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December 14, 2012

Details on CIA Torture & Guantanamo Deaths Remain Concealed

Posted in: Freedom of Information,Guantanamo,Secrecy,War on Terrorism

(Image: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: Okko Pyykkö, electron)

The Senate Intelligence Committee recently adopted a six thousand page report on CIA torture and abuse. The report, a product of a three-year review of CIA practices, including its rendition, detention and interrogation (RDI) program, remains classified. It stems from at least six million CIA documents and could be the most comprehensive record to-date of what happened with the CIA while George W. Bush was president.

Obviously, as Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, declared after the vote, “The next step, of course, is for the report to be made public, so that all Americans can understand the harm that the CIA’s use of torture caused to national security, American values, and to its often innocent victims. She added, “Nothing good, and only bad, came from the torture program. But until the report is made public, most Americans will hear about the CIA and its torture program only from fictionalized movies and television shows, and not from this still-classified 6,000 page report on the actual facts.”

Murphy may have been alluding to the debate that the Kathryn Bigelow’s film Zero Dark Thirty has ignited this week over whether the film glorifies torture or not. Scenes of waterboarding have led some who’ve seen the film to contend the film is simply showing the CIA did engage in waterboarding. Regardless, the overwhelming point should be made: if the administration of President Barack Obama can allow officials to consult on the production of a film that includes CIA rendition, detention and interrogation practices without fearing it will put so-called “intelligence methods or sources” at risk, it should certainly allow and ensure this report is made public.

As Truthout‘s Jason Leopold reported, it may contain key information on the art of torture that Guantanamo Bay prison’s most high-profile detainee, Abu Zubaydah, has created while in confinement—artwork which the committee detailed in the report. Brent Mickum, Zubaydah’s lawyer, told Truthout:

…In lieu of the torture tapes, the drawings Zubaydah made – some on smaller pieces of paper – contain the best-known description of the torture techniques CIA interrogators used against Zubaydah.

Although he was unable to describe the drawings due to the classified nature of the materials, Mickum, who holds a top-secret clearance, said the drawings “show oxygen deprivation can happen in different ways…

…[S]ome of them were not just of Zubaydah, but of two other prisoners who also apparently were tortured.

Mickum said Zubaydah made a mental note of the stories he was told by other prisoners about their torture and drew a picture of it.

“All of the drawings depict what I would characterize as torture,” Mickum told Truthout, recounting what he had told the Intelligence Committee staffers. “That’s why [Zubaydah] did them. I think he was just trying to create a record. He wanted me to preserve them as a historical record.”…

What are the chances that some of the most sordid details are ever read by the public? Andrew Rosenthal, in a blog post for the New York Times, noted, “No decision was made yesterday about releasing the report and it will not be made until after the committee receives comments from the executive branch, Ms. Feinstein said, a euphemism for allowing the administration a chance to heavily censor the document.” He also wrote the Republicans attacked the report. Any outrage among them is sure to translate into efforts to keep the report secret for fabricated reasons that will be sold to the public under the oft-cited guise of protecting national security.

In addition to developments to surrounding the major Senate report, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on November 28 seeking the military autopsy reports on three men, who have died in Guantanamo Bay prison over the past two years. The men—Adnan Latif, Awal Gul, and Hajji Nassim (also known as “Inayatullah”)—were being held indefinitely without charge.

Avinash Samarth wrote in a post for the ACLU:

…While the military completed autopsy reports after each detainee’s death, these reports have not been released to the public. Our FOIA request follows recent media reports of the completion of Latif’s autopsy report and the government’s continued withholding of that report. The government’s failure to make Latif’s autopsy report public is particularly troubling given the recent controversy that has surrounded his death.

Without public disclosure of these autopsy reports, the public has an incomplete understanding of what happened to Latif, Gul, and Nassim while in U.S. custody. While the government issued short statements identifying the causes of death for Gul (heart attack) and Nassim (suicide), it has yet to issue a statement on how Mr. Latif died…

Jeff Kaye of Truthout (along with Leopold) has been examining what is known about Latif’s death. He recently published a critical story on a letter Latif wrote to his lawyers before his death.

The New York Times reported—after Truthout revealed Latif’s autopsy report concluded he had died from suicide—he had died from an overdose on psychiatric medication. Kaye appropriately poses the key question: How would Latif have managed to hoard and deliberately overdose on pharmaceuticals at a prison facility where detainees are under constant surveillance?

Part of the answer may be gleaned from this letter from Latif:

In a letter sent to his attorneys on May 28, 2010,the Yemeni detainee claimed he was given “contraband” items, such as a spoon and a “big pair of scissors … by the person responsible for Camp 5,” where uncooperative prisoners are sent.

“I am being pushed toward death every moment,” Latif wrote to human rights attorneys David Remes and Marc Falkoff. The communication was written in Arabicand translated into English by a translator Remes has worked with for nearly a decade.

“The way they deal with me proves to me that they want to get rid of me, but in a way that they cannot be accused of causing it,” Latif wrote.

At the end of the article, Kaye wrote:

Latif openly expressed his belief that no one would believe his story about the systematic abuse he had endured, and that he expected he would end up dead amid mysterious circumstances.

“It seems that I might have to send you my body parts and flesh to make you believe me and to believe to what degree of misery I have reached,” he wrote in that May 28, 2010 letter to Remes and Falkoff. “I am happy to die just to get away from a non-extinguishable fire and no-end torture. Marc and David: In the end, I am a human being.”

Truthout already tried to get the autopsy report for Latif released but the FOIA request was denied because it was, according to John Peterson, the head of the US Army Medical Command’s FOIA office, “part of an ongoing Naval Criminal Investigation.” That provides some indication of what the ACLU is up against as it tries to force the disclosure of reports that can reveal the truth of what actually led to the deaths of the three men at Guantanamo.

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