The American Bear


ACLU Sues CIA for Reports on Its Torture Program

The ACLU filed a lawsuit today under the Freedom of Information Act to compel the CIA to release two reports about its post-9/11 program of rendition, secret detention, and torture of detainees. This illegal program was devised and authorized by officials at the highest levels of government, and five years after it officially ended, the American public still doesn’t have the full story about some of the most devastating rights violations committed in its name.

The first report, by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (“SSCI”), is the most comprehensive review of the CIA’s torture program to date. Led by SSCI Chair Senator Dianne Feinstein, the committee reviewed more than six million pages of CIA documents and other records over the course of three years. At the end of 2012, the SSCI approved its Study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, which spans over 6,000 pages and includes approximately 35,000 footnotes. Senator Feinstein, who deserves major credit for initiating and overseeing such a thorough investigation, stated that the report “uncovers startling details about the CIA detention and interrogation program and raises critical questions about intelligence operations and oversight … [T]he creation of long-term, clandestine ‘black sites’ and the use of so-called ‘enhanced-interrogation techniques’ were terrible mistakes.” According to Senator John McCain, the report confirms that the “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of prisoners” is “a stain on our country’s conscience.”

In addition to detailing the CIA’s illegal practices, the report reveals that the CIA misled the White House, the Department of Justice, and Congress about the “effectiveness” of waterboarding, wall-slamming, shackling in painful positions, and other methods of torture and abuse. As Senator Ron Wyden has noted, these CIA misstatements were eventually communicated to the public — but the agency has failed to set the record straight. 

The second report, the CIA’s response to the SSCI, presents the agency’s shameless defense of its torture regime and challenges the SSCI’s investigative methods and findings.

Both reports are critical to a full and fair public conversation about the CIA’s torture program, which is why we and other rights groups have urged President Obama to release the SSCI report, and why we’re bringing suit to enforce our FOIA requests. The public deserves to hear the truth: Torture doesn’t work, and more importantly, it’s never acceptable.

… Transparency alone cannot complete investigations, bring wrongdoers to justice, or compensate victims. But to understand the injuries inflicted by U.S. torture — the resulting deaths, the unspeakable physical and psychological suffering, the harm to our nation’s values, and the cost to our security — greater transparency is a necessary step. If the CIA and the executive branch continue to withhold fundamental facts concerning the torture program, such as the information in the SSCI CIA report and the CIA’s response, a truly meaningful account of this terrible chapter in our nation’s history will continue to be beyond our reach.

An even bigger problem is U.S. complicity in the abusive methods used by its Afghan allies. As one military intelligence soldier told me in Kandahar in 2011, they would often take a “smoke break” when interrogating recalcitrant detainees, stepping outside and leaving the prisoner alone with Afghan police or soldiers. And despite over a decade and billions of dollars spent training the Afghan security forces, torture and abuse remain endemic in Afghan prisons. As I reported in the investigation, ISAF has halted transferring detainees to some of the worst locations, but the CIA has not… US Soldiers Participate in Torture of Afghan Detainees

The CIA’s Resistance to 6,300-Page Report on the Agency’s Use of Torture | The Dissenter

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence produced a 6,300-page report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program that has still not been declassified in some form for the public to read. And, now New Yorker‘s Jane Mayer has reported on an episode involving the confirmation of a former high-ranking CIA lawyer to serve in a similar position at the Pentagon.

Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado, who serves on the intelligence committee and has been openly campaigning for the report to be released, put a “hold” on Stephen W. Preston’s confirmation. He placed the hold to get Preston to answer some questions about a conflict that has been ongoing between the CIA and the committee particularly over the report that addresses the CIA’s use of torture techniques under President George W. Bush.

Mayer obtained a copy of Preston’s answers to seven questions Udall asked. The answers suggest, as of August 9, the CIA had probably still not bothered to read the 6,300-page report.

The CIA has had since December 14, 2012, when the committee provided a copy of the report to the agency, to respond. It was given a deadline of February 15, 2013. However, “no one person at the CIA has read the full 6,300-page Committee Study.” What they have responded to is bullet points in a small 50-page summary within the report and not even a 300-page Executive Summary.

Preston explained to Udall the agency had undertaken a review and responded to to it to the “full extent believed possible given its volume and that of the underlying record material, and given very limited time constraints, imposed originally by the Committee’s 60-day deadline and, once that was exceeded, by the practical imperative to respond expeditiously following the appointment of a new Director”—John Brennan.

The acting director at the time “adopted a team approach, relying on a group of experienced intelligence officers, rather than a single individual, to conduct the review and prepare comments. He deemed it impractical to respond on a line-by-line basis to the 6,300-page report in any reasonable timeframe, so he directed the team to focus on the study’s 20 conclusions and conduct a ‘deep dive’ on a substantial portion of the study viewed as the basis for a number of the study’s central conclusions.”

Is that somehow supposed to excuse the fact that nobody read the entire report? [++]

Bradley Manning acted and continues to act on behalf of the sacred value of life, in the name of decency, honor and anything that is good in the world. And it is precisely for this that the United States government has imprisoned him, subjected him to horrifying, brutal conditions, displayed him in the manner of a caged animal to the world in a mock trial, and now threatens to keep him in prison for decades. Are you seriously going to tell me that this is not torture? At a minimum, this is psychological torture of astonishing, sickening refinement: every value has been inverted and turned into its opposite, compassion and a reverence for life have been turned into vicious crimes, while sadistic monsters enjoy ever greater power and public acclaim. I am certain that Manning is aware of this, although I am also certain he exerts tremendous efforts to keep this awareness at bay, and even to suppress it as much as possible. If he did not, it would drive him — it would drive anyone — insane. It is nothing less than a miracle that he has not already become a gibbering, drooling idiot. That particular miracle is a testament to the remarkable strength of this altogether remarkable man. In our time, a time which sneers ironically at the merest suggestion of heroism or greatness of character, I do not expect most people to understand Bradley Manning and what he represents. But if you genuinely wish to see nobility of soul in action, you need look no further than Bradley Manning. And I would suggest that the only proper response is quietly to murmur a fervent, “Thank you.” Arthur Silber, If You Love Martyrs So Much, Then You Be One

Afghan translator links U.S. forces to civilian killings

KABUL (Reuters) - An Afghan interpreter for U.S. special forces arrested on accusations of torturing and killing civilians has denied involvement in the murders to Afghan investigators, and said he was always acting on orders from his U.S. military handlers.

Afghan authorities detained Zakeria Kandahari six weeks ago following allegations he was involved in atrocities against civilians in Wardak, a strategically important province close to Kabul.

In a record of the interview being prepared by military investigators and obtained by Reuters, Kandahari said he had worked for U.S. special forces across Afghanistan for nine years, most recently in Wardak’s Nerkh district, where the allegations surfaced in February.

“I was a low-rank translator and had no access to roam around inside the base, or in interrogation rooms,” Kandahari told the investigators, according to the three-page document which carried his photograph on the front page, dressed in camouflage fatigues and a hat.

The Afghan government has in the past said that Kandahari is Afghan-American, although his exact background remains unclear.

In the document, Kandahari identified three U.S. special forces soldiers as “Dave, chief of the operations, Hagen and Chris” and told Afghan military interrogators that the trio had been fluent in both of Afghanistan’s major languages, Dari and Pashto.

“Kandahari rejects all allegations leveled to him and links the three soldiers to the killings,” the interview document said, citing Kandahari, whose case threatens relations between the government and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), already tense over the issue of civilian deaths.

U.S. military officials have consistently denied special forces participated in, or turned a blind-eye to, torture and illegal killings by Afghans working with them in Nerkh.

[…] Atrocities against civilians have been a flashpoint in relations between the government and NATO-led forces since an American soldier was accused of murdering 16 civilians in Kandahar province in March last year, complicating negotiations on a U.S. military presence in the country beyond NATO’s 2014 combat exit.

Afghan authorities have already arrested an Afghan army colonel who allegedly handed prisoners over to Kandahari. That arrest came after the bodies of three men detained in joint U.S.-Afghan raids since November were last month found close to the Nerkh military base.

Reuters has seen a list compiled by the Ministry of Defense of 18 men allegedly detained in Nerkh. The three whose bodies were found in June were among 10 listed as missing, villagers and officials said. The other eight were listed as dead.

More on Kandahari from the archives.

Hunger Strike in the Empire of Dungeons | Glen Ford

The number of California prisoners that remain on hunger strike now hovers around 2,500, at 17 prisons, down from 30,000 at the beginning of the action, on July 8. That’s still a lot more than at this point in the two previous strikes, in 2011. Prisoner solidarity activists say the protest is more widespread, this time, largely because authorities transferred lots of inmates around the system, allowing plans for the strike to circulate.

The epicenter of the protest is Pelican Bay prison where more than a thousand inmates are locked in long term solitary confinement from which some will never emerge, unless there is a change in policy. Prison officials made a show of making concessions in response to the 2011 protests, establishing a program that would allow some inmates a chance to get out of solitary. But the state reviewed only 400 cases, and allowed only about half of them back into the general prison population. And, according to the Center for Constitutional Rights, which is suing the state for imposing cruel and unusual punishment, “not a single one” of its 1,000 Pelican Bay clients “has experienced any change in their situation whatsoever.”

The inmates insist that they will not end their action without a signed agreement with the force of law, addressing their core demands. But the State of California is not in the habit of acting in good faith, even with the judicial branch of government, on prison matters, much less negotiating with inmates. Governor Jerry Brown – who some call a liberal Democrat – has twice been threatened with contempt of court for refusing to release 10,000 inmates in order to relieve life-threatening conditions in the prisons. His wardens now claim that gang members in solitary confinement – people who have no means of communicating with anyone but guards – are somehow forcing thousands of other inmates to join the hunger strike. Governor Brown and his wardens continue to claim that conditions are improving in the prisons – even as thousands of inmates testify, with their very lives, that the opposite is true.

“Solitary confinement is the ultimate tool of the man-breaker.”

Prisons – especially prison systems designed by diabolical American minds – are meant to break men’s wills, to make them non-persons, groveling masses of flesh. Solitary confinement is the ultimate tool of the man-breaker, narrowing the scope of human activity to the bare functions of processing food into waste. For a person so restricted, the only mode of resistance available is to refuse to eat. California is one of only three states in which prison doctors are prohibited from force-feeding inmates. However, there is a loophole. The State Supreme Court ruled 20 years ago that forced feeding can be used to protect the “custodial environment,” that is, the discipline and security of the prison. If the authorities believe that allowing holdouts to continue their strike until death would be disruptive of the prison order, they could probably get away with forcing tubes down hunger strikers’ noses, like in Guantanamo Bay.

It is way past time that people stop saying that the United States is “moving towards” becoming a police state. It is, in fact, by far the biggest police and incarceration state ever known to man: an empire of dungeons.

[T]he Combined IG Report on Cheney’s illegal program reveals that before each Presidential Authorization, the CIA would put together a ‘scary memo’ that the Director of CIA would then certify presented a sufficiently grave threat to justify reauthorizing the illegal wiretap program. … It’s bad enough that a court has gutted the Fourth Amendment in secret. But it did so because it was presented with unchallenged intelligence derived from a now-discredited torture program. Marcy Wheeler, The Torture That Underlies FISA Court’s “Special Needs” Decisions

President Barack Obama’s nominee to lead the FBI forcefully argued to the Senate that the oversight mechanisms on the government’s widespread surveillance of phone records and online habits sufficiently protect Americans’ privacy.

James Comey defends US surveillance practices at FBI confirmation hearing

And that’s about all you need to know about Obama’s new head of the FBI.

There is this part where Comey tells us that, as a Father of course, he felt that waterboarding (which he signed off on when he worked in the Bush DOJ) might be torture, but it all sounded so legal that he was helpless in doing anything to prevent it. Apparently the resignation tactic he’s so famous for didn’t come to mind. Some of the Democrats teased him about it, but “none expressed opposition to Comey’s nomination.”

As Ackerman notes:

Instead, Comey’s hearing, nearly three hours long, occasionally seemed like a coronation. [Senator] Blumenthal said Comey enjoyed “very solid support” on the committee. Comey made self-deprecating jokes and slipped into colloquialisms. Queried about the FBI’s current practice of reading emails older than 180 days without a warrant, Comey said: “I don’t think the fourth amendment has, like your yogurt, an expiration date.”

Widespread Breakdown of Safeguards at Gitmo | Jason Leopold

On more than a dozen occasions over the course of eight years, Adnan Latif complained to his attorney that his American captors forced him to take medications that left him feeling like “a zombie.”

The 36-year-old Guantanamo prisoner, who died there last year in a high-security cell, claimed he was injected with unknown substances while he slept and plied with pills whenever the guards deemed him to be unruly, which appeared to be often.

The military repeatedly dismissed Latif’s allegations as the paranoid ramblings of a difficult and brain-damaged terror suspect. But it turns out his story was true - and only the tip of a still-submerged iceberg.

Latif’s tale of forced drugging, and other aspects of what has emerged as a torturous decade of indefinite detention at Gitmo, is laid bare in a military report released Friday in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by this reporter last year following the young Yemeni’s mysterious and solitary death.

The declassified 79-page report details the US military’s investigation into Latif’s reported suicide, found that Guantanamo guards contributed to his death by failing to follow numerous protocols set forth in the facility’s Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs); yet no one has been held accountable or faced disciplinary action in the case.

Nor does the report explain how the frail youngest son of a Yemeni merchant ended up on an autopsy table, his body laced with a mind-boggling pharmaceutical cocktail of undetermined origin.

Latif, who suffered from a traumatic brain injury incurred decades before, believed the guard force was trying to kill him. According to unclassified notes taken in May 2012 by David Remes, his Washington D.C.-based attourney, Latif said he sometimes removed psychiatric medications from his mouth “because I don’t want to […] here.” A word in Remes’ notes is missing. He said it might be “die.”

Remes also wrote that Latif was being medicated with “sedatives and psychotropics [and] painkillers,” and noted that his client said he was sometimes given the wrong dosage and the wrong medication.

After Latif was found unresponsive in his cell last September, an autopsy report concluded he committed suicide by hoarding and ingesting two-dozen doses of Invega, prescribed a month earlier to treat schizophrenia.

The report does not mention Latif by name. Rather, it refers to him by his internment number, ISN156 - identification marks that were on his body bag when he was finally returned home to Yemen last December.

In addition to Invega, the drug used to treat schizophrenia, a previously classified toxicology report made public last week reveals the presence of other anti-psychotics and painkillers in Latif’s system, including codeine, Percocet, Seroquel, Ativan, Celexa, morphine and Remeron - medications that can result in severe side effects if taken in combination, according to a redacted copy of the newly released report.

To top it off, Latif, who was a frequent hunger striker, also suffered from acute pneumonia that went undetected prior to his death. The report blames Latif, himself, for the institutional failures that led to his death, saying he was “an exceptionally challenging detainee.”

Remes calls the report “a whitewash,” adding that Latif’s death is an “indirect result of [President Barack] Obama’s failure to transfer Yemenis back to Yemen.”

Two presidential administrations over the course of a decade concluded Latif did not belong at Guantanamo and had cleared him for release, but he and other detainees continued to languish there, without being charged and without hope of a path to freedom.

Legal proceedings and other documentation over the years indicate Latif was seeking medical assistance for the crippling mental and physical damage sustained in a car crash when he was swept up in a post-9/11 dragnet for terrorists near the Afghan-Pakistan border. He was sold to the Northern Alliance for a $5,000 bounty and arrived at the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay as one of the prison’s first detainees. [continue]

US steps up efforts to break Guantánamo hunger strike | The Observer

Increasingly brutal tactics are being used in an attempt to break the hunger strike by detainees at Guantánamo Bay, according to fresh testimony from the last British resident still held in the camp.

Shaker Aamer claims that the US authorities are systematically making the regime more hardline to try to defuse the strike, which now involves almost two-thirds of the detainees. Techniques include making cells “freezing cold” to accentuate the discomfort of those on hunger strike and the introduction of “metal-tipped” feeding tubes, which Aamer said were forced into inmates’ stomachs twice a day and caused detainees to vomit over themselves.

The 46-year-old from London tells of one detainee who was admitted to hospital 10 days ago after a nurse had pushed the tube into his lungs rather than his stomach, causing him later to cough up blood. Aamer also alleges that some nurses at Guantánamo Bay are refusing to wear their name tags in order to prevent detainees registering abuse complaints against staff.

Speaking last week from the camp in Cuba, exactly four months after he joined the hunger strike, Aamer said: “The administration is getting ever more angry and doing everything they can to break our hunger strike. Honestly, I wish I was dead.”

[…] Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the legal charity Reprieve, who passed a transcript of his conversation with Aamer to the Observer, said: “These gruesome new details show just how bad things are in Guantánamo. The whole thing is at breaking point. Clearly the US military is under enormous pressure and doing everything it can to hurt the men and break the hunger strike.”

Although the military initially denied that there was a hunger strike inside Guantanámo, it now concedes that, of the 166 detainees, 104 are on hunger strike and 44 are being force-fed.

Afghanistan Arrests Colonel For Turning Over Prisoners to Zakaria Kandahari | Jim White

I just can’t stay away from the continually unfolding story of the death squad in the Nerkh District of Maidan Wardak Province in Afghanistan. Recall that in this post, I came to the conclusion that the death squad seems virtually certain to have been run by the CIA or CIA contractors, making denials of involvement coming from the military meaningless. The role of the shady character known as Zakaria Kandahari, and especially his sudden and complete disappearance once the situation spiraled out of control, seems especially to fit that of someone under the control of a covert CIA paramilitary group that recruits and runs militia groups.

Today, Reuters is out with a report that gives this story yet another huge development. It appears that in the course of its investigations into the disappearance, torture and murders relating to a group of 18 missing men (with the New York Times telling us Saturday that up to 14 of those bodies have now been recovered), Afghanistan has now arrested a colonel in the Afghan army for turning prisoners over to [Kandahari and] the “rogue” militia. [continue]

Afghans protest against US forces after discovery of mutilated bodies

New light shed on US government's extraordinary rendition programme |

A groundbreaking research project has mapped the US government’s global kidnap and secret detention programme, shedding unprecedented light on one of the most controversial secret operations of recent years.

The interactive online project – by two British universities and a legal charity – has uncovered new details of the way in which the so-called extraordinary rendition programme operated for years in the wake of the September 11 attacks, and the techniques used by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to avoid detection in the face of growing public concern.

The Rendition Project website is intended to serve as a research tool that not only collates all the publicly available data about the programme, but can continue to be updated as further information comes to light.

Data already collated shows the full extent of the UK’s logistical support for the programme: aircraft associated with rendition operations landed at British airports more than 1,600 times.

Although no detainees are known to have been aboard the aircraft while they were landing in the UK, the CIA was able to refuel during operations that involved some of the most notorious renditions of the post-September 11 years, including one in which two men were kidnapped in Sweden and flown to Egypt, where they suffered years of torture, and others that involved detainees being flown to and from a secret prison in Romania.

The database also tracks rendition flights into and out of Diego Garcia, in the Chagos Islands, and suggests that flight crews enjoyed rest-and-recreation stopovers on the Turks and Caicos Islands. Both are British overseas territories.

The Rendition Project is the result of three years of work, funded by the UK taxpayer through the Economic and Social Research Council, by Ruth Blakeley, a senior lecturer at the University of Kent, and Sam Raphael, a senior lecturer at Kingston University, working with Crofton Black, an investigator with the legal charity Reprieve.

“By bringing together a vast collection of documents and data, the Rendition Project publishes the most detailed picture to date of the scale, operation and evolution of the global system of rendition and secret detention in the so-called war on terror,” said Blakeley.

Raphael said: “The database makes a major contribution to efforts to track CIA rendition flights, and provides the clearest picture so far of what was going on. It also serves as an important tool for investigators, journalists and lawyers to delve into in more detail.”

Black added: “The Rendition Project lays bare the inner workings of the logistics network underlying the US government’s secret prison programme. It’s the most accurate and comprehensive resource so far published.”

The data includes details on 11,006 flights by aeroplanes linked to the CIA’s rendition programme since 2002. Of those, 1,556 flights are classed as confirmed or suspected rendition flights, or flagged as “suspicious”, depending on the strength of the supporting evidence surrounding each.

Revised Guantanamo force-feed policy exposed (2) | Jason Leopold

[…] The [Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)] contains a “General Algorithm for a Hunger Strike”, described in the document as “a simplified outline for the medical management of detainees on hunger strike”.

It notes that, after a prisoner is identified as a possible hunger striker, a medical officer performs a physical examination, and the behavioural healthcare service conducts a psychological evaluation. The prisoner is then “counselled” about the dangers associated with a hunger strike.

“If detainee continues to hunger strike and clinical criteria for the initiation of enteral feeding are met… the detainee may be admitted to the Detention Hospital or designated feeding block if medically stable. Authorisation is obtained via chain-of-command from JTF-GTMO Commander to begin enteral feeding.”

Before being placed into the restraint chair, medical personnel offer the prisoner one last chance to eat voluntarily. If the prisoner refuses, the “medical provider signs [the] medical restraint order” to force feed the prisoner, and encourages him to use the restroom before he is shackled.

A guard then “shackles detainee and a mask is placed over the detainee’s mouth to prevent spitting and biting”, states the chair restraint protocol. “Detainee is escorted to the chair restraint system and is appropriately restrained by the guard force.”

A 10 or 12 “French” size (3.3/4mm external diameter) feeding tube is then placed into the prisoner’s stomach through his nostril. He is given a topical anaesthetic, such as viscous lidocaine for his nostril “unless detainee refuses”. A sterile surgical lubricant is applied to the feeding tube.

Medics use a stethoscope and a test dose of 10ml of water to ensure the pipe has reached the detainee’s stomach.

The feeding tube is secured to the prisoner’s nose with tape “and the enteral nutrition and water that has been ordered is started, and flow rate is adjusted according to detainee’s condition and tolerance.”

The manual says a feeding can be “completed comfortably over 20 to 30 minutes”, a claim disputed by Guantanamo prisoner Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, who described in a New York Times op-ed the intense pain he experienced from being force-fed.

The administration of two powerful drugs, in addition to a wide range of over-the-counter medication, further undercuts the assertion that force-feeding can be completed comfortably in a half-hour or less. The two drugs at issue, according to the force-feeding policy, are Phenergan, which is used to prevent motion sickness, nausea, vomiting, pain - or as a sedative or sleep aid - and Reglan, which is used to treat heartburn caused by acid reflux. Long-term use of Reglan has been known to cause the irreversible neurological disorder, tardive dyskinesia. [read]