June 2010 Archives

'We Don't Torture'

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"We don't need a state-run media because our media outlets volunteer for the task: once the US government decrees that a technique is no longer torture, US media outlets dutifully cease using the term. - Glenn Greenwald

A new study by Harvard University students finds a double standard when defining torture
Shamed general Stanley McChrystal was fired for insubordination to the Chief Commander, but we should really be focusing on his war crimes -- the abuse and torture of detained prisoners in Iraq -- and seeking restitution for his victims. 

Jail Jon Burge Committee sees results:
Jury Convicts Chicago Police Commander for Lying About Torture
Democracy Now! report includes video of the emotional response from one of the victims 


Decades after torture allegations were first leveled against former Chicago police commander Jon Burge, a federal jury has found him guilty of lying about torturing prisoners into making confessions. Burge has long been accused of overseeing the systematic torture of more than 100 African American men. Two years ago federal prosecutors finally brought charges against Burge--not for torture, but for lying about it. On Monday afternoon, after a five-week trial, Jon Burge was found guilty on all counts of perjury and obstruction of justice for lying about the abuse. He could face up to forty-five years in prison.

What kind of intellectual environment has produced this kind of thinking? 
- David Sylvester

On May 8, 2010 the University of St. Thomas Law School held its graduation at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. Attendees walked past demonstrators calling for the school administration to relieve professor Delahunty of his teaching responsibilities. (Robert Delahunty co-authored, with John Yoo, some of the early memos that served as cornerstones to "legalize" the Bush Administration's orders to torture.) 

The protest focused on the actions of professor Robert Delahunty, pictured above, who walked quickly by and did not seem happy to be reminded of his past.

Without a full investigation, including the writing of the OLC memos that attempted to provide legal cover and protect those who ordered as well as those who practiced torture, such illegal human rights abuses are bound to reoccur. Without any accountability, it appears that law professors like Yoo and Delahunty continue to still teach their same discredited theories of presidential "war powers". 

Another Gitmo Detainee [to be] Released

Mohammed Mohammed Hassen has languished at Guantanamo for eight years.

Students, Faculty Develop Site to Examine Role of 
Psychologists in Enhanced Interrogation...

and this is good. But lets get real. As long as Berkeley Law employs a war criminal, its hard to take the school's commitment to human rights seriously. An investigation of John Yoo should be the first item on Christopher Kutz's agenda.

A Reasonable Man in a Box

Installation: collage, silkscreen text, video, sound. Dimensions variable. 2010.

Developed for the Whitney Museum of American Art's first-floor Anne & Joel Ehrenkranz Gallery, A Reasonable Man in a Box takes its point of departure from the "Bybee Memo", a controversial 2002 document signed by Jay Bybee, Assistant Attorney General of the United States Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel, and declassified by President Obama in 2009. The document discusses acceptable methods of "enhanced interrogation" of a high-level Al Qaeda operative, including the use of a confinement box. As Whitney curatorial assistant Nicole Cosgrove writes in the introductory text, "A Reasonable Man in a Box explores the perversion of reason, and the malleability of language and law. Using video, collage, and text, Magid transforms an international and political issue into a physical and intensely personal experience. The installation represents an artist's desire to engage a legal memo--and her government--in dialogue, and to unlock a closed system of clean-sounding legalese with a single rhetorical question." 

Detail from video projection. 2010.

I often think of the lobby gallery at the Whitney Museum as a place where visitors kill time while waiting for the elevator and where art goes to die. For now, it is a place where one goes to be tortured--or is it? In August 2002, two justice-department officials advised the CIA and President Bush on the use of "enhanced interrogation." At the Whitney, Jill Magid asks one to study their language and to experience the results. Is it torture? Ask, as the title has it, A Reasonable Man in a Box.

One may not feel very reasonable facing the projection on the far wall. One recognizes the object of terror from its curled tail and fur, although the roach-brown glow may evoke a New Yorker's familiar object of disgust. A scorpion of nearly human dimensions crawls along the floor, sometimes dipping or tunneling within. A reasonable man might find the promise of insects within the walls that much more frightening. Another wall holds selected or censored lines justifying torture of someone with pathological fear of insects. The rest of us will not be reassured.

The tortured legalisms are frightening enough all by themselves. The memo, signed by Jay Bybee and drafted with John Yoo, explains how to play upon a subject's expectations without taking responsibility for what the prisoner knows. And never mind what he experiences or how he reacts. Suppose the interrogator has silently substituted a mere caterpillar. Suppose the interrogator just happens never to have mentioned that the insect might or might not cause harm. See no evil, speak no evil.

Common law does not have to deal with torture, but it limits liability for damage or negligence, even to the point of death. When the law speaks of a reasonable man, it most often has in mind not the victim, but the cause of harm. As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., put it, one can demand no more than reason, because of the impossibility of "measuring a man's powers and limitations." The Bybee memo goes through cold, concise contortions to make a prisoner's helplessness sanction unlimited power. This, no doubt, is why Yoo now teaches at a school as elite as Berkeley...

more about the installation here

Torture Today

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Obama hasn't ended torture in America: doing so would require investigations and prosecutions, as the law itself demands. Rather, he claims merely to have "prohibited" it. Which sounds good, until you think about it for a moment. The old president permitted, the new president prohibits... what does that mean? That to both men, torture is not a matter of law, but simply one of policy...

see Torture Talisman, Torture Taboo by Barry Eisler

Note: meet the author July 11:

2:00 PM
Belmont Library
1110 Alameda de las Pulgas
Belmont, CA 

[Can the United Nations spell "U.S.A."? UN rights chief says torturers will face justice. (AFP)]Can the United Nations spell "U.S.A."? UN rights chief Navi Pillay says torturers will face justice. (AFP)

June 26 is International Day for the Victims of Torture. Take a moment to sign a statement against your government's participation in these crimes. Reject the notion that the United States is "above" or an "exception" to the law. 

There is a harmony among the three branches of government in the shared and cooperative unwillingness to hold US officials accountable for their roles in perpetrating or abetting grave breaches of law. As long as the accused are Americans, the "new normal" is impunity for torture. Ironically, however, US courts are still amenable to hearing and deciding cases against officials who perpetrate or abet torture for foreign regimes, like Haiti's Emmanuel Constant and Liberia's Charles Taylor, who were recently and successfully sued by their victims in America. - Professor Lisa Hajjar

Prosecution of torture policy makers is key to restoring due process rights and remedy to victims. World Can't Wait works to hold war criminals accountable; check for local events here

James Mitchell's picture for the torture accountability archives

James Mitchell

Torture Connection: Designing and implementing CIA torture methods
  • Retired from U.S. Air Force in May 2001 as an officer administering SERE training--programs training military personnel to withstand possible enemy torture
  • June 2001-April 2002, operated several firms providing services associated with "extreme situations." Contacted CIA with torture contract proposal.
  • April 2002-?? as principal in new company, Mitchell Jessen & Assocs., contracted with CIA to provide torture services

nearly every day, Mitchell would sit at his computer and write a top secret cable to the CIA's counterterrorism center. Each day, Mitchell would request permission to use enhanced interrogation techniques on Zubaydah. The source says the CIA would then forward the request to the White House, where White House counsel Alberto Gonzales would sign off on the technique. That would provide the Administration's legal blessing for Mitchell to increase the pressure on Zubaydah in the next interrogation.

Andy Worthington reports:

Last Wednesday, a new front in the search for accountability opened up, when Texan psychologist Jim L.H. Cox, Ph.D., assisted by Dicky Grigg, a lawyer in Austin, Texas, and Joe Margulies of Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago (who has been involved in the Guantánamo litigation since the prison opened in January 2002) filed a complaint to the Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists regarding another architect of the torture program, James Elmer Mitchell (PDF).

The complaint, which accuses Mitchell of numerous grave violations of his duties as a practicing psychologist, ought to be explosive, because Mitchell, along with a colleague, John "Bruce" Jessen, devised the horrendous experimental program that was used on Zubaydah, after his capture in Pakistan on March 28, 2002, and his subsequent rendition to a secret CIA facility in Thailand, which, on August 1, 2002, was ostensibly approved by John Yoo and Jay S. Bybee in their "torture memos"...

"Little Gitmos"

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Communications Management Units (CMUs), nicknamed "Little Gitmo" by the inmates for the resemblance to the Guantanamo Bay prison, are coming under criticism for their controversial policies, constitutionality, and secrecy. 

Prisoners assigned to these units cover a broad interpretation of the "War on Terror," from Muslim men thought to have extreme leanings to radical environmental and animal rights activists... 

photo c/o dcbureau.org

The ACLU has released a document prescribing "generic" application of torture techniques authorized by Jay Bybee in return for a lifetime position on the federal court of appeals. 

find document here
collaborates on amicus brief for Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project

On Monday, in the first case since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to test free speech against the demands of national security in the age of terrorism, the ideals of an earlier time were eroded and free speech lost. By preserving an extremely vague prohibition on aiding and associating with terrorist groups, the court reduced the First Amendment rights of American citizens...

Yoo's braggadocio here

Melinda Tuhus File Photo


For the past five years, he's been part of a group called Witness Against Torture, focusing on the treatment of "War on Terror" prisoners at Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba...

Every year on Jan. 12--the date back in 2002 that the first prisoners arrived at Guantanamo--American activists have demonstrated for an end to torture, for the release of those shown to have no ties to terrorism, and for trials for the rest.

Read Mark Colville's story here

Indicting CIA interrogators without indicting the policymakers who put them in positions to break the law doesn't exactly resemble justice. But neither does declining to indict torturers... - Spencer Ackerman

Attorney General Eric Holder has promised to use disavowed legal opinions dreamed up by the likes of John Yoo and Jay Bybee to determine standards for prosecution of CIA agents. Meaning that accommodation will be made for 

sleep deprivation, stress positions, waterboarding, forced nudity, cramped confinement in a dark space, water dousing, wall standing, walling, facial slaps, abdominal slaps, insects placed in a confinement box, facial holds, attention grasps, and dietary manipulation.

Now, how to excuse mock executions and death threats with power drills? Surely they're included in the spirit of those opinions. 

Court complicity in "the great American cop-out" won't preclude a reckoning -- It will simply happen elsewhere, without U.S. participation or involvement or acceptance of responsibility. In the end, sending a torture victim abroad to get justice is just as cowardly as sending him abroad to be tortured.

"A failure of the movement for accountability for torture will only embolden those sectors of the government that seek carte blanche in their efforts to subordinate the entire nation to endless militarism, the better to fill the pocketbooks of the industries and academic think tanks that staff the effort, not to mention the many medals and military careers that rest upon such an enterprise. Even more, like a parasite that lives upon a host and then takes over the living body of its victim, the torturers and would-be Mengeles will feel they have free rein for the most diabolical adventures in evil. - Jeff Kaye at INVICTUS 

Guantanamo Protestors (Image Credit: Rysak / WTTG)_20100614085356_JPG
Guantanamo Protestors (Image Credit: Rysak / WTTG)
Saying that "In my opinion, the defendants were not properly charged in this case," D.C. Superior Court Judge Russell Canan today acquitted 24 activists of unlawful assembly in connection with civil disobedience this past January 21 at the U.S. Capitol. 
Press release here
"It is the essential role of the judicial branch to prevent the 'war on terror' from becoming the blank check for official torture that Yoo and the United States seek." - constitutional law teachers' statement 

coverage of Padilla v. Yoo hearing here, here and here

Maher Arar, seen in December 2006, lost a lawsuit against former officials of the George W. Bush administration when the U.S. Supreme Court rejected his appeal.Maher Arar, seen in December 2006. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)NEWS UPDATE: The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) is reported to be conducting a criminal investigation into U.S. as well as Syrian officials for their role in Maher Arar's rendition to torture.

The Supreme Court rejection of Arar v. Ashcroft today demonstrates the failure of the U.S. legal system to prescribe redress for victims of the government's "war on terror." But don't expect the President or Congress to correct this latest travesty. No effective repudiation or reversal of the Bush regime's lawlessness has come forth in Obama's first 18 months as commander-in-chief. Guantanamo is still open, and new Guantanamos are now opening at the expanded Bagram prison, and perhaps also Thomson, Illinois. Witness the newly announced policy ordering the assassination of a U.S. citizen without criminal charges, prosecution or conviction -- only allegations about affiliations. Obama's continuance of war policy set under Bush is not only wrong-headed but illegal, and immoral.  

It is up to us, the people, to resist these crimes against humanity.

"My case and other cases brought by human beings who were tortured have been thrown out by U.S. courts based on dubious government claims. Unless the American people stand up for justice they will soon see their hard-won civil liberties taken away from them as well." - extraordinary rendition survivor Maher Arar


Cleared for release in 2004, after determination that there was no information to confirm Taliban or al Qaeda ties on his part, Mohammed Mohammed Hassan Odaini continues to be held by the Obama administration, in defiance of this latest court order.     

"(U.S.) officials kept a young man from Yemen in detention in Cuba from age eighteen to age twenty-six... They have prevented him from seeing his family and denied him the opportunity to complete his studies and embark on a career." - U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr.

Government lawyers, after all, gave medical personnel the green light for human experimentation. They provided the legal framework and justification. They paved the way for subjecting prisoners to isolation and sleep deprivation, painful stress positions, simulated drowning, cruel exposure to extreme cold and other forms of abuse.


John Eastman--the former Chapman University law school dean whose most famous education maneuver was bringing his pal and disgraced Bush torture memo author John Yoo to the private Orange institution to pollute future legal minds and defend himself--wanted to dupe voters by being listed as "assistant attorney general" or "special assistant attorney general" in campaign materials and on the June 8 Republican primary ballot. - OC Weekly

"And so while my campaign for Attorney General ends this morning, the campaign for our agenda does not.  We must restore feudalism federalism, fight unconstitutional pension spikes, fight illegal immigration, protect marriage, defend small businesses from excessive regulation and litigation, and; comprehensively, restore the constitutional limits on government, to bring our state back." - John Eastman

photo by Christopher Victorio 
PHOTO The United States tried to turn a page on its controversial detention policy today, facilitating the first trial of detainees held in an American detention facility after more than eight years of war--at the new Parwan Detention Facility.
A U.S. soldier talks to reporters at a new detention center at the U.S. Bagram Air Base, north of Kabul in this Nov. 15, 2009 file photo. The United States tried to turn a page on its controversial detention policy today, facilitating the first trial of detainees held in an American detention facility after more than eight years of war--at the new Parwan Detention Facility.
(Jonathon Burch /Reuters)

"It appears from the data collected in the PHR report [Experiments in Torture, see previous post] that the CIA was using health-care professionals to collect data for two purposes: to try to hone its torture techniques, and to create a "good faith" defense against criminal charges, following the advice of the Justice Department... The PHR report points to the extraordinary steps taken quietly by the Bush Administration to amend the War Crimes Act in 2006, following their sudden realization that government figures faced a real prospect of prosecution for criminal misconduct undertaken on high-level instructions."  - Scott Horton

Blight and Fog pervade the polity...

The academy is not disturbed by the torturers among its tenured elites. 
John Yoo has hardly been challenged at all at Berkeley.
Berkeley students, are you blind? 
Berkeley faculty, are you blind?
Bush admits openly to war crimes,
Yoo counseled them yet retains tenure at BP's Berkeley campus. 
Is everyone completely flipping insane? - Anonymous response to The Heart of the Bush Administration's Torture Program 

High-value detainees captured during the Bush administration's "war on terror," who were subjected to brutal torture techniques, were part of a Nazi Germany-type program involving illegal human experimentation, the purpose of which was to collect research "data," according to a disturbing new report that calls on President Barack Obama, Congress, and other government agencies to immediately launch inquiries and Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate the allegations.

The findings contained in the 27-page report, "Experiments in Torture: Human Subject Research and Evidence of Experimentation in the 'Enhanced' Interrogation Program," is based on extensive research of previously declassified government documents that shows the crucial role medical personnel played in establishing and justifying the legality of the Bush administration's torture program.

For those who have closely followed the details that have surfaced over the years related to the Bush administration's torture program, some of the information contained in the report has already been painstakingly documented by Marcy Wheeler at her blog Emptywheel, and Truthout's own Jeffrey Kaye on his blog Invictus and in articles published on this web site and at Firedoglake.

Minneapolis resident Chuck Turchick reminds us that "accountability for torture is about the soul of our country, yet we hear only silence from our leaders"...

Some government officials say they support those who push for accountability, but there is a lack of political will in Washington to deal with the issue. We respond that Minnesota's most courageous leaders have created, not followed, the political will. Hubert Humphrey on civil rights at the 1948 Democratic National Convention, Eugene McCarthy on the war in Southeast Asia, and Paul Wellstone on the invasion of Iraq were at their best when they opposed the political will in Washington, not succumbed to it.

Chuck is following the various Torture Awareness Month events sponsored by a coalition of anti-torture and human-rights groups in the Twin Cities. Help get the word out about events in your town; forward info and I'll get it up on this blog.

Break the silence.

justice heals

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Thanks for the heads-up Andy! I'm looking forward to viewing this.

On April 30, 2010, The UC Davis Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas organized an event to mark the fifth anniversary of its excellent Guantánamo Testimonials Project. Entitled "Guantánamo: A conversation this side of the wire," the event enabled, for the first time, a discussion to take place, before an American audience, between a former Guantánamo prisoner (the British resident Omar Deghayes, speaking by video-conference from the UK) and a former Guantánamo guard (Terry Holdbrooks, who converted to Islam and is now known as Mustafa Abdullah), and it was therefore enormously significant.
"Does the public interest in national security allow the U.S. to detain aliens overseas indefinitely?" - Richard A. Epstein 

Al-Maqaleh v. Gates is the latest chapter in this debate. In late May a panel for the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia--consisting of David Sentelle, a Reagan appointee; Harry Edwards, a Carter appointee; and David Tatel, a Clinton appointee--took another wrong turn in the road. Their unanimous decision held that three persons taken captive outside the U.S. and detained for over seven years at the United States' Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan could not challenge the legality of their detention in federal district court...

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