On Human Rights, UN Committee Gives US Low Grades for Surveillance, Detention at Guantanamo

Screen shot of CCPR grades for United States
Screen shot of CCPR grades for United States

A United Nations committee, which reviews how countries comply with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), issued grades for the United States government’s implementation of recommendations issued last year. The committee gave the US low grades for surveillance and detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and in facilities in Afghanistan.

The ICCPR is an international human rights treaty. Signatories are supposed to undertake measures to ensure the rights in the treaty are protected in their countries. In fact, since the US ratified the treaty in 1992, the government has an obligation to comply with the treaty as it would any other domestic law.

A committee of the UN, the Human Rights Committee, conducts periodic reviews of countries’ human rights records. It gives countries an opportunity to respond to the committee’s concerns. The committee makes recommendations. It then grades how countries implement those recommendations.

Countries, which are signatories, report to the committee every four years. This is the fourth periodic review of the US.

To understand the grades, “B1″ means “substantive action” took place but the committee still wants more information. “B2″ means some initial action was taken. “C1″ means US replied to UN but did not take actions to implement recommendation. “C2″ means US replied, and the reply was irrelevant to the committee’s recommendation. “D1″ means US did not cooperate with the committee on this recommendation.

The US did not receive any “A” grades. It received a high “B1″ grade for declassifying part of the report of the Senate Special Committee on Intelligence into the CIA’s detention and torture of detainees and a lower “B2″ grade for investigating cases of unlawful killing, torture and other ill-treatment, unlawful detention, and enforced disappearances, and expediting the release of detainees from Guantanamo Bay.

The committee issued a “C2″ grade for the continued detention of detainees at Guantanamo and in facilities in Afghanistan.

In regards to surveillance, it gave the US a “C1″ grade for ensuring surveillance complies with the treaty, ensuring “interference with right to privacy, family, home, or correspondence” is authorized by law, reforming oversight of surveillance, and refraining from imposing “mandatory retention” of data on “third parties.”

The worst grade given was a “D1″ for failing to ensure persons are able to obtain remedies if they are the victims of surveillance abuse. (more…)

Pentagon Threatens to Revoke Security Clearance of Navy Nurse Who Refused to Force-Feed Guantanamo Prisoners

Creative Commons Licensed Photo from DVIDSHUB

Despite a decision to not pursue charges, the Department of Defense has threatened to revoke the security clearance of a Navy nurse, who refused to force-feed prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

Physicians for Human Rights condemned this news and called it “backdoor retaliation for his refusal to force-feed Guantánamo detainees on hunger strike.” The advocacy organization also noted that the nurse was recently given an ethics award by the American Nurses Association (ANA).

“The military’s latest action against the nurse is backdoor retaliation for refusing to take part in an unethical and criminal activity,” said Dr. Vincent Iacopino, PHR’s medical director. “Even as we speak, the American Nurses Association is honoring him with an ethics award for refusing to force-feed detainees. It is extraordinary that the military would punish the nurse for conduct that his profession recognizes as exemplary ethical behavior.”

In May, the Defense Department declined to push for the discharge of the nurse, who has yet to be identified. However, it was unclear when the Defense Department made this decision whether records related to his act of resistance would at some point be used against him by promotion boards or in security clearance reviews.

The nurse was not permitted to perform medical duties while he faced potential prosecution. He was assigned to “inconsequential administrative tasks,” according to his lawyer, Ron Meister.

ANA defended the nurse in a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in October of last year.

“The ANA Code of Ethics for Nurses clearly supports the ethical right of a professional nurse to make an independent judgment about whether he or she should participate in this or any other such activity,” the ANA declared. “This right must be protected and exercised without concern for retaliation.”
country.”

A nurse’s primary commitment must be to the patient, and that means “acting to minimize or eliminate unwarranted, unwanted, or unnecessary medical treatment and patient suffering.” That is what the nurse did in this case.

The American Medical Association (AMA), which also has supported the nurse, condemned the Defense Department’s force-feeding of prisoners as a violation of “core ethical values of medicine” in a December letter [PDF].

“To ask physicians, nurses or other health care professionals to participate in forced feeding puts
professionals in an ethically untenable position,” the AMA stated. “Every competent patient has the right to refuse medical intervention, including life-sustaining interventions; every health care professional has an ethical responsibility to respect the patient’s decision in such situations.”

The nurse is someone, who has been in the Navy for 18 years, and sought to uphold ethical practices. He is the only known example of a conscientious objector to force-feeding of Guantanamo prisoners, which has been tortuously employed by military personnel.

If the nurse loses his security clearance, it could mean a potential discharged or even a loss of benefits. He may be severely limited in his ability to return to a job if he cannot work in a position considered to be “sensitive” by the Defense Department.

Revoking a government employee’s security clearance is a known tactic for silencing whistleblowers.

Removal from Guantanamo Bay and placement under investigation was punishment enough. It sent a message to other medical officers not to challenge the Pentagon over its unethical treatment of prisoners.

Unfortunately, the Defense Department finds it must protect itself from this nurse by revoking his security clearance because, if he is in any situation that may force him to fall back on his ethics, they know he will be on the side of the patient and not the Pentagon.

Human Rights Watch Report Highlights Stories of Palestinian Children Abused by Israeli Forces

As the United States government prepares to increase military aid to Israel by as much as fifty percent, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report has put focus on Israeli security forces’ brutal treatment of Palestinian children.

The report includes six stories of questionable arrests and abuse six Palestinian children suffered in recent years. Neither of the children were older than 15 years-old when they were arrested.

According to HRW, there have been numerous reports by local human rights organizations and news media about arrests of Palestinian children. The frequent arrests pushed HRW to identify specific cases, interview abused children, and investigate the abuse, which had occurred.

A fourteen year-old girl, Malak Al-Khatib, was arrested on December 31, 2014, in a village in the West Bank. She was beaten by soldiers with “something like a baton,” according to her mother.

Khatib was kicked and a soldier stepped on her neck. She lost consciousness. She was put in a blindfod and endured further abuse as she was taken to a police station.

Her family had no idea she had been arrested. As Ali, her father, recalled, “She had a final exam that morning, in English, and we thought that as usual she had gone for a walk after an exam. Then the Beitin village council called to say she’d been arrested, but nobody knew where she’d been taken.”

Malak claimed the “interrogator yelled at her for two hours to confess, slammed his hand on the table, and threatened to bring in her mother and sister and arrest her father.” As is typical, if she wanted to return to her parents, she was forced to sign a “confession” that was in Hebrew, which the security forces know a vast majority of Palestinians cannot read.

Her lawyer reached a plea deal on January 14. She pled guilty to “throwing rocks at Road 60, a major road near Beitin used by Israeli settlers,” and received a two-month jail sentence and a three year suspended sentence. Her family paid a $1,560 fine.

HRW was unable to find evidence of stone throwing, and whether Malak did throw stones or not, Israeli authorities violated her rights when they refused to inform her parents she had been arrested or allow Malak to consult her parents or lawyer during her interrogation.

It also is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention to transfer Malak out of the West Bank to Israel. Although the Israeli Supreme Court has upheld this practice as lawful, it is only lawful under domestic law. It violates international standards, which Israel has adopted, and are supposed to supersede domestic law.

This abuse makes it possible for Israel to keep children from seeing their parents during their detention:

Malak’s parents, who have West Bank identification documents and are not permitted to enter Israel, were unable to see her in detention from December 31 until her release on February 12, except during five trial hearings at the Ofer military base and court complex, when they were not permitted to speak with her.

“At the hearings in Ofer, she would be brought in handcuffs. One time there was a boy with her in the dock, he was around 15 years old, also in [handcuffs]. We couldn’t call her on the phone while she was in prison,” her mother said.

(more…)

NSA Spied on German Officials to Help CIA Escape Scrutiny for Torture & Renditions

Screen shot 2015-07-20 at 3.52.33 PM

WikiLeaks has published a list of telephone numbers used by German officials, which were targeted by the National Security Agency to help the CIA avoid scandal over torture and renditions of prisoners in the “War on Terrorism.”

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and other officials in the Foreign Ministry had communications intercepted a few days after Steinmeier visited the United States on November 29, 2005, to meet with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

A published NSA intercept summarizing Steinmeier’s communication on December 2 states, “He seemed relieved that he had not received any definitive response from the US Secretary of State regarding press reports of CIA flights through Germany to secret prisons in eastern Europe allegedly used for interrogating terrorism suspects. Steinmeier remarked that Washington is placing great hope in his country’s new government.”

WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange described the publication of this information as evidence the “NSA has been used to help the CIA kidnap and torture with impunity.”

“For years, the CIA was systematically abducting and torturing people with the tacit complicity of European governments,” Assange noted. “In 2005, German Foreign Minister Steinmeier was thrilled that his tactic of asking Condoleezza Rice no hard questions about CIA renditions had worked. The US said nothing that would require him to do anything. And how do we know about it? Because the National Security Agency was gloating to the US senior executive about intercepting this cowardly display. Nobody comes out of this looking good.”

The information is latest in a string of publications revealing NSA spying on foreign government officials in France and Germany.

Over 125 German phone numbers targeted by the NSA have now been published. The information demonstrates how widespread the spying has been on the German chancellor’s administration as well as German politicians and other officials who analysts targeted for intelligence on economic and trade issues.

In 2010, WikiLeaks published US State Embassy cables from Chelsea Manning, which showed the Bush administration in 2007 had pressured German officials not to prosecute CIA officers involved in the rendition and torture of Khaled el-Masri. (more…)

Obama Administration Ordered to Prepare Release of Videos of Former Guantanamo Prisoner Being Force-Fed

Judge Gladys Kessler

President Barack Obama’s administration has been ordered by a federal judge to prepare videos of forced feedings of a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner for release on August 31.

Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a forty-six year-old Syrian, was imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay from 2002 to December 2014. He remained in detention for five years after Obama’s own review task force cleared him for release. He was released with five other prisoners to Uruguay.

During his confinement, Dhiab protested by engaging in hunger strike. He endured torture and abuse as military personnel subjected him to forced feedings, and Dhiab filed a lawsuit prior to his release, which sought to put a stop to the forced feedings.

On October 3, 2014, Judge Gladys Kessler rejected several secrecy arguments, ruled against the government, and ordered the administration to review videos and prepare them for the release. The administration filed what Kessler has now referred to as a “frivolous” appeal.

On July 10, Kessler ordered the government to stop stalling and complete redaction of eight videos by August 31. The rest of the videos are to be redacted and prepared for release by September 30.

“There will be no extensions of time granted,” Kessler stated.

Cori Crider, an attorney for the human rights organization, Reprieve, which has represented Dhiab, called the order a “great win for the US press, and for the First Amendment.” (more…)

American Psychological Association Officials Protected National Security Psychologists Involved in Torture

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Screen shot of APA logo from APA’s website

A major review into the American Psychological Association and its role in torture carried out by the CIA or the Pentagon after the September 11th attacks has been completed. It shows that the organization colluded with President George W. Bush’s administration to loosen ethics guidelines, and officials in the organization were responsible for protecting national security psychologists from disciplinary action for their role in torturing detainees.

David Hoffman, a former federal prosecutor who now works at Sidley Austin, examined allegations against APA after the publication of James Risen’s book, Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War, which contained details of coordination between APA and US officials involved in the torture program.

APA describes itself as the “largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States, with more than 122,500 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants, and students as its members.”

The 542-page report [PDF], completed on July 2, is the result of a review of over 50,000 documents, “the most important of which were a very high volume of emails from the APA that remained from many years ago,” especially from 2004 and onward.

Over 200 interviews with 148 people were conducted. Just about everyone cooperated, however, Mel Gravitz, a prominent psychologist who worked as a contractor for the CIA and is nearly 90 years-old, declined to be interviewed. Bruce Bennett, a former 2002 APA task force member, refused to be interviewed for the review as well.

The review concludes, “Key APA officials, principally the APA Ethics Director joined and supported at times by other APA officials, colluded with important [Defense Department] officials to have APA issue loose, high-level ethical guidelines that did not constrain DOD in any greater fashion than existing DOD interrogation guidelines.”

“APA officials secretly collaborated with DOD officials to defeat efforts by the APA Council of Representatives to introduce and pass resolutions that would have definitively prohibited psychologists from participating in interrogations at Guantanamo Bay and other US detention centers abroad,” the review finds.

According to the review, APA officials wanted to “curry favor” because the DOD could confer “substantial benefits” on “psychology as a profession.” The APA also had an interest in relationships with the DOD working favorably so psychologists would be able to continue to be involved in intelligence operations. Plus, it was in APA’s interest to be able to portray the organization as “very engaged in the issue and very concerned about ethical issues” while at the same time fostering the growth of psychology through support of the military and operational psychologists.

It was also determined that current and former APA officials had “very substantial interactions with the CIA in the 2001 to 2004 time period, including on topics related to interrogations, and were motivated to curry favor with the CIA” in the same way they were motivated to curry favor with Defense Department officials.

One of the key benefits of a relationship with the CIA was that the agency would pay “tens of thousands of dollars for the expense of setting up conferences and reimbursing participants for their travel expenses, and these conferences allowed APA to showcase its relevance, visibility, and leadership on subjects of interest to psychology.”

“Building that relationship held the promise for more CIA-funded conferences and other join t projects in the future that might similarly highlight (or suggest) APA’s leadership and influence,” the report suggests.

The review also concludes the “handling of ethics complaints against prominent national security psychologists was handled in an improper fashion, in an attempt to protect these psychologists from censure.”

Physicians for Human Rights, an advocacy organization which has conducted numerous investigations into the role of medical professionals in torture over the past decade, called for a “federal criminal probe” into the APA’s role in torture.

“As mental health professionals, our first obligation must be to our patients,” said Dr. Kerry Sulkowicz, psychiatrist and vice chair of the PHR board of directors. “The APA’s collusion with the government’s national security apparatus is one of the greatest scandals in US medical history. Immediate action must be taken to restore health professional ethics and to ensure this never happens again.” (more…)

New Evidence on CIA Medical Torture: Injection “to the Bone” on Former Black Site Prisoner Majid Khan

Countries that articipated in CIA torture & rendition program - via Wikimedia Commons
Countries involved in the CIA Extraordinary Rendition and Detention Program according to a 2013 Open Society Foundation – Image by opensocietyfoundations.org via transcend.org [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Quite recently, U.S. authorities allowed the declassification of notes from Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) attorney Wells Dixon that described what his client, high-value detainee Majid Khan, told him about his torture at the hands of the CIA. Khan, a Pakistan citizen, is currently at Guantanamo, and awaits trial by military commission.

Dixon has described the hideous torture of his client, which comes on the heels of revelations in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence executive summary of their report on the CIA’s torture program.

According to a June 2 Reuters report, Dixon described from interview notes with Khan, CIA use of solitary confinement; sexual abuse, including frequent touching of “private parts”; threats of physical harm; being hung naked from a pole for days; so-called “rectal feeding” (a form of anal rape); denial of food; water immersion and waterboarding, among other atrocities.

According to a CCR press release on Khan’s torture, CIA doctors onsite were among the “worst torturers.” Both Reuters and CCR have noted how doctors would check Khan’s condition, ignore his appeals for help, and send him back into extreme forms of torture.

In a June 10 phone interview with Wells Dixon, Khan’s attorney revealed there was more unreported material left out of the Reuters and CCR reports. In particular, Dixon revealed that Khan told him he was “also injected with a needle to the bone, and screamed in pain, then lost consciousness.”

According to my research, an injection that just happens to hit a bone does not usually cause great pain. But an injection that enters the bone can. The latter is called an intraosseous or IO injection, and is used to quickly infuse drugs, particularly in instances where a person’s life is at stake. It is usual medical procedure to insert lidocaine, a pain reliever, with or prior to injection because of the great pain associated with IO injections. Certain kinds of drugs can also cause great pain upon injection.

Did the CIA have medical need to make an IO injection, and withhold lidocaine or other pain reliever? Did CIA use the IO injection specifically to cause pain? Was a drug injected into Khan that specifically, or as side effect, caused great pain, in order to further torture him?

We don’t know exactly what the CIA did with this, or any other injection, but the evidence of such forms of medical torture cannot be denied, despite recent attempts by the CIA to minimize allegations of such medical torture, such as the use of drugs in interrogation. In fact, a recent FOIA release from CIA obtained by Jason Leopold at VICE News showed that the CIA used blood thinners to prolong certain forms of torture.

It has not been easy to obtain this information. As Dixon noted in a June 22 op-ed at Al Jazeera, “The CIA has long tried to bury evidence of its crimes. When we filed a legal case challenging Majid’s detention after his arrival at Guantanamo, the government prevented us from meeting with him for a year so that we would not learn about his torture.”

UN Special Rapporteurs’ “Letter of Allegation” to U.S. on Medical Torture and Experimentation

A new article by Adam Goldman at the Washington Post revealed that hundreds of photos from the CIA black sites exist. The fact they may be evidence at any future military commissions trial is currently being determined, as military prosecutors review the photos, which are said to include pictures of naked detainees, CIA personnel, and “photographs of confinement boxes where detainees such as Abu Zubaydah… were forced into for hours.”

But it seems highly unlikely the public will see these photos, and we will have to rely on detainee testimony, and other various attempts by journalists, domestic and international bodies and organizations to pry out the information from the U.S. government. Along those lines, CCR has called for the full Senate CIA torture report and the Panetta Review to be released. A letter initiated by ACLU and signed by approximately 100 national and international rights groups on the need to ensure accountability for the U.S. CIA Torture Program was delivered to the most recent session of the UN Human Rights Council. (more…)

Guantanamo Prisoner, Who Weighs 75 Pounds and is Near Death, Mounts Legal Push for Release

Tariq Ba Odah
Tariq Ba Odah

A Guantanamo Bay prisoner, who has been on hunger strike for over eight years, has launched a legal push for his immediate release from the United States military prison because he now weighs around 75 pounds and is near death.

Tariq Ba Odah is a Yemeni prisoner and resident of Saudi Arabia, who has been confined in “solitary conditions” at Guantanamo for 13 years despite the fact that President Barack Obama’s own review task force—comprised of officials from the top US security agencies—cleared Odah for release in 2009. His body can no longer endure the effects of nasal tube feedings.

A motion [PDF] filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) on Odah’s behalf argues under the “laws of war,” particularly the Third Geneva Convention, the US has an “obligation to release seriously wounded and sick prisoners.” It is part of US Army regulation and “binding domestic law.”

Odah meets the “standards of ill health” that should compel his release because he is at 56 percent of his normal body weight. He is suffering from “severe malnutrition.” He often complains to his lawyer, Omar Farah, that he cannot focus or concentrate during their meetings. He is losing his memory and forgot the current year when he was writing a letter to family.

Dr. Mohammed Rami Bailony, who wrote a brief [PDF] in support of Odah’s motion for release, describes Odah’s “diminished weight” as a “shocking medical fact that alone indicates the presence of a crisis-level medical condition presaging organ failure, neurological damage and, inevitably, death.”

Odah does not “wish to die,” the motion for relief declares. “He wishes to be reunited with his family in Saudi Arabia or to be freed to any other safe country where he can begin to recover. At the same time, he feels compelled by the injustice he is enduring at Guantanamo to continue his hunger strike, the only peaceful way for him to protest with self-control and with dignity.”

The motion describes how Odah believes the US military has subject him to abuse so he abandons his hunger strike. He has suffered “violent cell-extractions, force-feeding sessions that leave him wet with his own vomit, and unremitting confinement in solitary conditions in Guantánamo’s Camp 5, where now he says he does not see anyone and he does not see the sun.”

Dr. Sandra S. Crosby, the director and co-founder of the immigration and refugee health program at the Boston Medical Center, also wrote a brief [PDF] in support of Odah that highlights how Odah does not trust the medical staff. The mistrust only compounds the risk that he will die soon.

“Mr. Ba Odah believes—not unreasonably in my opinion—that physicians at Guantanamo have been utilized as instruments of the guard force to coerce prisoners to ‘break the strike,’” Crosby suggests. “When this loss of trust occurs, patients will often not accept appropriate medical recommendations.”

Crosby concludes Odah is at risk of “serious organ damage and/or death.” Odah’s injuries “may be permanent.”

Even if the government claims it could rehabilitate Odah with medical treatment, the motion argues that the circumstances of his detention will likely prevent him from ever recovering.

“Apparently unmoved by his crisis-level weight, the government steadfastly confines Mr. Ba Odah to Guantanamo’s Camp 5, the non-communal housing facility renowned for its punitive, isolative conditions,” the motion declares. “This is exactly the opposite of what Mr. Ba Odah needs. Solitary confinement compromises an individual’s mental and physical health and risks bringing about ‘multiple chronic medical illnesses, depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, and permanent neuropsychological damage.’ Moreover, solitary conditions are ‘a strong exacerbating factor to his already precarious condition.'”

Odah’s attorney visited Tariq on April 21, and he was “nearly unrecognizable” to him.

Farah shared, “He is now enduring more suffering at Guantánamo than he has ever known. All the bones in his midsection are visible through his skin, his jawline and teeth protrude, and he says he is losing sensation in his hands and feet and his memory is fading.”

It should not matter that there is war ongoing in Yemen that prevents him from being returned to the country where he was born. His family emigrated to Saudi Arabia when Odah was an infant. The government can pursue his transfer to Saudi Arabia. Plus, the government has recently transferred Yemeni prisoners to other countries and shown nationality does not have to be a barrier to release.

The US military’s treatment of Odah clearly amounts to torture, and it is unconscionable that he—as well as many others—remain in detention at Guantanamo.

Image from the Center for Constitutional Rights. Not a recent photo. 

Déjà vu on Interrogation “Reform”: McCain/Feinstein Amendment Won’t Stop Torture

From Appendix M

“There’s truth that lives and truth that dies…” – Leonard Cohen

In a bizarre mixture of the sincere and the insincere, an amendment proposed by a bipartisan group of senators to the upcoming National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is being touted as all but ending torture by the U.S. — if it passes.

According to an article in The Intercept, “Human rights and transparency organizations are applauding the effort.” But is there really anything here to celebrate?

If you read The Intercept article all the way to the end, there’s mention that a group of medical experts found the Army Field Manual “permits techniques that are ‘recognized under international law as forms of torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.’” So why is there applause?

Mark Fallon, the former deputy commander of the Criminal Investigation Task Force at Guantanamo, and currently Chair of the Research Committee of President Obama’s inter-departmental High-value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG), told Jason Leopold at Vice News the amendment “mandates and advocates the use of science and evidence-based research so we can be more effective during interrogations.” Furthermore, there would be “a review of the Army Field Manual [AFM] to ensure we are only using best and lawful techniques” during interrogation.

Constitutional scholar David Cole writes at the Just Security website that he supports the amendment, which is jointly sponsored by Senators John McCain, Dianne Feinstein, Jack Reed and Susan Collins. Cole adds that others support it, too, including “David Keene, former President of the National Rifle Association and editorial page editor of the Washington Times…”

Newsweek posted an article by Rupert Stone this week, titled “Beyond Torture: The New Science of Interrogating Terrorists,” which includes a long discussion of the importance of putting interrogation on a science-centered base.

Stone’s article goes into more detail than others about problems concerning “the current version of the Army Field Manual [which] still offers a back door to some of the brutal tactics authorized after 9/11.” Stone is of course talking about Appendix M of the Army Field Manual, which allows theoretically indefinitely extended amounts of solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, and sensory deprivation upon so-called “unlawful enemy combatants.” The interrogation methods of Appendix M are so severe, they require at times physician and/or psychologist in attendance to implement (shades of the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program!).

But problems with the Army Field Manual do not start or end with Appendix M. The main section of the manual includes coercive methods of interrogation, including psychological techniques to induce fear, to tear down the ego and self-esteem of prisoners, to tear down their resistance to interrogation by inducing “hopelessness and helplessness,” and allowing use of drugs on prisoners, so long as the drugs don’t cause “lasting or permanent mental alteration or damage.”

But Fallon and others, like veteran interrogator and Col. (ret.) Steven Kleinman, believe that the review mandated by the amendment will take care of the problems sometime in the future. Meanwhile, they urge passage of the amendment now. Kleinman told Newsweek, “Passing strongly worded legislation that would stand as a bulwark against torture… is the single most important step we must take.” (Both Fallon and Kleinman have impeccable anti-torture credentials.)

According to The Hill, this view is echoed by Elisa Massimino, President and CEO of Human Rights First, who said of the senators’ amendment, “This is how a strong democracy deals with its mistakes — we examine what we did, and take the necessary steps to make it right.”

Meanwhile, in my email box, I have a plea from the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. The mailing promises the “introduced legislation… could permanently end CIA torture.” It asks I call my senators now, even as a group of seven human rights and civil liberties organizations, have released a statement, including ACLU and Physicians for Human Rights, supporting the amendment.

The entire campaign around the whole Feinstein-McCain amendment has an unreal quality. It arose all of a sudden. There’s no real period of public discussion about it. The interpretation of the amendment itself is via sanitized sources we are supposed to trust. It’s presented as a slam dunk issue for those who oppose torture. You’d have to be an ingrate to oppose such a good thing.

“Pick up my guitar and play, just like yesterday”

Where have I heard this all before? When the current Army Field Manual was released in September 2006, there was the same near-universal acclaim, the same pious intonations by human rights groups, the same spate of articles in the mainstream press. But nine years later — though many news outlets still downplay or simply eliminate reference to it — we know the 2006 version of the Army Field Manual contained forms of ill-treatment that the UN, reviewing torture policies by the United States, recently condemned.

I analyzed the PR campaign to sell the current version of the Army Field Manual in an article at Alternet in 2009. I pointed out how when the Army Field Manual was released in 2006, we had the same gushing praise and platitudes from the press.

The Washington Post bragged that the then-new Army Field Manual “repudiated the harsh interrogation tactics adopted since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.”

Human rights groups chimed in. As reported by the Post, Tom Malinowski, then Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch (but previously a Senior Director of the Clinton White House National Security Council), stated, “This is the Pentagon coming full circle… This is very strong guidance.”

Recently, Malinowski was tapped by the Obama administration to answer the United Nations in their questions about ill-treatment in Appendix M. In 2007, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he praised the AFM for using using “professional, humane interrogation methods.”

Over and over I read how the Army Field Manual had “safeguards,” “oversight,” was a big “step-forward.” Amnesty International’s advocacy director called the AFM “an important return to the rule of law…. It is an important public statement.”

But it was no such thing.

Similar misrepresentations take place today. In Cole’s piece at Just Security, for instance, he claims that the Office of Legal Counsel memos authorizing torture memos, “written between 2002 and 2007, have all been rescinded and rejected.”

But that’s not true. One of them was not, and tellingly, it was the one dealing with the Army Field Manual and Appendix M.

“You know something is happening, but you don’t know what it is”

Let’s examine the text of the Feinstein-McCain amendment (download PDF) and see if the promises of its supporters holds any water.

“An individual… shall not be subjected to any interrogation technique or approach, or any treatment related to interrogation, that is not authorized by and listed in the Army Field Manual 2-22.3″

Okay. We see that the existing Army Field Manual, including use of techniques and “approaches” such as “Fear Up,” “Futility,” “Ego Down”, “False Flag” and “Separation” will continue to be the law of the land. The “Separation” or Appendix M approach is really an omnibus set of abusive techniques that includes use of solitary confinement, sleep and sensory deprivation, and environmental or dietary manipulation.

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I asked via FOIA for DoD to produce examples of requests to use Appendix M, as is described by the Army Field Manual. DoD said it could not find any documents pertaining to that. So much for transparency and safeguards.

For 14 months I have had an outstanding FOIA requesting materials related to review of Appendix M by the Office of Secretary of Defense. I asked because the Army Field Manual itself states, “The Office of the Secretary of Defense will review these activities periodically in accordance with DOD Directive 3115.09.” That FOIA is still pending. But if the partisans of the Feinstein-McCain amendment believe that DoD or the government will do any better in producing oversight material upon request to the public or press, I have a fine bridge in Brooklyn to sell them.

The Feinstein-McCain amendment states that “a thorough review” of the AFM is to be conducted at least one year after the enactment of the Authorization Act, and then every subsequent three years “to ensure that Army Field Manual 2-22.3 complies with the legal obligations of the United States and reflects current, evidence-based, best practices for interrogation that are designed to elicit reliable and voluntary statements and do not involve the use of threat of force.”

The “thorough review” is to be conducted by “the Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the Attorney General, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Director of National Intelligence.” In other words, the Executive Branch is to have total control over assessments of compliance of Army Field Manual practice with so-called “evidence-based, best practices for interrogation.” What that really means is that there will be no “checks and balances” oversight here.

The model for such review would be DoD’s 2009 Review of Department Compliance with President’s Executive Order on Detainee Conditions of Confinement (PDF), which produced a wildly unrealistic picture of Guantanamo as consistent with Geneva norms of humane treatment. At the time there were continuing hunger strikes, as prisoners were savagely beaten by teams of guards. By June 2009, yet another detainee was found dead in a cell in the GTMO Behavioral Health Unit, where prisoners were observed every three minutes, supposedly dead by his own hand, having been driven insane by what the autopsy report called “conditions of confinement.”

The highly-regarded researcher of the Guantanamo camp, Andy Worthington, called the 2009 review “a bitter joke.” There’s no reason not to expect the same from the Feinstein-McCain Amendment’s proposed AFM reviews.

Interestingly, however, it’s worth noting that the the Central Intelligence Agency appears to be frozen out of the proposed review process.

“People writing songs that voices never share”

“Not less than 120 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the interagency body established… shall submit to the Secretary of Defense, the Director of National Intelligence, the Attorney General, and other appropriate officials [could this be the CIA?] a report on current, evidence-based, best practices for interrogation that are designed to elicit reliable and voluntary statements and do not involve the use of force…. The report required… may include recommendations for revisions to Army Field Manual 2-22.3 based on the body of research commissioned by the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group.”

While HIG experts like Fallon and Kleinman may take umbrage in such verbiage — indeed, it’s flattering to see your own research touted as something of governmental importance — there is nothing mandated in this language, at least as regards any updating or change in techniques or approaches in the Army Field Manual.

“The report… may include recommendations,” and nothing is said about any recommendations being enforced. Indeed, we already have public members of the HIG on record as being against some of the abuse in the Army Field Manual, and still nothing changes.

One of those associated, Col. Kleinman, was on record as recently as 2011 as stating in an article, “The Obama Administration has made a good-faith attempt to bring standards to American interrogation practices by issuing an Executive Order that extended the relevant U.S. Army Field Manual’s directives to all government-wide interrogation efforts.” That “good-faith attempt” included making via Executive Order Appendix M the law of the land.

Kleinman is on-record as criticizing the current AFM as being unscientific. He wrote a paper that supposedly elaborates on that with another current HIG official, psychologist Susan Brandon, and two other researchers. But according to Stone’s Newsweek article, the 2010 review of AFM techniques was not publicly released for fear it “could have jeopardized the HIG’s relationship with the military.” If releasing a critical article is too dicey for critics of DoD’s Army Field Manual, what can one expect from any future reviews led by the Secretary of Defense?

Meanwhile, Brandon is under a cloud of controversy recently for her participation in activities with the American Psychological Association in regards to allegedly facilitating torture.

Brandon helped organize a workshop with the APA, CIA and Rand Corporation back in 2003 that looked at, among other things, “what pharmacological agents are known to affect apparent truth-telling behavior,” and “sensory overloads on the maintenance of deceptive behaviors.” One of her workshop discussion questions asked, “How might we overload the system or overwhelm the senses and see how it affects deceptive behaviors?”

In 2005, Brandon was an “observer” at an APA meeting that met to consider ongoing use of psychologists in national security investigations. She reportedly helped write the part of the report from the meeting that spoke to issues bearing on national security research, just the sort of research, it seems, that the HIG is either doing or proposing when it comes to interrogations. One of those research projects on “false confessions,” as recently reported at Bloomberg, left some participants “angry,” and one woman who “dissolves into tears.”

Hence, there are ethical questions about the kinds of research being done, what can be accomplished in such research, and the fact that even if some kind of “evidence-based” interrogation protocols that don’t involve “force” are suggested by research and then DoD-led review, there’s no mandate or promise in the new legislation that it will ever be implemented.

Indeed, there is nothing in the new legislation that calls for the removal of Appendix M.

“Into the night, shadows fall”

A most interesting section of the amendment, unique in its hypocrisy and unstated cover for torture, concerns the FBI and other Federal law enforcement agencies:

“Nothing in this subsection shall preclude an officer, employee, or other agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation or other Federal law enforcement agency from continuing to use authorized, non-coercive techniques of interrogation that are designed to elicit voluntary statements and do not involve the use of force, threats, or promises.”

Anyone familiar with the work of the FBI, or other Federal agencies will find this presentation of “non-coercive” agents never threatening suspects something of a fairy tale.

A few years ago, I reported the case of Petty Officer Daniel King, who the Naval Criminal Investigative Service coerced into a false confession of treason, and with the assistance of a Navy psychologist, drove to such a degree of desperation he tried to kill himself. (See here and here.)

But the FBI probably has a lot more charges of abuse than most other Federal law enforcement agencies. None of these charges have been bigger than those surrounding the massive FBI investigation into the July 2010 World Cup bombings in Kampala, Uganda.

The FBI interrogated a number of prisoners from Kenya and other East African countries who were renditioned to Uganda. It was the largest foreign FBI investigation since the USS Cole attack in 2000. A 2011 report by Ian Cobain at The Guardian detailed accusations of abuse by FBI agents involved in the investigation.

A more recent case of FBI malfeasance and complicity in torture is the case of Yonas Fikre, a 36-year-old Eritrean-born American who charges the FBI had pressured him to collaborate with them, and when placing him on a no-fly list failed, had him “arrested, interrogated and tortured for 106 days in the United Arab Emirates,” according to a report in The Guardian.

The issue of FBI torture deserves a lot more public examination, and in a subsequent article I plan to go into much more detail on the World Cup bombing case.

“Always something happening and nothing going on”

The issue of torture by proxy or liaison-country cover is also important, and was a major factor in the scandal surrounding extraordinary rendition, where CIA and DoD prisoners were turned over to U.S.-friendly intelligence agencies in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and other nations, where they were terribly tortured.

More recently, there are similar charges surrounding the World Cup bombing case, but better reported in the U.S. was Jeremy Scahill’s 2011 report at The Nation concerning CIA-run black sites in Somalia. Ostensibly under the control of Somalia’s National Security Agency, the sites were used to train Somali intelligence agents, while CIA interrogators are given direct access to prisoners held in the Somali secret detention sites.

In fact, as a recent FOIA release of a 1963 CIA interrogation manual shows, use of “liaison” or “host’ countries as cover for torture is very old practice, honed during the Cold War.

It is a fact that the CIA chief of interrogations in the early years of its post-9/11 rendition and torture program was previously known (and supposedly chastised) for using a 1983 torture instruction manual — “Human Resource Exploitation” — the U.S. had distributed to Latin American police and intelligence forces for the purposes of instruction in torture. Nothing could better illustrate how the use of proxy or “host” countries for torture is on a continuum with the worst of the CIA’s torture program.

But it is not the CIA or FBI alone who act this way. During the U.S.-instigated Iraq War, the Department of Defense notoriously issued a “Fragmentary Order” (FRAGO 242) that had U.S. armed forces turn prisoners over to Iraq security forces, even though they knew they would be tortured. In many cases, the Iraq security forces themselves had been trained by the U.S.

Nothing in the Feinstein-McCain amendment speaks to this long-practiced method of torture by proxy used by U.S. intelligence, military, and law enforcement agencies.

“Everybody knows the deal is rotten”

It is highly unlikely that most Americans will hear anything negative about the Feinstein-McCain Amendment, except perhaps from right-wing types who lust for the good old days of CIA’s “enhanced” torture brutality. But for the record, this amendment does nothing to stop torture.

Despite all the caveats and evidence I’ve gathered here, the truth is almost none of it will reach the ears or eyes of American citizens. But then, only the simulacrum of a reasonable debate on this policy is expected. The Establishment of respectable citizens, who make up human rights organizations and government-academic merry-go-round that employs them, has already spoken. The consensus has already been drawn.

But that doesn’t mean the amendment is worth a damn. While no one is held accountable for disgusting and barbaric forms of torture, from driving people insane with music and bright lights, to holding them in solitary for years, to waterboarding or water immersion, to injecting blood thinner drugs into them so they can be forced to maintain body positions for hours on end, and much more worse (“rectal feedings”? no, anal rape)… while no one is held accountable for this, an anemic and mostly window-dressing reform is dressed up as something significant and sold by hucksters. Backing them are those sincerely anti-torture individuals and groups who still trust the usual authorities to do the right thing.

But none of that can hide what this amendment is: fraud, trickery, deception, the most meretricious sort of sham. The fact that some of those supporting the amendment are sincere and good individuals doesn’t change a thing.

Uruguay Creates Commission to Investigate Crimes of Dictatorship

Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez signed a decree to create a commission—called the Truth and Justice Working Group—to investigate not only the dictatorship from 1973 to 1985 but also the state of emergency in the late 1960s.

The decree, issued on May 19, occurred on the same day of the annual demonstration in honor of the disappeared during the military dictatorship.

Vazquez, recently elected as part of the left-wing Broad Front coalition, held intentions to investigate the crimes of the dictatorship in his address to the Uruguayan public on March 1, the first day of his second term. He told Uruguayans the group would be created immediately once he assumed office.

“This group will analyze the existing archives and will search information relevant to the material, organize the registry of testimonies by victims or families about crimes against humanity, monitor the compliance of judgments against the state both nationally and internationally and address other actions leading to the objective raised,” Vazquez said.

The state of emergency and military dictatorship were created in response to the Tupamaros, a revolutionary group created to oppose injustices. Jose Mujica, the previous president who left office earlier this year, was a part of the organization.

Eventually, in what the group cited was due to the pressure of the government, their actions became more violent. This led to the government to curtail more freedoms to the point where Juan Maria Bordeberry, then-president and part of the center-right Colorado Party, dissolved parliament through a decree.

Although, The New York Times reported military officials appointed by Bordeberry held “[the] real power behind the scenes.” This, also noted by the Times, was no different from other countries already under military rule.

Eventually, Bordeberry was overthrown by military officials and series of other presidents took rule without major power.

U.S. lawmakers decided, in 1976, to cut off military aid to the Uruguay military junta, which angered military leaders. In fact, they felt, as noted by The New York Times in a piece published on September 29, the U.S. should provide funds after the “success in smashing the Tupamaros and restoring public security and economic order.”

In 1984, the dictatorship fell in a peaceful transition. Although, a law was passed in 1986 by lawmakers exempting all military officials involved in the dictatorship from prosecution. The fear was, as research associate Francesca Lassa pointed out, “the likelihood of another military coup” due to unrest among the armed forces. So far, there have been no changes to the law.

Interestingly, the shadow of the dictatorship can still be felt in Uruguayan politics. For example, Raul Sendic Rodriguez, the current vice president, is the son of Raul Sendic Antonaccio, who was a founder of the Tupamaros.

Moreover, in the most recent election, Pedro Bordaberry ran on behalf the Colorado Party. Bordaberry is the son of Juan Maria Bordaberry, who initiated the dictatorship in 1973 after dissolving parliament.

Former Uruguayan President Jorge Batlle, of the Colorado Party, criticized the decision to open a “deep wound” in Uruguayan history:

[This] decree re-opens a deep wound that does not bring understanding or harmony in the life of a society that will, and harshly, will pay the terrible economic errors made by [Jose] Mujica’s government, known by Astori and Vazquez and not known to the public.

While president, Batlle previously created a commission, known as Commission for Peace, to investigate the military dictatorship and what happened to the 200 people who disappeared.

In a report dated April 10, 2003, the commission found the government committed torture, illegitimate detention and even executions during military rule. Despite the commission’s limited power, Batlle signed a decree featuring the conclusions of the report.* The army, on the other hand, denied what was found.

*The government site is experiencing a 404 error with respect to the “Decrees” page so a link cannot be provided at this time.

Photo is a Creative Commons-Licensed Photo from Agência Brasil, a public Brazilian news agency.