- Post-9/11, torture has been official US policy under
George Bush - authorized at the highest levels of government. Evidence
of its systematic practice continues to surface. First some background.
- On September 17, 2001, George Bush signed a secret finding
empowering CIA to "Capture, Kill, or Interrogate Al-Queda Leaders."
It also authorized establishing a secret global network of facilities
to detain and interrogate them without guidelines on proper treatment.
Around the same time, Bush approved a secret "high-value target list"
of about two dozen names. He also gave CIA free reign to capture, kill
and interrogate terrorists not on the list. It was the beginning of events
- On November 13, 2001, the White House issued a Military
Order regarding the "Detention, Treatment, and Trial of Certain Non-Citizens
in the War Against Terrorism." It "determined that an extraordinary
emergency exists for national defense purposes, that this emergency constitutes
an urgent and compelling government interest and that issuance of this
order is necessary to meet the emergency."
- It defined targeted individuals as Al Queda and others
for aiding or abetting acts of international terrorism or harboring them.
These individuals shall be denied access to US or other courts and instead
tried by "military commission" with the power to convict by "concurrence
of two-thirds of the members."
- On December 28, 2001, Deputy Assistant Attorney Generals,
Patrick Philbin and John Yoo, sent a Memorandum to General Counsel, Department
of Defense, William Haynes II titled: "Possible Habeas Jurisdiction
over Aliens Held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba." It said federal courts
have no jurisdiction and cannot review Guantanamo detainee mistreatment
or mistaken arrest cases. It further stated that international laws don't
apply in the "war on terror." This laid the groundwork for abuses
in all US torture prisons.
- On January 18, 2002, Bush issued a "finding"
stating that prisoners suspected of being Al Queda or Taliban members are
"enemy combatants" and unprotected by the Third Geneva Convention.
They were to be denied all rights and treated "to the extent....consistent
with military necessity." Torture was thus authorized. The 2006 Military
Commissions Act (aka the "torture authorization act") later created
the Geneva-superceded category of "unlawful enemy combatant"
to deny them any chance for judicial fairness.
- International law expert Francis Boyle spoke out about
this lawless designation: "this quasi-category (created a) universe
of legal nihilism where human beings (including US citizens) can be disappeared,
detained incommunicado, denied access to attorneys and regular courts,
tried by kangaroo courts, executed, tortured, assassinated and subjected
to numerous other manifestations of State Terrorism" on the pretext
of as protecting national security.
- The January 18 memo was preceded by a January 9 one to
William Haynes II - co-authored by John Yoo, and Special Council Robert
Delahunty. It read in part:
- Regarding "international treaties and federal laws
on the treatment of individuals detained by the US Armed Forces (in) Afghanistan....the
laws of armed conflict (don't) apply to the conditions of detention and
the procedures for trial of members of al Queda and the Taliban militia."
These treaties "do not protect members of the al Queda organization
(or) the Taliban militia."
- On January 19, 2002 Donald Rumsfeld sent a memo to the
Joint Chiefs titled: "Status of Taliban and al Queda." It stated
that these detainees "are not entitled to prisoner of war status for
purposes of the Geneva Conventions of 1949." It gave commanders enormous
latitude to treat prisoners "to the extent appropriate with military
necessity" or essentially as they saw fit.
- On January 22, 2002, Assistant Attorney General for the
Office of Legal Counsel, Jay Bybee (now a federal judge), issued a Memorandum
to Counsel to the President, Alberto Gonzales and William Haynes II. It
was titled: "Application of Treaties and Laws to al Queda and Taliban
Detainees." It covered the same ground as the Yoo/Delahunty memo plus
added misinterpretations of international law with regard to war.
- On January 25, 2002, Alberto Gonzales, then issued a
sweeping memo to George Bush. In it he called the Geneva Conventions "quaint"
and "obsolete" and said the administration could ignore Geneva
law in interrogating prisoners henceforth. He also outlined plans to try
prisoners in "military commissions" and deny them all protections
under international law, including due process, habeas rights, and the
right to appeal. In December 2002, Donald Rumsfeld concurred by approving
a menu of banned interrogation practices allowing anything short of what
would cause organ failure.
- On February 7, 2002, the White House issued an Order
"outlining treatment of al-Qaida and Taliban detainees." It stated
that "none of the provisions of Geneva apply to our conflict with
al-Qaida (or Taliban detainees) in Afghanistan 'or elsewhere throughout
the world...' " It meant they'd be afforded no protection under international
law and could be treated any way authorities wished, including use of torture
as was later learned.
- A virtual blizzard of similar memos followed covering
much the same ground to allow all measures banned under international and
US law (including the 1996 War Crimes Act, 1994 Torture Statute and the
Torture Act of 2000). The War Crimes Act is especially harsh. It provides
up to life in prison or the death penalty for persons convicted of committing
war crimes within or outside the US. Torture is a high war crime, the highest
- Two other memos particularly deserve mention - written
by John Yoo, Alberto Gonzales, Jay Bybee and David Addington (Cheney's
legal counsel). One was for the CIA on August 2, 2002. It argued for letting
interrogators use harsh measures amounting to torture. It said federal
laws prohibiting these practices don't apply when dealing with Al Queda
because of presidential authorization during wartime. It also denied US
or international law applies in overseas interrogations. It essentially
"legalized" anything in the "war on terror" and authorized
lawlessness and supreme presidential power.
- On March 14, 2003, the same quartet issued another memo
- this one for the military titled: "Military Interrogation of Alien
Unlawful Combatants Held Outside the United States." It became known
as "the Torture Memo" because it swept away all legal restraints
and authorized military interrogators to use extreme measures amounting
to torture. It also gave the President as Commander-in-Chief "the
fullest range of power....to protect the nation." It stated he "enjoys
complete discretion in the exercise of his authority in conducting operations
against hostile forces."
- Military law expert and Yale University lecturer, Eugene
Fidell, called it "a monument to executive supremacy and the imperial
presidency....(and) a road map for the Pentagon (to avoid) any prosecutions."
It denied due process is applicable and virtually all other constitutional
protections. It argued against any prohibition banning "cruel and
unusual treatment." It was a document that would make any despot proud.
So much so that in late 2004, Office of Legal Counsel head, Jack Goldsmith,
rescinded the Memorandum saying it showed an "unusual lack of care
and sobriety in (its) legal analysis (and it) seemed more an exercise of
sheer power than reasoned analysis."
- Nonetheless, other administration documents authorized
continued use of practices generally reflecting John Yoo's views. They
may inflict "intense pain or suffering" short of what would cause
"serious physical injury so severe that death, organ failure, (loss
of significant body functions), or permanent damage" may result.
- The President's July 20, 2006 Executive Order (EO) was
one such document, titled: "Interpretation of the Geneva Conventions
Common Article 3 as Applied to a Program of Detention and Interrogation
Operated by the Central Intelligence Agency." It pertained to "a
member or part of or supporting al Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated organizations
(who might have) information that could assist in detecting, mitigating,
or preventing terrorist attacks....within the United States or against
its Armed Forces or other personnel, citizens, or facilities, or against
allies or other countries cooperating in the war on terror...."
- It authorized the Director of CIA to determine interrogation
practices. Based on what's now known, they include sleep deprivation, waterboarding
or simulated drowning, stress positions (including painfully extreme ones),
prolonged isolation, sensory deprivation and/or overload, beatings (at
times severe and life-threatening), electric shocks, induced hypothermia,
and other measures that can cause irreversible physical and psychological
harm, including psychoses.
- International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Bush
Administration Use of Torture
- In a secret 2007 report, the ICRC concluded that CIA
interrogators tortured high-level Al Queda prisoners. Abu Zubaydah was
one, a reputed close associate of Osama bin Laden and Guantanamo detainee.
He was confined in a box "so small (that) he had to double up his
limbs in the fetal position" and stay that way. He and others were
also "slammed against the walls," waterboarded to simulate drowning,
and given other harsh and abusive treatment.
- The report also said Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the supposed
chief 9/11 planner, was kept naked for over a month - "alternately
in suffocating heat and in a painfully cold room." Most excruciating
was a practice of shackling prisoners to the ceiling and forcing them to
stand for as long as eight hours. Other techniques included prolonged sleep
deprivation, "bright lights and eardrum-shattering sounds 24 hours
- ICRC's Bernard Barrett declined to comment but confirmed
that Red Cross personnel regularly visit Guantanamo detainees, including
high-level ones. They also "have an ongoing confidential dialogue
with members of the US intelligence community, and we would share any observations
or recommendations with them."
- In her new book just out, "The Dark Side,"
Jane Mayer went further using sources familiar with ICRC's report. She
wrote it "warned that the abuse (at torture prisons) constituted war
crimes, placing the highest officials in the US government in jeopardy
of being prosecuted." She also explained that Red Cross investigators
based their report largely on prisoner interviews. However, CIA officers
she spoke to confirmed what ICRC disclosed. More on Mayer's book below.
- Presidential July 20, 2007 Executive Order (EO) 13440:
Interpretation of the Geneva Conventions Common Article 3 as Applied to
a Program of Detention and Interrogation Operated by the Central Intelligence
- The EO is noteworthy for what it doesn't say, not what
it does. Its language is reassuring but avoids stopping short of the administration's
official policy of torture. Or real compliance with Geneva's Common Article
3 that states in part:
- (1) Noncombatants, including "members of armed forces
who laid down their arms....shall in all circumstances be treated humanely...."
- ...."the following acts are prohibited at any time
and in any place....:
- -- violence to life and person (including) murder, mutilation,
cruel treatment and torture;
- -- taking of hostages;
- -- ....humiliating and degrading treatment;"
- -- sentencing or executing detainees "without previous
judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the
judicial guarantees....recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples;"
- -- assuring wounded and sick are cared for.
- Various human rights organizations weighed in on the
EO. Washington Director of Human Rights First, Elisa Massimino, said: The
Order "fails to make clear whether (CIA authorized) interrogation
techniques are still permitted." If CIA interprets the Order "as
authorization to (continue using) techniques such as waterboarding, stress
positions, hypothermia, sensory deprivation (and overload), sleep deprivation
and isolation, it sends a powerful - and dangerous - message" that
these and other banned practices are permissible. Bush's EO avoided clarity
and left considerable leeway for abuse.
- New Yorker Writer Jane Mayer's New Book: "The Dark
Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American
- Mayer's book reflects what the ICRC reported and is now
common knowledge except for more grim details and personal accounts. Prior
to its release, the publisher's promotion commented:
- "The Dark Side is a dramatic, riveting, and definitive
narrative account of how the United States made terrible decisions in the
pursuit of terrorists around the world - decisions that not only violated
the Constitution to which White House officials took an oath to uphold,
but also hampered the pursuit of Al Queda. In gripping detail...Jane Mayer
relates the impact of these decisions - US-held prisoners, some of them
completely innocent, were subjected to treatment more reminiscent of the
Spanish Inquisition than the twenty-first century."
- "The Dark Side" recounts the fallout from the
above administration documents and more. It reveals high-level contempt
for the law to advance an imperial project. The story is gripping and comprehensive.
It's about an American gulag throughout the world where mostly innocent
detainees are held secretly outside the law and subjected to ritual abuse,
humiliation and excruciating torture - day after day repeatedly. Some don't
survive. All who do remain scarred for life.
- Mayer states that decisions were taken at the highest
levels - to make "torture the official law of the land in all but
name," and it's no longer secret. Her evidence is compelling and comes
from military officers, intelligence professionals and other conservative
Bush appointees - "hard-line law-and-order stalwarts in the criminal
justice system" who came forward nonetheless, and apparently for good
- Unlike past lawless periods, this time is different given
the menu of what occurred post-9/11: an array of
- -- illegal aggressive wars and the possibility of others;
- -- police state laws enacted; -- extremist Executive
Orders; -- similar National and Homeland Security Presidential Directives;
military orders and signing statements;
- -- "unitary executive" authority assumption
granting unlimited presidential powers;
- -- lawless and pervasive spying on Americans;
- -- turning elections into shams; -- gutting the Constitution,
article by article, including the Bill of Rights;
- -- ending any sense of checks and balances;
- -- ignoring international laws and norms;
- -- establishing an official policy of secrecy;
- -- silencing dissent and free speech;
- -- conducting massive sweeps against Muslims, Latino
immigrants and other designated targets;
- -- convicting innocent people (mostly Muslim men) in
US courts and holding them as political prisoners;
- -- constructing US-based concentration camps for declared
enemies of the state to be used if martial law is declared;
- -- using NORTHCOM, DHS, CIA, FBI, NSA and private paramilitary
security forces to militarize the continent; and
- -- ending the rule of law, crushing any sense of democracy,
and heading the country for tyranny.
- Instituting the above fell to a small group of lawyers
known as the "War Council." Also other select high-level officials
reporting to Dick Cheney and George Bush as head co-conspirators. They
seized on 9/11 to establish what David Addington called a "new paradigm"
authorizing vast new executive powers in the "war on terror."
They believe the US legal system is "a burden" to be countered
by "error-prone legal decisions whose preordained conclusions were
dictated by Addington" as Dick Cheney's legal counsel following Lewis
- Their view is hard-line and simple. On matters of national
security (meaning anything), presidential authority isn't "limited
by any laws." It's empowered "to override existing laws that
Congress had specifically designated to curb him" and thus render
checks and balances and the Constitution null and void.
- For these men, everything changed post-9/11. The gloves
came off. Conventional law enforcement methods were inappropriate, and
only global conflict without end can keep us safe. It sounds bizarre and
like the ravings of madmen, and maybe to a degree they are. But very smart
and cunning ones who've led us to the current brink.
- In 2001, Max Waxman served as special assistant to then
national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. He told Mayer that the decision
to go to war (post-9/11) was made with "little or no detailed deliberation
about long-term consequences" because none were thought necessary.
But it set us on "a course not only for our international response,
but also in our domestic constitutional relations."
- It also worked for the executive as a wartime commander-in-chief
with considerable help from Congress, the courts, and the media. It left
him free from accountability after what Mayer calls "the worst intelligence
failure in the nation's history." Others see it differently - in "deep
state" terms as Peter Dale Scott defines it. He refers to facts in
every society and culture "which tend to be suppressed because of
the social and psychological costs of not doing so." In other words,
covert criminal policies, unaccountable, lawless and self-serving that
hide disturbing truths like both Kennedy and King assassinations, the Korean
and Vietnam wars, and the more recent 9/11 event.
- The War Council wasn't concerned if extremist policies
were banned. Only security matters and supreme presidential power. A discussion
of policy was missing, according to Mayer, "not just (about) what
was legal, but what was moral, ethical, right, and smart to do." These
were peripheral matters because "fundamentally, the drive for expanded
presidential authority was about (unlimited) power" outside of the
- Prior to her book's release, she wrote articles for The
New Yorker on torture, and her book is largely based on them. One on November
14, 2005 was titled "A Deadly Interrogation - Can the CIA legally
kill a prisoner?" It was about CIA officer Mark Swanner who "performed
interrogations and polygraph tests for the Agency...." In 2003, an
Iraqi Abu Ghraib prisoner in his custody, Manadel al-Jamadi, died during
an interrogation. His head was covered with a plastic bag. It inhibited
his breathing, and according to forensic pathologists, he suffocated. Subsequently
US authorities "classified Jamadi's death as a 'homocide.' "
Yet Swanner wasn't charged and continued to work for the Agency.
- Post-9/11, the DOJ "fashioned secret legal guidelines
that appear to indemnify CIA officials who perform aggressive, even violent
interrogations outside the United States" - to win the "war on
terror." In 2001, Dick Cheney condoned it in a Meet the Press interview
saying: We may have to go to "the dark side" in handling terrorist
suspects. "It's going to be vital....to use any means at our disposal."
- Subsequently, administration officials sought to turn
the CIA loose and protect its "classified interrogation protocol."
The idea was to give the Agency "flexibility" to make "cruel,
inhuman and degrading" treatment permissible. It means anything goes
regardless of US and international laws and norms.
- Another Mayer article appeared on August 13, 2007 titled:
"The Black Sites - A rare look inside the CIA's secret interrogation
program." In military terminology, such sites are locations where
"black" projects are conducted. Post-9/11, they refer to secret
CIA or military prisons outside the country with no oversight, accountability,
detainee rights, and where torture and abuse are freely practiced.
- Mayer discussed the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, an
Al Queda leader, supposed lead architect of the 9/11 attacks, and the CIA's
claim that he confessed to killing Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel
Pearl. No evidence supported it, and Mayer called his confession "perplexing."
He had no lawyer, was detained at black sites for over two years, and in
2006 was sent to Guantanamo. No one witnessed his confession, and it was
certain he was tortured. It was also at the time of the US Attorney scandal
when critics called for Gonzales' resignation. Further, in 2002, a Pakistani
named Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh had already been convicted of Pearl's abduction
and murder, but that hardly mattered to US authorities.
- They continued to interrogate Mohammed. It was part of
a secret CIA program in which detainees were held in "black sites"
outside the country - out of sight, out of mind, and subject to "unusually
harsh treatment." In 2006, the program was supposedly suspended when
George Bush said CIA detainees were being sent to Guantanamo. It followed
the June 2006 Hamdan v. Rumsfeld Supreme Court ruling granting habeas rights
to Guantanamo prisoners. It also acknowledged that Geneva's Common Article
3 was violated. The October 2006 Military Commissions Act followed. It
overrode the High Court to allow "alternative interrogations methods"
- Secrecy and unlimited presidential authority are the
hallmarks of this administration so everything in the "war on terror"
is classified and permissible. Even few congressional members know much,
and those who do won't say, let alone act to uphold the law.
- Mayer notes how since the 1949 Geneva Conventions, the
ICRC "played a special role in safeguarding" prisoner rights.
"For decades, governments allowed (their) officials (access to) detainees,
to insure that (proper treatment was) being maintained." However,
Red Cross personnel were denied permission to interview US prisoners for
five years. When they finally saw Mohammed, a spokesman declined to comment
because ICRC's work is confidential.
- Nonetheless, information leaked out to confirm what's
now known. CIA interrogation methods are "tantamount to torture, and
(responsible) American officials....could have committed serious crimes."
Other Geneva breaches also along with violations of US law. Mayer characterized
ICRC's revelations as having "potentially devastating legal ramifications."
She also mentions an unnamed CIA officer, supportive of current policy,
but worried that "if the full story of the CIA program ever surfaced,
Agency personnel could face criminal prosecution." Within CIA, he
said, there's a "high level of anxiety about political retribution"
regarding the interrogation program. Some CIA operatives even took out
liability insurance to help defray potential legal bills. Others saw the
operation as a "can of worms (that might) become an atrocious mess."
- Based on Mayer's account, it's far more than that - a
systematic scheme to rewrite laws and norms; to make any practice permissible;
to break and destroy human beings through intense coercion and psychological
stress - without letup; and to avoid all accountability. Regarding torture:
"It's one of the most sophisticated, refined programs ever,"
one expert explained. "At every stage, there was a rigid attention
to detail....It was almost automated. People were utterly dehumanized.
(They) fell apart. It was the intentional and systematic infliction of
great suffering masquerading as a legal process. It is just chilling."
- Mohammed's case is typical and shows what he was put
through when accounts of his ordeal leaked out. Initially he was told:
"We're not going to kill you. But we're going to take you to the brink
of your death and back." He was first taken to a secret Afghanistan
prison near Kabul International Airport - distinctive for its absolute
lack of light and known by detainees as the "Dark Prison." Another
one north of Kabul was called the "Salt Pit." An infamous 2002
death occurred there when a detainee was stripped naked and left chained
to the floor in freezing temperatures until he died.
- Mohammed endured some of these abusive practices. He
was taken to Afghanistan by a team of "black-masked commandos attached
to the CIA's paramilitary Special Activities Division." According
to a report titled "Secret Detentions and Illegal Transfers of Detainees,"
he and others were "taken to their cells by strong people (in) black
outfits, masks that covered their whole faces and dark visors over their
eyes." It was a carefully choreographed 20 minute routine during which
detainees are "hog-tied, stripped naked, photographed, hooded, sedated
with anal suppositories (amounting to sodomy), placed in diapers, and transported
by plane to a secret location."
- Stripping demonstrates the captors' omnipotence and and
debilitates detainees. Interrogators were advised to "tear clothing
from (them) by firmly pulling downward against buttons and seams....pulling
detainees off balance." Techniques also include the "Shoulder
Slap, Stomach Slap, Hooding, Manhandling, Walling," and a variety
of "Stress Positions."
- Mohammed said he was placed in his own cell, kept naked
for several days, and questioned by female interrogators for added humiliation.
He was also attached to a dog leash and yanked to propel him into walls
in his cell. In addition, he was suspended from the ceiling by his arms
so that his toes barely touched the ground and he was unable to sleep.
It caused intense pain and swelling to his legs. He may have also been
beaten with electric cables, commonly used against other detainees. Some
also got repeated electric shocks.
- Mohammed further described being chained naked to a metal
ring in his cell in a painful crouch - for prolonged periods in alternating
intense heat and extreme cold when he was doused with ice water, a banned
practice that can cause hypothermia. Other detainees were bombarded with
deafening sounds round the clock for weeks or even months. This and other
practices went on endlessly, and its effect was shattering. Detainees "lost
their minds." You could "hear people knocking their heads against
walls and doors, screaming their heads off." Attempted suicides were
common, and some succeeded.
- Mohammed was later secretly taken to a "specially
designated (Polish) prison for high-value detainees." Up to a dozen
others like him were there, but no first-hand accounts emerged of what
happened. However, "well-informed sources" said it was far more
high-tech than in Afghanistan - including hydraulic doors, video surveillance
- From what's known from others who were there, Mohammed
was kept in a prolonged state of sensory deprivation, perhaps as long as
four months. He was also waterboarded multiple times. There was no exposure
to natural light, and the only human contact was with silent masked guards.
The ICRC report seemed to confirm that he was kept shackled and naked,
except for a pair of goggles and earmuffs. Meals came sporadically to keep
prisoners disoriented. It was largely tasteless and barely enough to sustain
- Under this type treatment, virtually everyone breaks
down, and Mohammed was no exception. He ended up confessing to so many
crimes, he was barely credible. In addition to the Pearl murder, he said
he planned to assassinate Presidents Clinton and Carter, Pope John Paul
II and a great deal more, including plots to blow up New York suspension
bridges and the Panama Canal - anything to end the pain. Later on, like
many other detainees, he said he lied "to please his captors."
- As for taking blame for Daniel Pearl's killing, one of
Pearl's friends said: "I'm not interested in unfair justice, even
for bad people. Danny was such a person of conscience. I don't think he
would have wanted all of this dirty business. I don't think he would have
wanted someone being tortured. He would have been repulsed." So are
all people of conscience at a grim time in our history.
- Mayer recounts Mohammed's ordeal as well as Abu Zubaydah's
and others in her book. She also notes that Dick Cheney "saw to it
that some of the sharpest and best-trained lawyers in the country, working
in secret in the White House and US Department of Justice, came up with
legal justifications for a vast expansion of the government's power in
waging war on terror. As part of the process, for the first time in history,
the United States sanctioned government officials to physically and psychologically
torment US-held captives, making torture the official law of the land in
all but name." This "extralegal counterterrorism program presented
the most dramatic, sustained, and radical challenge to the rule of law
in American history."
- The Bush White House adopted a "doctrine of presidential
prerogative." It functions in secret and allows no challenge to its
authority. In the "war on terror," everything is permissible
even against innocent victims. And Mayer found there are many. She revealed
a classified 2002 CIA report stating that one-third of Guantanamo's 600
prisoners (at the time) have no connection to terrorism. In fact, the number
was far higher as most sent there were snatched randomly for bounty and
victimized by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Major General
Michael Dunlavey agreed and suggested up to half of Guantanamo detainees
were innocent of any crime. A Seton Hall University Law School study put
the number even higher.
- CIA, however, later lowered their estimate to 50 unjustifiably
detained. But either way it contradicted the administration's claim that
Guantanamo held "the worst of the worst" even though most never
were charged with a crime and none so far have been tried. They continue
being held at black holes sites, totally outside the law, and for most
without any hope again for a normal life. After what they've endured, that's
impossible. It's America's darkest hour, and Mayer powerfully recounts
- Late News on Torture Victims
- Salim Hamdan was captured during the Afghanistan invasion,
held at Guantanamo, and accused of being Osama bin Laden's personal driver.
After US District Court judge James Robertson's July 17 ruling (that may
be appealed in light of the Boumediene decision), he'll be the first detainee
tried by a military commission (possibly beginning July 21) in which he'll
receive no due process and no hope for judicial fairness. On July 15, he
testified at a pretrial hearing and described everyday life at Guantanamo
- a six year ordeal of interrogation, torture, isolation, sexual humiliation
and more. A snapshot follows:
- -- his "confessions" were made under extreme
duress - torture; his lawyer is trying to exclude them from trial; there's
practically no chance he'll succeed;
- -- "Camp Echo," where was held, "is like
a graveyard where you place a dead person in a tomb;"
- -- according to prosecutors, he was disciplined 84 times;
his counsel said 15 were for trying to speak to other detainees - "through
walls, through vents and in the recreation yard;"
- -- he described an interrogation by a woman who touched
his thigh and groin area; "She behaved in an improper way; She came
very close with her whole body towards me. I couldn't do anything;"
- -- he described months in isolation, multiple episodes
of sleep deprivation, including Operation Sandman for 50 days in 2003,
and being force-fed - by military personnel in white coats; they strapped
him down and snaked a tube through his nose to his stomach; "Doctors,
butchers, I couldn't tell the difference;" it's a very painful procedure;
- -- during one month of FBI interrogation, guards rapped
on his cell door every five to ten minutes all night to wake him;
- -- a tape of his first interrogation was revealed; he
said he was a Muslim charity worker, not a bin Laden employee; nonetheless
he underwent harsh battlefield questioning with his arms and legs bound,
a soldier's boot on his shoulder to keep his head bowed, and a "bag
over my head;"
- -- he described persistent back pain and no medical treatment;
- -- he's charged with transporting weapons for Al Queda
and helping bin Laden escape after 9/11; he calls himself a Muslim charity
worker, not a terrorist; a judge in Washington will shortly rule on whether
he should be tried in federal court; on July 14, several hundred current
and former European officials asked the judge to block the military tribunal
saying it was "clearly at odds with the most basic norms of fair trial
and due process."
- In another July 15 development, the Fourth US Circuit
Court of Appeals made two rulings, both 5 - 4. One (reversing a June 2007
three-judge panel decision) allows the Bush administration to order indefinite
military detentions of civilians captured in the US. A second held that
Ali al-Marri, a Qatar citizen held at the Charleston, SC naval brig, may
challenge his detention in federal court but will remain imprisoned without
charge. The decision is disturbing because the court was vague about about
what type new proceeding is allowed. The Bush administration may also appeal
to the Supreme Court so al-Marri and others like him remain in limbo.
- He's the only known person in mainland custody held as
an "unlawful enemy combatant." Defense intelligence official,
Jeffrey Rapp, calls him (without evidence) an Al Queda "sleeper agent"
sent to America to commit mass murder and disrupt the banking system. He
was arrested in Peoria, IL where he lived with his family.
- His lawyer, Jonathan Hafetz, called the court's decision
disturbing. It means "the president can pick up any person in the
country - citizen or legal resident - and lock them up for years without
the most basic safeguard in the Constitution, the right to a (fair and
speedy) criminal trial."
- Final Comments
- On February 17, 2008 in a New York Times Op-Ed, Air Force
Colonel Morris Davis, former chief Guantanamo military commissions prosecutor,
went public. He resigned last year because political operatives and military
superiors pushed prosecutors to file charges before trial rules were written.
He also called the tribunals tainted by political influence and by evidence
obtained through torture. He further accused Pentagon general counsel,
William Haynes II, of saying detainee acquittals would make the US look
bad. "We can't have acquittals, we've got to have convictions."
In 2004, three other prosecutors also quit, calling the process rigged.
- Davis explained his prosecutorial standard - "that
evidence derived through waterboarding was off limits. That should still
be our policy. To do otherwise is not only an affront to American justice,
it will potentially put prosecutors at risk for using illegally obtained
- "Unfortunately, I was overruled....and I resigned
my position to call attention to the issue - efforts that were hampered
by my being placed under a gag rule and ordered not to testify at a Senate
hearing. While some high-level military and civilian officials have rightly
expressed indignation on the issue, the current state can be described
generally as indifference and inaction....Military justice has a proud
history; this was not one of its finer moments."
- Guantanamo convictions are only justifiable "after
trials we can truthfully call full, fair and open. In that service, we
must declare that evidence obtained by waterboarding be banned in every
American system of justice." Hopefully he means all evidence gotten
through torture and abuse.
- On another matter following the Supreme Court's important
June 12 Boumediene v. Bush decision, the administration is reportedly preparing
to transfer Guantanamo's remaining 265 detainees to mainland locations.
Boumediene overrode the 2006 Military Commissions Act by ruling Guantanamo
prisoners have habeas rights and can challenge their detention in civil
courts. The administration has several choices. It can stall, ignore the
Court, act as reportedly rumored, or ask Congress to pass new supportive
- Currently around 80 detainees are to be tried in military
commissions. Another 65 can be repatriated home, leaving 120 others. According
to Boumediene, they all have habeas rights unless Bush administration officials
obstruct justice to prevent it. Given what they've done, a smooth road
to justice is far from certain. George Bush was noncommittal about Boumediene
saying only that the ruling was being analyzed. Both presidential candidates
favor closing Guantanamo, then transferring prisoners to US military prisons.
Fort Leavenworth, Kansas is a likely possibility.
- Another issues involves "prison ships," and
in 2005, the UN's Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism
took note. He spoke of "very, very serious" allegations that
the US was secretly detaining terrorist suspects aboard special ships at
various locations around the world, notably in the Indian Ocean.
- The UK legal action charity, Reprieve, believes up to
17 floating prisons are involved where detainees are held under torturous
conditions and subjected to harsh and brutal treatment, in some cases worse
than Guantanamo. Details have emerged from US administration and military
sources as well as the Council of Europe, various parliamentary bodies,
journalists, and former prisoner testimonies.
- The USS Bataan is one ship mentioned, and a former Guantanamo
detainee described his treatment on board. About 50 in total were there.
They were closed off in the ship's bottom area and beaten more severely
than at Camp X-Ray. Reprieve's Director, Clive Stafford Smith, said: "The
US administration chooses ships to try to keep their misconduct as far
as possible from the prying eyes of the media and lawyers. We will eventually
reunite these ghost prisoners with their human rights."
- "By its own admission, the US government is currently
detaining at least 26,000 people without trial in secret prisons, and information
suggests up to 80,000 have been 'through the system' since 2001. The US
government must show a commitment to rights and basic humanity by immediately
revealing who these people are, where they are, and what has been done
to them." The Bush administration's response so far: silence.
- Leaving aside other countries, America, to some degree,
has practiced torture for many decades, and especially since the CIA's
establishment in 1947. During the Vietnam War, Paul Blackstock wrote an
essay titled the "Moral Implications of Torture and Exemplary Assassination"
for the Carnegie Council On Ethics and International Affairs. He described
widespread CIA and special forces torture saying this policy created a
situation wherein "for the majority of private individuals (the) intolerable
(became) tolerable." That's the situation today in the Middle East,
Central Asia, Guantanamo, on prison ships, and at all secret US black sites
- Unless exposed, denounced and stopped, it's heading to
mainland America and maybe a neighborhood near you. It's no idle threat
given that, on July 14, the ACLU revealed that the nation's terrorist watch
list hit one million names - based on the government's own reported numbers.
It's also symbolic of what's wrong with "this administration's approach
to security - unfair, out-of-control, a waste of resources, (treating)
the rights of the innocent as an afterthought," and recklessly endangering
what little freedom remains. Even worse, by Bush administration standards,
there is none.
- Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of The Centre
for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at
- Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com