I couldn’t think of a better excuse to start over for the new year. We had a decent offer on the domain, “theintercept.com”, so this will be the opportunity to roll out another blog exploring the hypocrisy and origins of the war on terror. Receive updates for the upcoming movie of the same name. The new domain will be www.americanterrorist.com. Join us or die!
Amnesty International and other groups asked Swiss authorities to investigate the former president for torture
Will George W. Bush set foot in Europe again in his lifetime?
A planned trip by Bush to speak at the Switzerland-based United Israel Appeal later this week has been canceled after several human rights groups called for Swiss authorities to arrest Bush and investigate him for authorizing torture. Bush has traveled widely since leaving office, but not to Europe, where there is a strong tradition of international prosecutions.
The Swiss group and Bush’s spokesman claim that it was threats of protest, not of legal action, that prompted the cancellation. But facing protests is nothing new for Bush. What was different about this trip was that groups including Amnesty International and the Center for Constitutional Rights argued that Switzerland, as a party to the UN Convention against Torture, is obligated to investigate Bush for potential prosecution.
Amnesty’s memo to Swiss authorities cites, among other things, Bush’s admission in his own memoir that he approved the use of waterboarding. From Amnesty’s press release:
“To date, we’ve seen a handful of military investigations into detentions and interrogations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantánamo. But none of these has had the independence and reach necessary to investigate high-level officials such as President Bush,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.
“Meanwhile, there has been virtually zero accountability for crimes committed in the CIA’s secret detention program, which was authorized by then-President Bush.”
Anywhere in the world that he travels, President Bush could face investigation and potential prosecution for his responsibility for torture and other crimes in international law, particularly in any of the 147 countries that are party to the UN Convention against Torture.
“As the US authorities have, so far, failed to bring President Bush to justice, the international community must step in,” said Salil Shetty.
The Center for Constitutional Rights, meanwhile, intended to file a 2,500-page complaint against Bush in Swiss court on behalf of two Guantanamo detainees. The group will release that complaint to the public today.
Here is the Amnesty memo:
Some light was shed yesterday on the apparent “ransacking” of legal materials from defendants in the 9/11 trial.
Lt. Commander George A. Massucco, assistant to the Staff Judge Advocate at Guantanamo Bay, produced the materials, which he said were seized as part of Standard Operating Procedures to maintain safety at the prison facility.
Massucco testified that some of the materials had been confiscated because they were improperly stamped. Legal mail is marked with a stamp when approved, but the stamps need to be dated and initialed, markings which were missing from some of the documents. He said other materials were seized because they “were disturbing,” and the staff was “concerned for safety reasons” the material would remain in cell.
Among the items in that category were three books in the possession of co-defendant Ramzi bin-al-Shibh: The 9/11 Commission Report, Perfect Soldiers: The 9/11 Hijackers: Who They Were, Why They Did It by Terry McDermott, and The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda by Ali Soufan. Massucco said he could not account for three pages of legal material bin-al-Shibh’s lawyer, James Harrington, said were also missing.
Among the materials taken from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s cell was toilet paper with writing on it, and a metal pen refill hidden in the binding of a book. All the items except Black Banners and the pen refill were to be returned.
This week’s controversy over the confiscation of materials from the defendants’ legal bins drew into sharp relief a key point of contention these hearings need to resolve: balancing the confidentiality of attorney-client communication with the need for security at the prison facility. At the end of the day, the judge threw the problem to both teams to solve; he ordered the defense team to draft a plan for privileged communication to submit to the prosecution in one week. The prosecution will have another week to respond with their own proposal, or one day to respond if they have no revisions to offer. The judge will then issue an order based on the proposals.
Early in the day, Vice Adm. Bruce MacDonald (Ret.), the military commissions’ convening authority, took the stand and was questioned by Navy Cmdr. Walter Ruiz, the lawyer for co-defendant Mustafa al Hawsawi. Ruiz was arguing that his client had been improperly charged — in legal terms that the referral of charges against his client was “defective.”
As the convening authority, MacDonald — who answers only to the secretary of defense — is responsible for managing the entire military commissions process, including referring charges against he accused, as well as logistics and personnel.
The exchange grew quite heated, with MacDonald becoming angry and shouting responses at Ruiz, whose questions centered around a lack of resources he had been given to defend his client, such as mitigation experts and a translator. “You were provided opportunities in March of 2011. We provided eight to 10 cleared translators to be dedicated to your team. You rejected those translators,” MacDonald barked. “The person you picked didn’t have a security clearance.”
Adm. MacDonald’s testimony was cut short however, in order to give the court time to address the issue of the materials seized by the guard force. His testimony about for the charge of defective referral, as well as a charge of “unlawful command influence,” will continue when the hearings reconvene in April.
There was one area of solid progress in court today. All sides agreed to the removal of microphones made to look like smoke detectors that had been installed in rooms used by defense lawyers to meet with the accused. “The sooner, the better,” Judge James Pohl said. “That would’ve been my low-tech solution anyway.”
(Reuters) – The sound was abruptly cut in the Guantanamo war crimes court on Monday, prompting the angry judge to question whether someone outside the room was censoring pretrial hearings for five men accused of plotting the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001.
In all hearings for the alleged al Qaeda operatives who were previously held in secret CIA prisons, a court security officer seated near the judge controls a button that muffles the audio feed to spectators when secret information is disclosed. A red light flashes and observers hear nothing but static.
The feed was cut when David Nevin, a lawyer for the alleged mastermind of the hijacked plane plot, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, asked if the lawyers and judges needed to meet in closed session before considering a defense request.
When the feed was restored moments later, the judge, Army Colonel James Pohl, indicated it wasn’t the court security officer who cut the sound in the proceedings formally known as military commissions.
“If some external body is turning things off, if someone is turning the commissions off under their own views of what things ought to be, with no reason or explanation, then we are going to have a little meeting about who turns that light on or off,” Pohl said tersely.
He seemed to be addressing the prosecution team and told them that Nevin had merely referred to the caption of an unclassified document – one asking the judge to order that the secret CIA prisons where the defendants say they were tortured be preserved as evidence.
A short time later, the judge said he would meet in closed session with the lawyers and reopen the public part of the hearing on Tuesday. The episode enlivened the first day of a weeklong pretrial hearing in the military tribunal at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in Cuba.
Mohammed and his four co-defendants are accused of training and aiding the hijackers who slammed commercial jetliners into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field on September 11, 2001. They could be executed if convicted of charges that include terrorism, attacking civilians and murdering 2,976 people.
Under a program during the presidency of George W. Bush, the defendants were among the suspected al Qaeda captives who were moved across borders without judicial review and held and interrogated in secret CIA prisons overseas.
The CIA has acknowledged that Mohammed was subjected to the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding. The defendants said they also were subjected to sleep deprivation, threats, and being chained in painful positions.
The defense lawyers argue that constituted illegal pretrial punishment and “outrageous government misconduct” that could justify dismissal of the charges, or at least spare the defendants from execution if convicted.
Pohl ordered in 2004 that the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq be preserved as a “crime scene.” He was at the time presiding over the trial of U.S. military police officers accused of torturing and photographing prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
It was unclear whether Pohl had authority to order the preservation of the CIA prisons, if they still exist. The government has kept secret their location, arguing that disclosure could threaten U.S. national security and put allies at risk.
Polish prosecutors are investigating allegations that one of the sites was in Poland, and there is evidence that the CIA set up others in Romania, Lithuania and Thailand, according to reports by the Council of Europe and the United Nations.
The chief prosecutor, Brigadier General Mark Martins, said he does not plan to introduce evidence obtained from the defendants or anyone else via torture, cruelty or inhuman treatment – which is prohibited by U.S. law and international treaty.
In a departure from the Bush administration, the Obama administration has made clear that any interrogation techniques must adhere to those long established in the Army Field Manual, which prohibits torture.
The defendants have been in U.S. custody for a decade, but there are still many legal and evidentiary issues that must be resolved before their trial begins.
Three of them wore camouflage jackets and accessories over their white tunics in court on Monday. As in earlier hearings, they alternated between refusing to answer the judge and critiquing the United States and the court. All five said they understood their legal rights could be compromised if the judge granted their request to skip some court sessions.
“We don’t have any motivating factors that would invite us to come to court,” said Yemeni defendant Walid bin Attash, who said restrictions at Guantanamo had thwarted efforts to build trust with defense lawyers.
(Editing by Tom Brown and Christopher Wilson)
Seven easy, onscreen steps to making u.s. torture and detention policies once again palatable
On January 11th, 11 years to the day after the Bush administration opened its notorious prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow’s deeply flawed movie about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, opens nationwide. The filmmakers and distributors are evidently ignorant of the significance of the date — a perfect indication of the carelessness and thoughtlessness of the film, which will unfortunately substitute for actual history in the minds of many Americans.
The sad fact is that Zero Dark Thirty could have been written by the tight circle of national security advisors who counseled President George W. Bush to create the post-9/11 policies that led to Guantanamo, the global network of borrowed “black sites” that added up to an offshore universe of injustice, and the grim torture practices — euphemistically known as “enhanced interrogation techniques” — that went with them. It’s also a film that those in the Obama administration who have championed non-accountability for such shameful policies could and (evidently did) get behind. It might as well be called Back to the Future, Part IV, for the film, like the country it speaks to, seems stuck forever in that time warp moment of revenge and hubris that swept the country just after 9/11.
As its core, Bigelow’s film makes the bald-faced assertion that torture did help the United States track down the perpetrator of 9/11. Zero Dark Thirty — for anyone who doesn’t know by now — is the story of Maya (Jessica Chastain), a young CIA agent who believes that information from a detainee named Ammar will lead to bin Laden. After weeks, maybe months of torture, he does indeed provide a key bit of information that leads to another piece of information that leads… well, you get the idea. Eventually, the name of bin Laden’s courier is revealed. From the first mention of his name, Maya dedicates herself to finding him, and he finally leads the CIA to the compound where bin Laden is hiding. Of course, you know how it all ends.
However compelling the heroine’s determination to find bin Laden may be, the fact is that Bigelow has bought in, hook, line, and sinker, to the ethos of the Bush administration and its apologists. It’s as if she had followed an old government memo and decided to offer in fictional form step-by-step instructions for the creation, implementation, and selling of Bush-era torture and detention policies.
Here, then, are the seven steps that bring back the Bush administration and should help Americans learn how to love torture, Bigelow-style.
First, Rouse Fear. From its opening scene, Zero Dark Thirty equates our post-9/11 fears with the need for torture. The movie begins in darkness with the actual heartbreaking cries and screams for help of people trapped inside the towers of the World Trade Center: “I’m going to die, aren’t I?… It’s so hot. I’m burning up…” a female voice cries out. As those voices fade, the black screen yields to a full view of Ammar being roughed up by men in black ski masks and then strung up, arms wide apart.
The sounds of torture replace the desperate pleas of the victims. “Is he ever getting out?” Maya asks. “Never,” her close CIA associate Dan (Jason Clarke) answers. These are meant to be words of reassurance in response to the horrors of 9/11. Bigelow’s first step, then, is to echo former Vice-President Dick Cheney’s mantra from that now-distant moment in which he claimed the nation needed to go to “the dark side.” That was part of his impassioned demand that, given the immense threat posed by al-Qaeda, going beyond the law was the only way to seek retribution and security.
Bigelow also follows Cheney’s lead into a world of fear. The Bush administration understood that, for their global dreams, including a future invasion of Iraq, to become reality, fear was their best ally. From Terre Haute to El Paso, Portland, Oregon, to Portland, Maine, Americans were to be regularly reminded that they were deeply and eternally endangered by terrorists.
Bigelow similarly keeps the fear monitor bleeping whenever she can. Interspersed with the narrative of the bin Laden chase, she provides often blood-filled footage from terrorist attacks around the globe in the decade after 9/11: the 2004 bombings of oil installations in Khobar, Saudi Arabia, that killed 22; the 2005 suicide bombings in London that killed 56; the 2008 Marriott Hotel bombing in Islamabad that killed 54 people; and the thwarted Times Square bombing of May, 2010. We are in constant jeopardy, she wants us to remember, and uses Maya to remind us of this throughout.
Second, Undermine the Law. Torture is illegal under both American and international law. It was only pronounced “legal” in a series of secret memorandums produced by the Bush Justice Department and approved at the highest levels of the administration. (Top officials, including Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, evidently even had torture techniques demonstrated for them in the White House before green-lighting them.) Maintaining that there was no way Americans could be kept safe via purely legal methods, they asked for and were given secret legal authority to make torture the go-to option in their Global War on Terror. Yet Bigelow never even nods toward this striking rethinking of the law.
She assumes the legality of the acts she portrays up close and personal, only hedging her bets toward the movie’s end when she indicates in passing that the legal system was a potential impediment to getting bin Laden. “Who the hell am I supposed to ask [for confirmation about the courier], some guy at Gitmo who’s all lawyered up?” asks Obama’s national security advisor in the filmic run-up to the raid.
Just as new policies were put in place to legalize torture, so the detention of terror suspects without charges or trials (including people who, we now know, were treated horrifically despite being innocent of anything) became a foundational act of the administration. Specifically, government lawyers were employed to create particularly tortured (if you’ll excuse the word) legal documents exempting detainees from the Geneva Conventions, thus enabling their interrogation under conditions that blatantly violated domestic and international laws.
Zero Dark Thirty accepts without hesitation or question the importance of this unconstitutional detention policy as crucial to the torture program. From the very first days of the war on terror, the U.S. government rounded up individuals globally and began to question them brutally. Whether they actually had information to reveal, whether the government had any concrete evidence against them, they held hundreds — in the end, thousands — of detainees in U.S. custody at secret CIA black sites worldwide, in the prisons of allied states known for their own torture policies, at Bagram Detention Center in Afghanistan, and of course at Guantanamo, which was the crown jewel of the Bush administration’s offshore detention system.
First shocking interview with Mahdi Hashi from his New York cell
Told how he was made to watch a Swedish detainee being beaten
He was stripped and blindfolded, and told he would be sexually abused
Was forced to sign a confession agreeing to waive his right to silence
A British man who disappeared after being stripped of his citizenship claims he was tortured in an African prison before being handed over to the CIA and forced to sign a confession.
Mahdi Hashi, who vanished last summer in Somalia, has described for the first time his ‘horrific’ ordeal at the hands of the secret police in the neighbouring state of Djibouti, who he claims worked closely with US interrogators.
The 23-year-old, who lived in London, alleges that he was stripped and repeatedly slapped before being threatened with electrocution and sexual abuse by officers who were attached to Djibouti’s intelligence service.
Speaking from a top security prison in New York, where his family tracked him down just before Christmas, Mr Hashi claims he was so frightened by the threats of torture that he signed the confession demanded by his American interrogators.
In a 35-minute conversation with his British lawyers last week, Mr Hashi also told how he was made to watch as a Swedish detainee was beaten in front of him: ‘[The man was] stripped to his underwear and hung upside down.
‘They beat the soles of his feet, poured cold water on him and said they would electrocute him. There was screaming all around me and it was pretty horrific.’
Mr Hashi claims that the next day he was taken out of his cell and warned that if he did not co-operate he would be abused and beaten in the same way.
He says the Djibouti interrogators then stripped him to his underwear, blindfolded him and told him he would be sexually abused.
During the first three weeks of his detention, Mr Hashi claims he was interrogated only by Djibouti officers in a cell in the intelligence headquarters near the US Embassy in a downtown area of the capital, Djibouti City.
Other detainees sharing his cell told how they had been tortured. He said many had been forced to endure ‘beatings, being sexually abused, being pinned down naked and their testicles beaten’.
Mr Hashi claims that he was then handed over to the Americans. He described how the first team of two US interrogators ignored his pleas to alert the British authorities to his detention and torture.
He claims they knew that he had been badly treated, but let him believe that he faced far worse if he refused to co-operate. A second team of three American interrogators – whom he says treated him better – then persuaded him to sign a confession and ‘disclaimer’ in which he agreed to waive his right to silence.
It was also believed at first that Mr Hashi was held for a time at America’s military base in Djibouti, Camp Lemonnier. Mr Hashi, a former care worker, lost contact with his family while staying in Somalia last year.
When they began looking for him, they were told by Foreign Office officials that the British Government could not provide assistance because Home Secretary Theresa May had issued an order depriving him of his UK citizenship over allegations of Islamic extremism.
Now it has emerged that between August and the middle of November he was being questioned by teams of agents from the CIA and FBI while being held in Djibouti.
Mr Hashi was picked up with two Swedish Somalis by Djibouti police after he travelled to the country during the summer.
After his alleged four-month ordeal, Mr Hashi was shackled and put on a plane to the US, where he is now to stand trial on charges of terrorism.
Critics have warned that Mr Hashi’s case raises serious concerns about America’s reliance on torture techniques and rendition programmes in the fight against terror.
Many of these have been highlighted in the Oscar-nominated film Zero Dark Thirty, which focuses on the hunt for Osama Bin Laden.
In the movie, which is released on Friday, a prisoner is waterboarded for information about future terror attacks; later, the same prisoner gives up the code name of Osama Bin Laden’s courier.
It is this information that eventually leads to his capture and death in an isolated Pakistani compound on May 2, 2011.
Critics of Zero Dark Thirty, who include Senator John McCain and filmmaker Alex Gibney, say the film is an endorsement of torture because it connects ‘enhanced interrogation’ to successful and accurate intelligence.
Dr. Paul Craig Roberts
They read in order to confirm their beliefs and agendas. Neither the right-wing nor the left-wing can escape their ideological boxes and are creatures of their biases. They want their prejudices vindicated and their beliefs supported.
A writer who tells them something that they do not want to hear receives abuse.
These readers cannot benefit from facts and new information and change their minds. Truth is what validates their prejudices, biases, or their programing. Objective truth is not the matrix in which they live.
If a writer makes a case so clear that readers simply cannot avoid it, the reader will intentionally misread the article or book and attack the writer for saying everything that he does not say. The chorus will join in the effort to shut down the unwelcome information before it reaches others.
The Israel Lobby uses the technique of branding everyone who criticizes, no matter how constructively and moderately, any Israeli government policy, no matter how egregious, an anti-semite. The Israeli government applies this tactic to its own Israeli political opposition and to Jews themselves who are branded “self-hating Jews” if they criticize government policy toward the Palestinians. The effect is to deprive the Israeli government of constructive criticism. Only the Israel Lobby could call former President Jimmy Carter an anti-semite. Anyone who is not totally enthusiastic about Israel’s theft of Palestinian lives and properties is an enemy of Israel. These wild accusations from the Israel Lobby deprive anti-semite of any meaning. Essentially, every moral person has become an anti-semite. The Israeli government has simply cut itself off from truth.
The identical hardline substitution of self-interest for factual reality characterizes the American right and left. The right-wing insists that America is going broke because of welfare spending. The left-wing persists in its belief that government is capable of great good if only the right people are in power and that social institutions, such as religion, and inanimate objects, such as guns, are responsible for human evil.
If a majority of Americans sought objective truth instead of confirmation of their beliefs, truth could prevail over special interests. Reality would inform social, political, and economic life, and American prospects would be good. But when a majority are hostile to facts and truths that do not support their biases and serve their interests, there is a disconnect from reality, which is the situation in America today.
It is ironic that the left-wing, which has a large repertoire of tales of societies in the clutches of shamans, witch doctors and priests, imposes its own artificial or make-believe realities on social, political, and economic explanations. Leftists who appear to be oblivious to the militarized murderous police state erected by Bush and Obama still go out of their way to tell me how evil Ronald Reagan was and that I must also be evil because I served in the Reagan administration.
It is ironic that the Republican federal judges that the right-wing said were so desperately needed to save the Constitution are precisely the ones who have destroyed it. Americans can be indefinitely detained or assassinated by their government on suspicion alone without due process, because Republicans are enamored of the “unitary executive” theory of presidential power. The Republican Supreme Court gave private business corporations the right to purchase the US government in the name of free speech, because Republicans believe private interests should prevail over public interests.
It is easy to become discouraged by the clueless American majority. However, as insightful people have remarked in the past, it only takes a few determined people to change the world. On the other hand, in the past governments did not have such technological advantages as they have today. In a modern context, Paul Revere’s ride is hard to imagine. The British would have shot him out of the saddle with a drone. How far would Lenin have got if the Russian government had had spy drones everywhere?
Perhaps our hope today is that the government’s disinformation produces unintended consequences that overwhelm the government.
Hope or no hope, truth is becoming harder to come by. During the Vietnam war when Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers, the New York Times published them. However, during the Iraq war when a National Security Agency whistleblower leaked the information to the New York Times that the Bush regime was spying on Americans without obtaining warrants from the FISA court as required by law, the New York Times told the White House and sat on the story for a year until Bush was reelected. The newspaper might even have turned in the whistleblower. When the Guardian and other newspapers were threatened by the US government, they turned on Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, the suppliers of their headline stories.
To see the fate of whistleblowers, read Sibel Edmonds’ book, Classified Woman. Few people are willing to undergo such wear and tear in an effort to get truth to the American people.
There is another constraint on revealing truth. The human capital of people with inside knowledge is destroyed if they speak out. Position, contacts, invitations, income, and social life are all forfeited when an insider becomes a dissenter or a truth-teller. Only the extremely naive can believe that governments cannot keep conspiracies a secret, “because someone would talk.” No one talks, because talking harms the personal interests and human capital of the insider, and seldom does any good.
Al Jazeera was founded in the closing years of the 20th century to provide more objective news coverage of the Middle East than the spun news coverage of the Western media. The news organization soon fell afoul of Washington and its Middle Eastern puppet states and was reined in by censorship, threats, and actual physical attacks by US military forces on its Kabul and Baghdad offices.
Truth-tellers are inconvenient. Major General Antonio Taguba was given the assignment of conducting the official inquiry into the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse. Instead of covering up the incidents as he was expected to do for his third star, he produced a professional and truthful report. It was Taguba’s career that was terminated, not the careers of those responsible for the illegal torture of prisoners. Gen. Taguba was instructed to resign by Gen. Richard Cody, the Vice-Chief of Staff of the Army. When told that he was going to be investigated, Taguba said, “I’d been in the Army 32 years by then, and it was the first time that I thought I was in the Mafia.”
US President Barack Obama’s administration is continuing rendition, the practice of sending terrorism suspects to third countries for detention and interrogation without due process.
George Bush administration’s practice of rendition is continuing under the Obama administration despite widespread condemnation of the tactic in the years after the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday.
According to the US daily, it is unknown how many renditions have taken place during Obama’s first term due to the secrecy involved but his administration has not disavowed the practice.
In the latest example of Obama administration’s use of the tactic, a number of American interrogates visited three European men with Somali origins in a jail in the small African country of Djibouti. The detainees had been arrested on a vague pretext in August as they were passing through the African country.
US agents accused the three men of supporting Somalia’s al-Shabab group. The prisoners were secretly indicted by a federal grand jury in New York two months after their arrest. They were then clandestinely taken into custody by the FBI and flown to the United States to face trial.
The secret arrests and detentions became known on December 21, when the suspects appeared briefly in a Brooklyn courtroom.
The US government has revealed little about the circumstances of the arrests. The FBI and federal prosecutors for the Eastern District of New York have also not said where and why the defendants were detained.
Human rights advocates have condemned Obama administration’s decision to continue rendition.
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