 09, 2009

CIA Admits That Info About Torture Briefings For Dems May Not Be Accurate

As I noted below, newly released documents appear to show that according to the CIA, officials briefed Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats back in 2002 about the use of torture techniques on terror suspects.

But a letter that accompanied these documents, written by the head of the CIA, appears to clearly concede that the information in the docs about who was briefed and when may not be accurate or reliable.

Republicans are pointing to the documents — which were produced by the CIA and the Director of National Intelligence, and sent to select members of Congress — to charge that Pelosi and other Dems have been lying about what they knew about waterboarding and when.

But the docs were accompanied by a letter from CIA chief Leon Panetta that appears to suggest the CIA can’t promise that the info is right. The letter was sent along with the documents to GOP Rep Pete Hoekstra, a leading critic of Dems on torture, and Dem Rep Silvestre Reyes, the chairman of the intelligence committee.

More here and here and here.

To the extent that Democrast are guilty in being complicit in torture, they need to be prosecuted. But there clearly is a political partisan battle being waged here, and it's obviously in the CIA's interest to spread the guilt around.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Torture Round-Up 4

US interrogators may have killed dozens, human rights researcher and rights group say.

United States interrogators killed nearly four dozen detainees during or after their interrogations, according a report published by a human rights researcher based on a Human Rights First report and followup investigations.

In all, 98 detainees have died while in US hands. Thirty-four homicides have been identified, with at least eight detainees — and as many as 12 — having been tortured to death, according to a 2006 Human Rights First report that underwrites the researcher’s posting. The causes of 48 more deaths remain uncertain.

Torture Memo Author Advocated Presidential Pardons, Jury Nullification

A Bush administration attorney who approved harsh interrogation techniques of terror suspects advocated in 2006 that President Bush set aside recommendations by his own Justice Department to bring prosecutions for such practices, that the President should consider pardoning anyone convicted of such offenses, and even that jurors hearing criminal cases about such matters engage in jury nullification.

That advice came from John Yoo, a former attorney with the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel and author of memos that served as a legal rationale for the Bush administration's interrogation techniques. Yoo's recommendations constitute one of the most compelling pieces of a body of evidence that Yoo and other government attorneys improperly skewed legal advice to allow such practices, according to sources familiar with a still-confidential Justice Department report.

A Justice Department internal watchdog agency, the Office of Professional Responsibility, has concluded that Yoo and a second former Justice Department attorney, Jay Bybee, breached their professional legal ethics by skewing their legal advisory opinion to provide a legal rationale for allowing the harsh interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, according to a senior Department attorney who has reviewed a draft of the report. President Obama has said that the use of some of the interrogation techniques constituted torture.

Senate to hear testimony on Bush detainee interrogations

A key Senate critic of Bush-era interrogations has announced that a subcommittee he chairs will hold hearings on the Bush administration’s detainee interrogation program.

The public hearings would be the first on the matter since President Barack Obama released legal memos greenlighting techniques that some have argued are tantamount to torture.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) says the Senate panel will hear testimony focusing on “the legal analysis used to authorize harsh interrogation techniques, the ineffectiveness of those techniques, and the standards governing lawyers’ professional conduct applicable to those who authorized the procedures,” writes The Boston Globe’s Foon Rhee at the Political Intelligence blog.

Whitehouse has previously called for a full probe of the interrogation techniques, which President Obama presently opposes.

In March, the Rhode Island Democrat said at a Senate hearing that it was “distinctly in the public interest” for information on Bush-era interrogations to emerge, and that some conduct of Bush appointees could merit criminal investigations.

Witnesses set to appear at the hearing are former FBI special agent Ali Soufan and ex-State Department attorney Philip Zelikow.

Dodd: Torture investigations may need to go as high as Cheney’s office.

In a new interview with Connecticut bloggers, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) unequivocally states that he believes waterboarding is torture and comes out in support of Sen. Patrick Leahy’s (D-VT) Commission of Inquiry into a “comprehensive, nonpartisan, independent review of what happened.” He also compares today’s situation to the Nuremberg Trials — for which his father was a prosecutor — and criticizes the Obama administration for releasing the documents and then resisting calls for investigations... When someone then pointed out that “a lot of this stuff seems to point toward Cheney’s office,” Dodd replied, “You gotta go where you gotta go.”

Spanish judge asks US if it will probe torture

MADRID (AP) — A Spanish judge said Tuesday he will ask the United States if it plans a probe of six senior Bush administration officials accused of creating a legal framework for torture of terror suspects, before deciding whether to open his own investigation.

Judge Eloy Velasco said Spain can act only if the United States has not conducted a torture investigation of its own and does not plan one.

Velasco is handling a complaint filed by human rights lawyers under Spain's principle of universal justice, which holds that grave crimes like terrorism, genocide or torture can be prosecuted here even if alleged to have been committed abroad.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was briefed in 2002 on Bush admin. torture techniques, despite her denials. It's not clear how much actual detail she received on torture specifics.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Cover-Up Continues

Former Bush administration officials have launched a behind-the-scenes campaign to urge Justice Department leaders to soften an ethics report criticizing lawyers who blessed harsh detainee interrogation tactics, according to two sources familiar with the efforts.

Representatives for John C. Yoo and Jay S. Bybee, subjects of the ethics probe, have encouraged former Justice Department and White House officials to contact new officials at the department to point out the troubling precedent of imposing sanctions on legal advisers, said the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the process is not complete.

The effort began in recent weeks, the sources said, and it could not be determined how many former officials had reached out to their new counterparts.

A draft report of more than 200 pages, prepared in January before Bush's departure, recommends disciplinary action, rather than criminal prosecution, by state bar associations against Yoo and Bybee, former attorneys in the department's Office of Legal Counsel, for their work in preparing and signing the interrogation memos. State bar associations have the power to suspend a lawyer's license to practice or impose other penalties.

The memos offered support for waterboarding, slamming prisoners against a flexible wall and other techniques that critics have likened to torture. The documents were drafted between 2002 and 2005.

The investigation, now in its fifth year, could shed new light on the origins of the memos. Investigators rely in part on e-mail exchanges among Justice Department lawyers and attorneys at the CIA who sought advice about the legality of interrogation practices that have since been abandoned by the Obama administration.

Two of the authors, Bybee, now a federal appeals court judge, and Yoo, now a law professor in California, had a Monday deadline to respond to investigators.

Miguel Estrada, an attorney for Yoo, said, "As a condition of permitting me to represent Professor Yoo in this matter, the Department of Justice required me to sign a confidentiality agreement. As a result of that agreement, there's nothing I can say."

Maureen Mahoney, an attorney for Bybee, also cited the confidentiality requirement in declining to comment.

The legal analysis on interrogation prepared by a third former chief of the Office of Legal Counsel, Steven G. Bradbury, also was a subject of the ethics probe. But in an early draft, investigators did not make disciplinary recommendations about Bradbury.

Charges Seen as Unlikely for Lawyers Over Interrogations

WASHINGTON — An internal Justice Department inquiry into the conduct of Bush administration lawyers who wrote secret memorandums authorizing brutal interrogations has concluded that the authors committed serious lapses of judgment but should not be criminally prosecuted, according to government officials briefed on a draft of the findings.

The report by the Office of Professional Responsibility, an internal ethics unit within the Justice Department, is also likely to ask that state bar associations consider possible disciplinary action, including reprimands or even disbarment, for some of the lawyers involved in writing the legal opinions, the officials said.

The conclusions of the 220-page draft report are not final and have not yet been approved by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. The officials said it is possible the final report might be subject to revision, but they did not expect major alterations in its main findings or recommendations.

The draft report is described as very detailed, tracing e-mail messages between Justice Department lawyers and officials at the White House and the Central Intelligence Agency. Among the questions it is expected to consider is whether the memos reflected the lawyers’ independent judgments of the limits of the federal anti-torture statute or were skewed deliberately to justify what the C.I.A. proposed.
More from Digby.

Abu Ghraib Went to the Top, Continued

Abu Ghraib Guards Say Memos Show They Were Scapegoats
By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 1, 2009

When the photos of detainee abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq surfaced in 2004, U.S. officials portrayed Army Pvt. Charles A. Graner Jr. as the ringleader of a few low-ranking "bad apples" who illegally put naked Iraqi detainees in painful positions, shackled them to cell doors with women's underwear on their heads and menaced them with military dogs.

Now, the recent release of Justice Department memos authorizing the use of harsh interrogation techniques has given Graner and other soldiers new reason to argue that they were made scapegoats for policies approved at high levels. They also contend that the government's refusal to acknowledge those polices when Graner and others were tried undermined their legal defenses.

Graner remains locked up at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., about halfway through a 10-year prison sentence for detainee abuse, assault and dereliction of duty. His lawyer said this week that he is drafting appeals arguments centered largely on the revelations in the memos and a newly released congressional investigation into the interrogation practices.

President George W. Bush "was so disappointed in what happened, yet the whole time he knew what was going on," said Graner, answering questions through his wife, Megan, who also worked at Abu Ghraib. He is the only one of about a dozen soldiers tried for abuses at the prison who remains incarcerated.

Graner and other defendants -- including Lynndie R. England, who was photographed holding a naked detainee by a leash -- were blocked by military judges from calling senior U.S. officials to the stand at their trials in 2004 and 2005. The government would not acknowledge any policy or procedure that could have led to what the world saw in the photographs.

Some of what the guards at Abu Ghraib did, such as throwing hooded detainees into walls, echoes tactics authorized in the Justice Department memos, such as "walling," in which interrogators were allowed to push detainees in CIA custody into a flexible wall designed to make a loud noise.

But the Abu Ghraib photographs also depicted some actions, such as punching or stomping, that bear no relation to the techniques described in the memos, as well as others that were improvised by guards, such as forcing detainees to masturbate or to form human pyramids while naked. (snip)

Those tactics, according to the documents, were put into use at the facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in the CIA's secret prisons, and eventually were adopted in Afghanistan and Iraq after then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's approval was forwarded from officials at Guantanamo to Capt. Carolyn Wood, a military intelligence officer. She told investigators that she then sought approvals in Afghanistan for the tactics and brought them with her to Iraq and Abu Ghraib. Senior officers in Iraq also approved the methods there.

Mormons and Torture

Although the decisions which put us in the grim business of torture, body-snatching, extraordinary renditions, making people disappear, indefinite confinement without charges and warrantless wiretapping were made by the president and vice president, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints served as helpful enablers. Not only did they provide the legal architecture, they provided the "scientific" patina for the plunge into the barbaric business of torture.

Take Latter-day Saint Timothy E. Flanigan, deputy White House counsel, who, along with David Addington, John Yoo, Alberto Gonzales, and Jim Haynes comprised the secretive "War Council" of lawyers -- a self-appointed group Mayer describes as having virtually no experience in law enforcement, military service, counterterrorism or the Muslim world....

BYU law school graduate Jay S. Bybee was the assistant attorney general directing the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel. At the instigation of Addington and Yoo, Bybee issued official legal opinions that redefined the crime of torture to make it all but impossible to commit. Barbarity was not torture unless it created pain equal to death or organ failure. A newly-declassified Bybee memorandum lists 10 previously top-secret interrogation techniques approved for use by the CIA, including waterboarding.

Incredibly, Bybee seems to have been unaware that the United States had prosecuted waterboarding as a war crime after World War II. In 2003, before his role in authorizing U.S. torture was known, Bybee was given a lifetime judicial appointment on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Had his role in torture been known, it is unlikely he would have been confirmed.

Two devout Mormons also engineered the more grisly wet work. Because the CIA lacked personnel in 2001 with interrogation expertise, the agency turned to two psychologists, James E. Mitchell and John B. Jessen, who had worked with the Air Force's Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape programs. Neither had an intelligence or interrogation background or had experience with Muslim terrorists, but, according to the FBI, they had experience in designing, testing, implementing and monitoring torture techniques that were illegal in the United States and elsewhere in the civilized world...

Mitchell advised that suspects must be treated like dogs in a cage. "It's like an experiment, when you apply electric shocks to a caged dog, after a while, he's so diminished, he can't resist."

Friday, May 01, 2009

Rice Admitted a Criminal Conspiracy

In little-noticed comments Thursday, the former White House counsel for President Richard Nixon John Dean said Thursday that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice may have unwittingly admitted to a criminal conspiracy when questioned about torture by a group of student videographers at Stanford.

Rice told students at Stanford that she didn’t authorize torture, she merely forwarded the authorization for it. Dean, who became a poster child for whistleblowing after aiding the prosecution of the Watergate affair, told MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann that Rice may have admitted to a criminal conspiracy.

In a video that surfaced Thursday, Rice said, “The president instructed us that nothing we would do would be outside of our obligation, legal obligations under the convention against torture… I conveyed the authorization of the administration to the agency. And so by definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Convention Against Torture.”

Her comments raised eyebrows from online observers, who compared Rice’s answer to that of Richard Nixon’s infamous quip: “When the President does it, that means that it’s not illegal.”

Dean said he found Rice’s comments “surprising” and put her in a legal mire of possible conspiracy.

“She tried to say she didn’t authorize anything, then proceeded to say she did pass orders along to the CIA to engage in torture if it was legal by the standard of the Department of Justice,” Dean said. “This really puts her right in the middle of a common plan, as it’s known in international law, or a conspiracy, as it’s known in American law, and this indeed is a crime. If it indeed happened the way we think it did happen.”

ABC/CIA Shill Brian Ross Tries to Blame Torture on Two Private Psychologists

According to current and former government officials, the CIA's secret waterboarding program was designed and assured to be safe by two well-paid psychologists now working out of an unmarked office building in Spokane, Washington.

Bruce Jessen and Jim Mitchell, former military officers, together founded Mitchell Jessen and Associates.

Both men declined to speak to ABC News citing non-disclosure agreements with the CIA. But sources say Jessen and Mitchell together designed and implemented the CIA's interrogation program.