17 April 2013

Again with the torture. Still getting worse.


Key points:

Perhaps the most important or notable finding of this panel is that it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture.

The second notable conclusion of the Task Force is that the nation’s highest officials bear some responsibility for allowing and contributing to the spread of torture.

"The SERE program was developed to help U.S. troops resist interrogation techniques that had been used to extract false confessions from downed U.S. airmen during the Korean War. Its promoters had no experience in interrogation, the ability to extract truthful and usable information from captives."

"To deal with the regime of laws and treaties designed to prohibit and prevent torture, the lawyers provided novel, if not acrobatic interpretations to allow the mistreatment of prisoners....
Those early memoranda that defined torture narrowly would engender widespread and withering criticism once they became public. The successors of those government lawyers would eventually move to overturn those legal memoranda. "
"Following the September 11 attacks, the immediate responsibility for action fell appropriately on the executive branch, which has direct control of the vast machinery of the government. It encompasses not only the nation’s military might but the president himself as the embodiment of the nation’s leadership and thus the individual best positioned to articulate the nation’s anger, grief and considered response.... 
....Decisions ultimately handed down by the Supreme Court overturned some of the basic premises of the administration in establishing its detention regime. Officials had counted on courts accepting that the U.S. Naval base at Guantánamo, Cuba, was outside the legal jurisdiction of the United States. As such, the officials also reasoned that detainees there would have no access to the right of habeas corpus, that is, the ability to petition courts to investigate and judge the sufficiency of reasons for detention."  (the report goes to some lengths to make note of the pressures involved, but does not suggest this abdicates the duty of elected officials to follow existing laws and norms under some new special circumstance at their convenience, without that they should then amend those laws and norms in an official and accountable capacity, and goes to some length to catalogue the variety of ways they were shown to be incorrect, illegal, or unaccountable). 
"Task Force investigators and members believe it is difficult to overstate the effect of the Abu Ghraib disclosures on the direction of U.S. policies on detainee treatment." - Basically the sunlight here on one particular place of abuse was unpleasant enough to require a change in policy finally, but not enough to start asking how that abuse came to be. 
"If presumed enemy leaders—high-value targets—are killed outright by drones, the troublesome issues of how to conduct detention and interrogation operations are minimized and may even become moot." - This suggests why we now use the drones instead of the expansive indefinite detention regime of the Bush years. Which is to say, we're still avoiding and evading the question of whether the indefinite detention regime itself is justifiable and legal. 

"The following techniques and treatments have both been used by the U.S. against detainees within its control and been deemed torture, abuse or cruel treatment in DOS’s annual Human Rights Reports... 
Stress Positions...temperature manipulation... waterboarding... sleep deprivation... threats of harm to person, family, friends,... sensory overload (light/noise)..., sexual humiliation...., prolonged solitary confinement..., forced nudity..., confinement in small space....forced prolonged standing"
"the ICRC highlights a series of “serious violations of International Humanitarian Law,” some of which are “tantamount to torture.” The primary violations occurred largely in the beginning stages of the internment process, except for those labeled “high value,” who experienced mistreatment throughout their detention. Some of the violations... include 
Brutality against protected persons upon capture and initial custody, sometimes causing death or serious injury" (a number of prisoners died worldwide from our actions, not from age, infirmity, or sickness). 
"Absence of notification of arrest of the persons deprived of their liberty to their families causing distress" (an understandable notion for high value targets early on to gain tactical or strategic advantage, but not for their prolonged captivity). 
"Physical or psychological coercion during interrogation to obtain information" (eg, torture). 
"Prolonged solitary confinement in cells devoid of daylight"
"Excessive or disproportionate use of force against persons deprived of their liberty resulting in death or injury during their period of internment"

Other events and notable quotes: 
"At Camp Bucca in Iraq, six sailors were accused of abusing detainees by means that included throwing them into a cell they had filled with pepper spray"
"The techniques included banging pots and pans to scare the detainees, blaring loud music, and severe beatings.“The sounds were meant to disorient, but also to mask the screams.” If the detainees sustained injuries during beatings, the military intelligence officers who had medical training “could stitch up or bandage injuries, avoiding a call to the medics and an entry in the logbooks that the Red Cross could read."
"In the summer of 2003, the interrogators threw a detainee against a concrete wall, punched him in the neck and gut, kicked him in the knees, threw him outside, and dragged him back in by his hair. For the entire two-hour ordeal, the prisoner wouldn't talk; Ben later found out he spoke Farsi and couldn't understand the interrogators’ English and Arabic"
"Engaging in torture damages the torturer. The starting point for torture is the dehumanization of a detainee. Those who dehumanize others corrupt themselves in the process; dehumanization of other is a paradigm shift in how two people relate to each other, and as such it has an impact on both sides of the relationship. Once the detainee’s human status no longer matters in the mind of the torturer, he or she can unleash personal, even national, aggression. The detainee is subjected to suffering and the torturer lets go of reason, one of the marks of humanity, and descends into rage"
"“The country doesn’t really understand the cost. … [O]ne JAG officer came in and said that British military captured a terrorist — not a terrorist suspect, a terrorist — in Basra and released him. They gave him 48 hours head start and only then notified American authorities. They did not have detention facilities [at that time], and they did not trust either the United States or the Iraqi forces not to abuse this individual. So rather than engage in potentially aiding and abetting criminal activity, [the British forces] thought that the least worst option was to release a terrorist back into the field.”"
"I was chained to the floor and the guards were holding my head. … [T]here were many of them, seven or six or more, they were holding me down to the floor so there was no fear of [me] fighting [back] or anything like that. Both eyes were completely open so [one of the guards] put his fingers and … started to push inside my eyes. … I could feel the coldness of his fingers [as] he was pushing hard digging into my eyes and I didn't want to scream because I didn't want to frighten the people in the other cells and then the other thing is I didn't want to give them that satisfaction of me screaming on the floor. I didn't scream, so he was pushing even harder digging inside my eyes. The officer standing was saying “More, more” and this guard was saying “I am, I am,” shouting to the officer. And then, what I know is lots of liquid coming out from both of my eyes, I couldn't see anything for three days, I think. I was thrown back into the cell and food was thrown, because [I was in] an isolation cell, the food was thrown from the bean hole and I was eating food and just sleeping. I couldn't see anything, there was lots of pain in my eyes. And then slowly one of them recovered sight. … [T]here was [no medical care] till after couple of months, a medical doctor came in and all his advice was that he would be willing to take the eye out from my head because he thought it looks really bad"
"He was held in Kandahar for 11 days and subjected to forced nudity, extreme temperatures, and beatings where guards “kicked my injured leg and I was screaming in agony, but they just laughed and danced like it was a joke.
Al-Gazzar elaborated: I was … concerned about my leg, because I had severe pain and the environment was dirty so I was worried that it might get infected. The American doctors were telling me it had to be amputated. I resisted, arguing with them about what the Pakistani surgeons had said, that they could save my leg. I even showed them the X-rays that I had kept. The Americans just laughed and said the Pakistanis didn't know anything about medicine and treatments. In the end one of them admitted that they could save my leg but the operation would cost thousands of dollars and that America was a “poor country.” 
"After transfer to Guantánamo, Al-Gazzar again tried to explain to the doctors at Camp X-Ray that his leg could be saved. I got the same as answer as I’d had in Kandahar: Pakistanis didn't know anything, the leg had to go. As the days passed the pain increased and the colour of my leg started to turn grey — almost black. I asked them to clean the wound, and to change the dressing every day and night but they wouldn't do it. When I asked them in the morning for a new dressing they said they will do it in the afternoon, and in the afternoon they said they will do it in the morning, like that. … The wound was open and big — without any kind of treatment besides basic dressings. They forced us to take showers so the wound got wet many times — the pain became almost unbearable. … [M]ost of the other prisoners advised me correctly that I had no option but to accept the amputation as it had passed the stage of being saved and had become gangrenous and could spread higher up the leg the longer it was left. I finally gave in."

The report also wrestles with the question, left unanswered for all the classification still involved, of just how useful this stuff was for information.  (For the most part, this question is entirely addressed at the CIA's use on a very select grouping, and not the broader abuses conducted by the CIA, what willing allies we had in this, or the military. Only a very small sliver of which has been held accountable in the US). 
"There is no firm or persuasive evidence that the widespread use of harsh interrogation techniques by U.S. forces produced significant information of value. There is substantial evidence that much of the information adduced from the use of such techniques was not useful or reliable.
There are, nonetheless, strong assertions by some former senior government officials that the use of those techniques did, in fact, yield valuable intelligence that resulted in operational and strategic successes. But those officials say that the evidence of such success may not be disclosed for reasons of national security. 
The Task Force appreciates this concern and understands it must be taken into account in attempting to resolve this question. Nonetheless, the Task Force believes those who make this argument still bear the burden of demonstrating its factual basis. History shows that the American people have a right to be skeptical of such claims, and to decline to accept any resolution of this issue based largely on the exhortations of former officials who say, in essence, “Trust us” or “If you knew what we know but cannot tell you.” 
In addition, those who make the argument in favor of the efficacy of coercive interrogations face some inherent credibility issues. One of the most significant is that they generally include those people who authorized and implemented the very practices that they now assert to have been valuable tools in fighting terrorism. As the techniques were and remain highly controversial, it is reasonable to note that those former officials have a substantial reputational stake in their claim being accepted. Were it to be shown that the United States gained little or no benefit from practices that arguably violated domestic and international law, history would render a harsh verdict on those who set us on that course."
On the question as to whether coercive interrogation techniques were valuable in locating Osama bin Laden, the Task Force is inclined to accept the assertions of leading members of the Senate Intelligence Committee that their examination of the largest body of classified documents relating to this shows that there was no noteworthy connection between information gained from such interrogations and the finding of Osama bin Laden.
The Task Force does not take any unequivocal position on the efficacy of torture because of the limits of its knowledge about classified information. But the Task Force believes it is important to recognize that to say torture is ineffective does not require a belief that it never works; a person subjected to torture might well divulge useful information.
The argument that torture is ineffective as an interrogation technique also rests on other factors. One is the idea that it also produces false information and it is difficult and time-consuming for interrogators and analysts to distinguish what may be true and usable from that which is false and misleading.
The other element in the argument as to torture’s ineffectiveness is that there may be superior methods of extracting reliable information from subjects, specifically the rapport-building techniques that were favored by some. It cannot be said that torture always produces truthful information, just as it cannot be said that it will never produce untruthful information. The centuries-old history of torture provides example of each, as well as many instances where torture victims submit to death rather than confess to anything, and there are such instances in the American experience since 2001.
The Task Force has found no clear evidence in the public record that torture produced more useful intelligence than conventional methods of interrogation, or that it saved lives. Conventional, lawful interrogation methods have been used successfully by the United States throughout its history and the Task Force has seen no evidence that continued reliance on them would have jeopardized national security thereafter."
There was not unequivocal support for modifying the indefinite detention regime centered on Guantanamo, a separate matter studied in this report, though a majority of the study's (bipartisan) commission were in favor of severe steps to change it. Several findings were also issued regarding the conduct and lack of transparency of the OLC, as well as the conduct (non-ethical) of the medical professionals who participated in the monitoring, if not carrying out, of torturous methods. 
This is probably the most disheartening statement: "No CIA personnel have been convicted or even charged for numerous instances of torture in CIA custody — including cases where interrogators exceeded what was authorized by the Office of Legal Counsel, and cases where detainees were tortured to death. Many acts of unauthorized torture by military forces have also been inadequately investigated or prosecuted."


As a side note, this even has implications, unsettlingly, for Libya: 


"This is what occurred when the perception of Libya’s ruler, Muammar el-Gaddafi, shifted in the West; he went from being regarded as a dangerous and unstable despot to someone who was to be courted as a valuable ally in the war against terrorism and an example of a leader renouncing dangerous weapons. Then, when he tried to crush a rebellion, the view of him shifted again as he was regarded once more as a dangerous tyrant whose overthrow we were proud to have aided. 
During the course of these changes, several leaders of the principal nationalist Libyan movement were abused in U.S. custody — and in some cases, their wives were as well. One of the detainees was even subjected to waterboarding by U.S. forces. Then, in an effort to reward el-Gaddafi during the time he was in favor with the West, they were secretly handed over to his regime, where they faced further abuse. One of the detainees, Sada Hadium Abdulsalam al-Drake, estimated that about a dozen members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), were handed over to Libya by the Americans and British authorities during the period the West was trying to improve relations with el-Gaddafi. .....
Within a few years, those same Libyan nationalists who suffered under allied detention and rendition to el-Gaddafi became figures of some importance to the United States. They were even regarded as heroic democratic examples in the West as they toppled el-Gaddafi. There is a deep and unsettling irony in this as the United States would soon become instrumental in the NATO effort to help Libyans overthrow el-Gaddafi, and that meant depending on those same individuals who had been rendered and abused (some by U.S. forces)... "
....the leaders of the revolt that overthrew el-Gaddafi expressed surprisingly little bitterness or even anger toward America. (Their attitude toward Britain is a different story.)" ... 
"...Al-Shoroeiya was not one of the three people the CIA has acknowledged waterboarding." "
“It wasn’t the idea of killing me,” he said through a translator. “You know the person doesn’t want to kill you. But the torture is harder than death.”
"Belhadj told the Task Force interviewer that he bore no continuing anger toward the United States, but noted that it has been especially difficult for him to reach that view because of how his wife was treated. “What happened to my wife is beyond belief,” he said through a translator. She was not part of his political life, he said, and “what my wife went through doubled my pain.”
"she was 4½ months pregnant. She said they were taken to a secret prison near the Bangkok airport where they were separated. “They took me to a cell and they chained my left wrist to the wall and both my ankles to the floor,” she told the Guardian. She was given water but no food over the next five days. 
At the end of that period, she was forced to lie on a stretcher and was wrapped tightly from head to toe with tape. When they got to her head, she said, she made the mistake of keeping one eye open and it was taped in that position. It remained that way for the duration of a long flight to Libya, later determined to have lasted about 17 hours. “It was agony,” she said"
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