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January 9th, 2012
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January 9th, 2012
An important forthcoming book The Torture Report: What the Documents Say About America’s Post-9/11 Torture Program described by the author:
The “war on terror,” brought to light by Freedom of Information Act litigation. As the lead author of the ACLU’s report on these documents, Larry Siems is in a unique position to chronicle who did what, to whom and when. This book, written with the pace and intensity of a thriller, serves as a tragic reminder of what happens when commitments to law, common sense, and human dignity are cast aside, when it becomes difficult to discern the difference between two groups intent on perpetrating extreme violence on their fellow human beings.
Divided into three sections, The Torture Report presents a stunning array of eyewitness and first-person reports—by victims, perpetrators, dissenters, and investigators—of the CIA’s White House-orchestrated interrogations in illegal, secret prisons around the world; the Pentagon’s “special projects,” in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba; plots real and imagined, and much more.
January 9th, 2012
Gen. Stephen Xenakis (Ret.), psychiatrist, has written a new article on health providers and torture. He succinctly reminds us of the history of the dangers of blurred boundaries and the the reasons to keep health providers far away from participation in interrogations:
Healers, Torture and National Security
by Stephen N. Xenakis
In 2004, the news that Americans had committed abuse and mistreatment in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo was shocking. Even more alarming, were the revelations that physicians, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals had assisted with interrogations that bordered on torture.
In the span of just two generations, the United States had drifted from condemning Nazi physicians at the Nuremberg Trials for their collusion with torture, inhuman experimentation and cruel mistreatment to justifying waterboarding in the pursuit of better intelligence.
As a retired brigadier general and Army psychiatrist, committed to a strong military and national defense, I find these scandals to be most disturbing. The complicity of psychiatrists and other physicians clearly deviated from the fundamental ethical principles of the medical profession and military medicine. My generation of soldiers, who had served during the Vietnam War, vowed not to repeat the misdeeds of the My Lai massacres and rampant indiscipline we witnessed.
However, after the attack on the World Trade Towers, fear and anger dominated the country’s emotional climate and the principles of our profession were hijacked. The incessant drumbeat of political rhetoric that “the war on terror is a war like no other” and that “we must take all measures possible to stop the enemy” made it somehow easier for psychiatrists to apply their skills and training to exploit the vulnerabilities of prisoners. To this day, former government officials justify cruel and inhuman treatment of detainees at Bagram and Guantanamo with unsubstantiated assertions that their confessions led to the trail of Osama bin Laden. The public supported such conduct and the television show “24″ gained wide popularity as viewers were captivated by threats of violence and new gimmicks for bringing the bad guys down. Even the presidential candidates in 2008 were ambushed by questions that judged their fitness to be commander in chief by their willingness to torture a suspect who planted a “ticking bomb.”
But, there is no evidence to confirm the assertions that torture of prisoners has helped the war effort at all.
The plain fact is that nothing that has been claimed in the name of defending our country can justify cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of another man or woman. Torture, in any form – light or heavy – is not a tool of interrogation or useful for gathering good intelligence. It is a propaganda tool and degrades the perpetrator as well as the victim. This is not just the rhetoric of bleeding heart progressives. It is the opinion of over fifty retired admirals, generals(1) and senior government officials convened by Human Rights First to discuss this issue, and our conclusions can be stated simply:
- Torture Is Un-American. Gen. George Washington laid down the directive that American soldiers will treat the enemy humanely and conform to high moral & ethical principles on the battlefield.
- Torture Is Ineffective. Experienced interrogators acknowledge that information extracted by the use of torture is unreliable.
- Torture Is Unnecessary. Veteran FBI agents and military interrogators have spoken out publicly against the use of physical pressure in interrogation.
- Torture Is Damaging. “… a person who is tortured is damaged, but so are the torturer, the nation and the military. “
Torture has long been associated with political repression and with regimes without any semblance of an independent judiciary or media. The Soviet Union’s imprisonment of dissenters and forced use of psychotropic medication on them, the Khmer Rouge’s torture of thousands of people in Cambodia and the Augusto Pinochet regime’s brutality against prisoners in Chile all bear witness to the association between totalitarian or authoritarian regimes and their use of torture.
As the human rights lawyer Leonard Rubenstein and I wrote  in March 2010, “the medical staff at the C.I.A. and the Pentagon played a critical role in developing and carrying out torture procedures. Psychologists and at least one doctor designed or recommended coercive interrogation methods including sleep deprivation, stress positions, isolation and waterboarding. The military’s Behavioral Science Consultation Teams evaluated detainees, consulted their medical records to ascertain vulnerabilities and advised interrogators when to push harder for intelligence information. Psychologists designed a program for new arrivals at Guantánamo that kept them in isolation to ‘enhance and exploit’ their ‘disorientation and disorganization.’ Medical officials monitored interrogations and ordered medical interventions so they could continue even when the detainee was in obvious distress. In one case, an interrogation log obtained by Time magazine shows  a medical corpsman ordered intravenous fluids to be administered to a dehydrated detainee even as loud music was played to deprive him of sleep.”
We cannot dismiss the psychiatrists and psychologists, who participated in interrogations in Guantanamo and helped devise the abusive practices, as mere rogues or outliers. They were actors on a much larger stage. They were swept up by a pervasive and persuasive attitude that subsumed the country and energized a military plan to “hunt down the criminals wherever they may be hiding.” The Department of Defense (DoD) issued policy accordingly and the Office of Assistant Secretary for Health Affairs contended that the legitimate objective of fighting terrorism trumps the ethical responsibility of the healing practitioner. In their eyes, “the ends justify the means” and a few brutalized prisoners were a small price to pay for protecting the citizens of the United States.
But, in truth, the use of torture and practices of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment detracted from the military mission and compromised the international stature of our country, while also undermining the effectiveness, credibility and ethical foundations of the medical professionals. To a certain extent, the administration realizes this. Now, ten years into the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the White House has changed the national strategy and President Obama has insisted, “human rights is both fundamental to American leadership and a source of our strength in the world.” In his words, it “does not merely represent our better angels …” Standing up for human rights has come front and center both as a matter of national strategy and measure of human decency. Historically, the human rights stance against torture has been unequivocal, one of the few absolutes in human rights law: It is never permitted, never excused, never to be balanced against national needs or interests – even in cases of national emergency. Torture is also forbidden under the laws of war. It is considered a war crime under the Geneva Conventions .
This is important and good, but it is not enough. The political leadership of our nation does not have an appetite for investigating the misdeeds that were committed in the past ten years. A change for the better that is not informed by an honest assessment of the sins of the past is not likely to be either permanent or fully integrated into the power structure. Several human rights groups have called for a Commission of Truth and Reconciliation to spur corrective action. By this, they are referring to comprehensive programs that were undertaken in South Africa and in the former Soviet Union to bring to justice the perpetrators of misdeeds and examine the range of responsibility that society as a whole had for the injustices of the past. Mental health professionals understand the power of confession and repentance, for individuals, communities and institutions. Something is needed that goes beyond apology, regret or even a vow to do better. A Commission of Truth and Reconciliation is a step toward corrective action.
By reflecting on the ethical principles and traditions of the healing professions, a stronger case can be put forward against torture and mistreatment:
- First, do no harm. The victims of torture and mistreatment breed political instability and discontent, weakening governments and societies.
- Beneficence. Torture and mistreatment violate the intents and purposes of medical healers and participation in any way corrupts the ethical foundations of the practitioners and professions.
- Professional role. Physicians are not interrogators, any more than they are fighter pilots or infantrymen. The military and other governmental agencies have other professionals to do those tasks and calling on physicians to fill such roles is irresponsible and ineffective.
- Trust. Physicians enjoy special trust and confidence across almost all societies. That trust is undermined with participation in harmful, coercive and abusive conduct that is neither doctor-like nor appropriate.
In 1947, our nation and its allies tried and sentenced the Nazi physicians who violated basic principles of medical ethics. In 2003, the political dynamics and national sentiment induced physicians and psychiatrists and other health care professionals to commit actions that violated core ethics. The healing professions can lead corrective action, help the country recover the “high ground” and prevent future lapses in professional conduct and policies that violated human rights. Human rights are vital to national security in the 21st century.
Much has improved since the dark days of 9/11, but our nation has been damaged. Where once the symbol of our great democracy was the Statue of Liberty – it has now become the image of that poor hooded man in detention with wires strung from his hands and feet. Our men and women on the front lines are endangered because of the increased risk of retaliatory measures. We are not safer because of these misguided policies and how we have acted as a country.
1. I have recent experience that confirms my opinions on the ineffectiveness of harsh interrogation techniques, their unethical nature and harmful consequences. In the past five years, I have been asked to assess several detainees and review the medical records of many more on behalf of defense attorneys. Many detainees subjected to harsh interrogation, as designed and approved by clinicians working for the CIA and DoD, still suffer with the prolonged injuries and adverse psychological effects of their treatment. The evidence of negative effects of the harsh interrogations has been compelling. Moreover, the information gleaned in interrogations that involved harsh treatment has not been allowed in court proceedings.
December 15th, 2011
Almerindo Ojeda has raised new questions regarding the mysterious deaths of three prisoners at Guantanamo in June 2006. He raises the possibility that the deaths occurred under torture using a technique known as “dryboarding”:
Death in Guantanamo: Suicide or Dryboarding?
By Almerindo Ojeda
On June 10, 2006, three Guantánamo prisoners were found dead in their cells. Two days later, a Department of Defense (DoD) news release described these deaths as suicides. The news release quoted Camp Commander Harry Harris, who described these suicides as acts of asymmetric warfaremeant to advance al-Qaeda’s cause in the war on terror.
The news release was categorical with regards to the self-inflicted nature of the deaths. And the camp commander was equally certain of their hostile intent. Yet the news release was curiously guarded about themanner of these deaths – the three “appear” to have hanged themselves with nooses made of bed sheets and clothing, it said.
The deaths of these three individuals was the subject of an investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS). The much-awaited report of this investigation concluded that these deaths were indeed self-inflicted. Yet, a close reading of the heavily redacted material released by the NCIS raises more than a few questions, both for this researcher and for others, regarding the exact circumstances of these deaths. To wit:
- Why did the prisoners have their hands tied when they were found hanging in their cells? (NCIS185, NCIS950,NCIS1012, NCIS958, AUTO693-1)
- Is it possible to tie one’s own hands?
- Why were the prisoners gagged with cloth? They were already going to kill themselves by silent suffocation through hanging; why suffocate themselves silently twice? (NCIS966,NCIS975, NCIS1073f, NCIS1079, NCIS1091)
- Why did all three prisoners have masks – or mask-like contraptions – on their faces as they hanged? (AUTO693-1,NCIS950, NCIS990f)
- Is it physically possible to hang yourself bound, masked and gagged?
- Why was there a bloody T-shirt around the neck of one of the prisoners found hanging in his cell? (NCIS1113)
- Rigor mortis had begun to set in on the prisoners when they were discovered. Consequently, they had to have been hanging for two hours before they were discovered. According to Standard Operating Procedures, each of the prisoners had to be visually inspected every ten minutes. That means six inspections per prisoner per hour, or 36 inspections overall. How could the guards have missed the hangings in 36 visual inspections? (NCIS1025, NCIS1070,NCIS1078f, AUTO693-8, AUTO588-7)
- Why were the neck organs (the larynx, the hyoid bone and the thyroid cartillage) removed from one of the corpses? According to subsequent autopsies done privately, these would be essential in establishing whether or not hanging was the cause of death (AUT693-5)
- Why is there a page missing from a log book begun on the day the deaths were discovered and recording the entries and exits to the cell block where the suicides took place? (NCIS1354)
Incidentally, the information that the dead prisoners were gagged with rags came out before the NCIS report was even begun. This information was provided by Col. Michael Bumgarner, one of the Guantánamo commanders. Speaking to The Charlotte Observer, Col. Bumgarner said that the prisoners who had hanged themselves, “each had a ball of cloth in their mouth either for choking or muffling their voices.”
The deceased were known officially as Ali Abdullah Ahmed (ISN 693), Mana Shaman Allabardi al Tabi (ISN 588), and Yasser Talal al Zahrani (ISN 93). Their lifeless bodies were found hanging in cells A5, A12 and A8, respectively, of Alpha Block, Camp 1, Camp Delta (NCIS938).
The Testimonies of Several Guards And One Commander
In January 2010, Scott Horton published an explosive article in Harper’s Magazine. In it, he told about Staff Sgt. Joseph Hickman, who was guarding the entrance to Camp Delta on the night of the deaths. Early that night, Sergeant Hickman saw a white van pick up three prisoners from the Camp and drive them to a secretive facility within the Guantánamo Naval Base. Then, about an hour before the bodies were found hanging in their cells, the van returned and backed up to the entrance of the clinic as if to unload something. Hickman went to the clinic and a medical corpsman informed him that three dead prisoners had been delivered to the clinic. The corpsman furthermore told him that they had died because they had rags stuffed down their throats, and that one of them was severely bruised.
Spc. Tony Davila, also serving at Guantánamo at the time, was likewise told, according to Harper’s, that the prisoners had died as the result of having rags stuffed down their throats.
The article in Harper’s Magazine adds two critical questions to the nine raised thus far:
- Who were the three prisoners taken to the secret facility on the evening of the deaths?
- What happened to them there?
In addition to this information, two Guantanamo guards other than the ones mentioned thus far told Horton that no prisoners were taken from the regular cell blocks to the clinic that night. Several guards also confirmed to him that Bumgarner had acknowledged the gagging early on. Indeed, according to Harper’s, the colonel called a meeting of personnel on the morning of the deaths; at that meeting, he is said to have told those in attendance that, “you all know three prisoners in the Alpha Block at Camp 1 committed suicide during the night by swallowing rags, causing them to choke to death.” (The Guantánamo Suicides, §5)
“He also told them,” Horton continued, “that the media would report something different. It would report that the three prisoners had committed suicide by hanging themselves in their cells. It was important, he said, that servicemen make no comments or suggestions that in any way undermined the official report. He reminded the soldiers and sailors that their phone and email communications were being monitored.”
The Dryboarding Of Ali Al-Marri
Ali Saleh al-Marri is a citizen of Qatar who entered the United States lawfully in September 2011. Ostensibly, he had come with his wife and five children to pursue graduate studies at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois – the same institution from which he had earned a bachelors degree in 1991. On December 12, 2001, Mr. al-Marri was arrested by the FBI as an alleged material witness of the terrorist attacks of September 11 (Complaint,§§14-15).
Mr. al-Marri was initially detained at the Peoria County Jail. From there, he was transferred to the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York City, and then back to the Peoria County Jail in May 2003. By then, Mr. al-Marri had been detained without charge for 17 months, most of which he had spent in solitary confinement (Complaint, §§15-16, 21).
On June 23, 2003, then-president George W. Bush designated Mr. al-Marri an enemy combatant and had him transferred to the US Naval consolidated brig in Charleston, South Carolina, the same prison that once housed alleged dirty-bomber Jose Padilla, former Guantánamo prisoner Yasser Hamdi and former Guantánamo Chaplain James Yee. Mr. al-Marri remained at the brig until February 2009. By then, he had been held for more than seven years – all without charge; all in virtual isolation (Complaint, §§25-26).
In 2008, President Obama transferred Mr. al-Marri’s case to the federal court system, where he pleaded guilty of supporting al-Qaeda and was sentenced to 15 years. He is now held at the supermax prison in Florence, Colorado. He received a reduced sentence for time served and the harsh conditions of his confinement and is due to be released in January 2015 (Federal Bureau of Prisons web site).
This December, Mr. al-Marri will have spent ten years in custody. Of these years, the most brutal were the first year and a half he spent at the Naval consolidated brig, from June 2003 to October 2004. There he was held incommunicado – meaning that he was denied any contact with the outside world, including his family, his lawyers and even the International Committee of the Red Cross. His only human contact then was with government officials during interrogation sessions, or with guards when they delivered trays of food through a slot in his cell door, escorted him to shower or took him to a concrete cage for “recreation” (Memorandum, p. 4).
During this period, Mr. al-Marri was held in a 6-by-9-foot cell, denied basic necessities, including adequate clothing, recreation, and hygiene items such as a toothbrush, toothpaste, soap and toilet paper. Sometimes the water to his cell was cut off for up to 20 days. If Mr. al-Marri needed water to drink or to wash himself, he had to ring a buzzer. Brig staff would often fail to respond for several hours. Brig staff also interfered with Mr. al-Marri’s practice of his religion. A devout Muslim, he was denied water to purify himself, a prayer rug, and a kofi to cover his head during prayer. When he used his shirt as a substitute, he was punished by having his shirt removed. He was prohibited from knowing the time of day and the direction to Mecca, thus preventing him from properly fulfilling the Muslim requirement of praying five times a day. The only religious item he was permitted was a Koran – but it was sometimes taken away and desecrated (Memorandum, pp. 5-6).
While held incommunicado, Mr. al-Marri was subjected to a brutal interrogation regime which included stress positions, prolonged exposures to cold temperatures, extreme sensory deprivation, and threats of violence or death to himself or to others. Interrogators, for example, told Mr. al-Marri that they would send him to Egypt or to Saudi Arabia to be tortured, sodomized and forced to watch as his wife was raped in front of him. They also threatened to make him disappear so that no one would know where he was (Memorandum, pp. 4-5).
But of all the interrogation techniques that Mr. al-Marri endured, there is one that is, potentially, of great importance for an accurate interpretation of the deaths at Guantánamo in 2006. Yet, it would have gone unnoticed were it not for a recent articleby Tony Bartelme in Charleston’s Post and Courier.
Indeed, on one occasion, interrogators decided to stuff Mr. al-Marri’s mouth with cloth and cover his mouth with heavy duct tape – a technique of controlled suffocation that Mr. al-Marri’s lawyer, Andrew Savage, has called dryboarding. Dryboarding is not just a criminal practice; it is a potentially lethal procedure. As he was being dryboarded, Mr. al-Marri tried to relieve the pain caused by the duct tape by loosening the tape with his lips. He succeeded. Taking note of this, the interrogators taped his mouth again, but this time more tightly. At this point, Mr. al-Marri began to choke to death. Panicking, the interrogators acted quickly and removed the tape, thus managing, narrowly, to keep Mr. al-Marri alive (Memorandum, p. 5).
This account of the events is apparently undisputed. Ms. Joanna Baltes, who appeared on behalf of the government in the sentencing of Mr. al-Marri, seems to have acknowledged that this incident took place. She also recognized that this procedure was inconsistent with the Army Field Manual (Sentencing, pp. 259, 261). There are no signs, however, that anyone has been held accountable for carrying it out.
Video recordings of this incident exist, but have been repeatedly denied to Mr. al-Marri’s legal team on grounds of national security (Sentencing, p. 261; Andrew Savage, personal communication).
Suicide or Dryboarding?
The dryboarding of Mr. al-Marri raises an unavoidable question:Did the three individuals found hanging in Guantánamo die from dryboarding rather than by hanging? If so, they would be cases not of multiple suicide, but rather of torture leading to multiple loss of life.
Whether the Guantánamo prisoners died from hanging or from dryboarding is something for a thorough, independent and transparent inquiry to determine – the NCIS investigation was none of these. If it had been thorough, it would have disposed of all the questions we raised above; if it had been independent, it would not have been carried out by the Navy, which runs the Guantanamo Naval Base; and if it had been transparent, it would not have censored more than half of its report.
Be that as it may, it is clear that dryboarding can dispose, singlehandedly, of all the questions we have raised thus far – especially the questions regarding the need for gagging with cloth and for using masks or mask-like contraptions. They would be nothing short of essential to the task at hand.
The dryboarding hypothesis would also explain the binding of the hands, the fact that no hanging was observed after 36 visual inspections, the removal of the organs of the neck, and the missing pages in the log book – the latter being attempts at destroying evidence of a crime. It would also void the need for dubious appeals to self-binding and hobbled hangings. Similarly, it would identify the prisoners taken from Camp Delta and reveal their fate.
And the violent conditions necessitated by dryboarding could account for the bruising and bloodied T-shirt. Even the guarded description of the manner of death in the early news release would make sense under a dryboarding scenario.
But there is more. Two of the documents in the NCIS report affirm that the rags in the mouths of the deceased were socks. One of these socks was described as white athletic; the other as white nylon (NCIS1073f, NCIS1091). Interestingly, the cloth used in the dryboarding of Mr. al-Marri was also a sock (Andrew Savage, personal communication).
In light of the unanswered questions, one thing remains clear: there is a need for a thorough, independent and transparent investigation into the June 10, 2006, deaths at Guantánamo and, more broadly, for a thorough, independent and transparent inquiry into all the practices and policies of detention enacted since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
To view in full the documents cited in this report, click here.
November 14th, 2011
In a recent article at hi new blog on Firedoglake, Jeffrey Kaye writes of the Australian prosecutor’s attempts to seize the proceeds from released Guantanamo prisoner David Hicks’ book:
Aussie Prosecutors’ Vendetta Targets Ex-Guantanamo Detainee’s Book Proceeds
By Jeff Kaye
Australian news sources have announced that the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP) have initiated legal actions to seize the royalties former Guantanamo detainee David Hicks has earned from the publication of his autobiography, Guantanamo: My Journey. The book was published last year by Random House Australia, and has reportedly sold upwards of 30,000 copies. No U.S. publisher has bought rights to the book, and it remains unavailable through U.S. booksellers.
Terry Hicks, David’s father, called the move “absolutely disgusting,” and according to my sources, the Hicks family is said to be “devastated.”
According to a report by The Australian, under Australia’s Commonwealth Proceeds of Crime Act “a person cannot profit from proceeds derived from the commercial exploitation of their criminal notoriety arising from a foreign indictable offence.” The “offense” in this case is Hicks’ guilty plea before the spurious U.S. military commissions to supposedly “providing material support to terrorism.”
But as Australian barrister Ben Saul, who has advised Hicks in various matters, noted last February, responding to earlier propaganda beseeching the Australian government to confiscate Hicks’ book earnings:
Yet, it is almost certain that such offence did not exist in law at the time of Hicks’ conduct. As a result, his conviction is retrospective and contrary to international law. The conviction for that bogus offence also resulted from a procedurally unfair trial, and probably torture.
Saul also commented in the same article on the irony that calls have gone out to confiscate any profits David Hicks might receive from his book, while former Australian Prime Minister John Howard is free to profit from his own memoir, recently published, Lazarus Rising. Howard, Saul notes “has evaded comparable scrutiny, principally because his suspected crime – the illegal, aggressive invasion of Iraq – is not covered by Australia’s proceeds of crime laws.”
Indeed, not only was Howard guilty of using his executive powers to commit Australian forces to the U.S.-organized 2003 invasion of Iraq, he was also heavily involved in decisions made around the incarceration of Hicks himself, as the former Guantanamo detainee and torture victim describes in his book (which again, I stress, is unavailable through routine retail outlets in the United States). It was only through the intervention of Dick Cheney, and his hand-picked military commissions Convening Authority Susan Crawford, on behalf of U.S. authorities desperate at the time to conclude at least one of their military commissions prosecutions, that a plea deal was ever struck.
Interestingly, the plea deal allowed an Alford plea, which meant Hicks could plea guilty to the single “material support” charge, while never formally agreeing to admit to guilt in his actions. In his book, Hicks clearly states that he pleaded guilty in order to get out of Guantanamo, and that up to that time, he had been in fact considering suicide.
Susan Crawford, after negotiating with my lawyers and saying no to serving less time, agreed to allow me to enter an Alford Plea if I chose, as an incentive to cooperate. Under this US legislation, a person can plead guilty without admitting to the act they are accused of. In other words, contrary to media reports, I did not ‘admit’ or ‘confess’ to providing material support to terrorism; I pleaded guilty without accepting guilt to the charge so I could return home. To plead guilty was really saying that the system was unfair and I could never win, not that I ever provided support to a terrorist organisation.
I had two choices: take the Alford Plea and face all ramifications and consequences that would follow, or return to my cell, resign myself to hopelessness and follow through with my suicide plan.
The plea bargain also included other onerous conditions, including a one-year gag order, an agreement he would assign all monies from his story to the Australian government, a statement that he was not coerced into accepting the plea bargain, and an agreement to cooperate with U.S. and Australian security officials for the rest of his life, among other ridiculous stipulations.
It is difficult to know why the CDPP has decided now to officially go after Hicks’ royalties. One wonders if it had anything to do with the warm reception and ovation he received when he spoke to “a packed audience of 1000 people at the Sydney Writers’ Festival” last May. At the same event, Hicks “also warned that Julian Assange could face a similar abandonment by the Australian government, if the US government get their hands on him.”
Certainly the Australian government has not taken kindly to the fact that David has chosen not to remain silent about the abuses he endured, or the criminal activities that took place at Guantanamo. Last year, he submitted an affidavit (PDF) to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, detailing numerous breaches of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights relevant to his case.
One of the items concerns the charges of “material support”:
In 2007, a United States (US) military commission at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, convicted Mr Hicks of the offence of ‘providing material support for terrorism’ under section 950v(25) of the Military Commission Act 2006 (USA) (‘MCA’) (Annexure C). That offence was unknown to international law or US domestic law at the time of Mr Hicks’ alleged conduct and Mr Hicks was thus subject to retroactive criminal punishment, contrary to article 15 of the ICCPR. By entering into a Prisoner Transfer Arrangement (Annexure Q) with the US, to enforce Mr Hicks’ sentence of imprisonment in an Australian prison, and by enacting related domestic legislation, Australia assumed direct responsibility for the unlawful, retrospective criminal punishment of Mr Hicks. Such conduct was not justifiable and reasonable alternatives to it were available in order to achieve the humanitarian purpose of securing Mr Hicks’ release from Guantanamo Bay.
Nevertheless, according to The Australian article, University of New South Wales law professor George Williams thought the CDPP had “a strong case.” “But that is subject to a court giving weight and recognizing the validity of Hicks’s plea and the conviction. This may well be an opportunity for David Hicks to open up questions about those matters,” Professor Williams said.
Torture and Medical Experimentation
Why would a man plead guilty to something to which he was innocent? Why was such a plea — or suicide — preferable to continued detention in the U.S. Cuban island prison?
As David Hicks outlined in his book, he was subjected to numerous kinds of torture, in addition to probable medical experiments. Last February, investigative journalist Jason Leopold published at Truthout the first in-depth interview with Hicks. In his introduction, Leopold summarized the torture Hicks endured at the hands of Guantanamo authorities:
Hicks was brutally tortured. Psychologically and physically for four years, maybe longer. He was injected in the back of his neck with unknown drugs. He was sodomized with a foreign object. He spent nearly a year in solitary confinement. He was beaten once for ten hours. He was threatened with death. He was placed in painful stress positions. He was subjected to sleep deprivation. He was exposed to extremely cold temperatures, loud music and strobe lights designed to disorient his senses. He was interrogated on a near daily basis.
In Guantanamo: My Journey, Hicks described one of the medical experiments:
I was given an injection. Within an hour or so I couldn’t help but huddle in a corner of the cage. Physically, I felt comfortable, even though it was an odd thing for me to do. In the back of my mind I knew it was strange, but as long as I stayed in that corner I had no real thoughts at all. When I tried to move from that position, whether to eat or go to the toilet, I became extremely agitated and nervous. I would quickly resume my huddled position. Getting the slight shakes was another side effect of this medication. Some time on the second day I began to feel normal again and came out of the corner. I knew I had acted unusually but, because most of that period was a blank in my mind, I could not decide if the injection was responsible. I think it was the day after, when I began to feel normal again, that I was given another injection. I was scared and pleaded for them not to, but I was threatened with an IRFing if I did not cooperate. [The Immediate Reaction Force (IRF) was a riot squad mobilized to brutalize Guantanamo inmates.] A majority of detainees were being IRFed by then for refusing medication, so I just surrendered my arm, thinking that the needle might snap off in my shoulder if they jabbed me during a beating. I was quickly aware of the results. I went straight to the corner again and curled up but, unlike last time, I was under no illusions about what was happening or why. I tried to fight this chemical reaction but was powerless. My mind was clear and alert, and I could identify my behaviour as abnormal, but my body would not listen to my mind. I had no control and remained in the corner, despite wanting to move. This time around the experience was very distressing. All I could do was wait for the effects of the medication to wear off a full day later.
Once again it was the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] that saved us. This period of forced injections and pills coincided with another visit from the only group of people on that island who did not wish us harm: the ICRC. Before I was given a third injection, MPs came and escorted me to an interrogation building, where I had a private interview with an ICRC employee. I pleaded with him to do something about these medical experiments. He told me that nearly every detainee he had seen so far had reported the same program and its effects. Almost instantly after that interview the injections and tablets were stopped, and I did not have to endure another injection. Instead of nearly daily doses, it went back to the normal – at least one injection every two months, including having blood samples taken.
In the United States, outrageously there has been next to no interest in pursuing charges of medical experimentation upon detainees held by the United States. Similar stories of such experiments have been given by a number of released detainees. Additionally, Jason Leopold and I have published a number of articles about the abusive administration of an unprecedented mass administration of a controversial antimalarial drug, melfoquine, known for serious neuropsychiatric effects, on all Guantanamo detainees as part of their initial in-processing. (See here, here, and here.)
A FOIA of an Inspector General report on drugging of detainees has been in process for this reporter for nearly a year, with such delay belying claims of “transparency” and prompt Freedom of Information response by the Obama Administration.
Clearly, the attempts to seize royalties from David Hicks is part of an attempt to impugn his work, and to punish or isolate him for truth-telling. Such bullying can only be stopped by international and Australian protest.
Update: The Justice Campaign, an Australian human rights, anti-torture organization formed largely to help publicize the David Hicks case has released a statement on the CDPP legal actions.
The Justice Campaign (TJC) is appalled at the news that the Australian Government has moved to recover the proceeds of David Hicks’ book, Guantanamo: My Journey.
TJC patron, the Hon. John Dowd said today “David Hicks has not been convicted of a crime in Australia. He has not been convicted of an offence under US law. There is no basis for removing any profits from the sale of his book.” Justice Dowd said.
“The Military Commissions Charges were invalid under US law and he was coerced.”
TJC spokesperson, Stephen Kenny said today “this is a blatant move to shift the focus of the Australian government’s responsibility to thoroughly and openly investigate torture allegations….
The Justice Campaign remains committed in calling for an investigation into David’s credible allegations of torture and the political interference in his eventual plea deal.
(Note: differences in spelling of some words, i.e. between U.S. and Australian spellings, has been left intact in this article, when Australian spellings were included in quoted material.)
July 22nd, 2011
Among the many horrors of Guantanamo is that many children were among those imprisoned there for years, often on flimsy or nonexistent evidence. Almerindo Ojeda of the Guantanamo Testimonials Project has been trying to determine exactly how many children were among the 700+ prisoners at the island prison at one time or another. Using the recently released Wikileaked Detainee Assessment Briefs and other documents, Ojeda has now shown that at least 15 children were there, a number double that given by the US to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. Meanwhile, Andy Worthington claims that the number of imprisoned children was at least 22:
Guantánamo’s Children: The Wikileaked Testimonies
By Almerindo E. Ojeda
A couple of months ago, the transparency organization Wikileaks began to release Detainee Assessment Briefs and other classified documents for all 779 Guantánamo prisoners.
As a consequence of these wikileaked releases, military documents now in the public domain acknowledge that fifteen children were imprisoned, at some time or another, at Guantánamo.
This would be three more than the twelve the State Departmentacknowledged to the public after the earlier report on the subject put out by the Guantánamo Testimonials Project, and seven more than the eight the State Department reported to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.
In other words, wikileaked documents indicate that the number of children that have been imprisoned at Guantanamo is one-and-a-quarter times what the State Department has admitted to the public and almost twice as many as it reported to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.
These and other findings are contained in a new report I authored and released earlier this month within our Guantánamo Testimonials Project. The Project aims to gather testimonies of prisoner abuse at the Cuban base, to organize them in meaningful ways, to make them widely available online, and to preserve them there in perpetuity.
The terrorist attacks of September 11 were an unspeakable crime against humanity. Unfortunately, what these attacks unleashed was the full scale military invasion and occupation of a severely impoverished country followed by the worldwide implementation of a set of policies and practices of detention – such as at Guantanamo — that have led to a profound betrayal of the values on which our nation was built. They have also undermined the security of our nation both at home and abroad.
Abuses we’ve recorded at UC Davis include: international alliances with criminal armed groups; human trafficking; civilian arrests without warrants; denial of the writ of habeas corpus; secret detention; life-threatening, open-air, holding pens; medical neglect; interference of interrogation on medical treatment; fatal, disabling, and disfiguring beatings; hanging by the wrists; threats of death or bodily harm; mauling by military dogs; torture by proxy (extraordinary rendition); controlled drowning (waterboarding); sensory deprivation; sensory assault; forced nudity; temperature and dietary manipulation; sleep deprivation; disorientation in space and time; positional torture (stress positions and prolonged standing); binding torture (tight shackling or cuffing); solitary confinement; indefinite detention; severe humiliation; sexual assaults; assaults with excreta; forced feeding; interference with religious practices; verbal abuse, and the exploitation of cultural idiosyncracies and personal phobias.
These policies and practices are outrages upon human dignity, and aresubject to criminal prosecution under both national and international law.
The Guantánamo Testimonials Project has called for a full, independent, and transparent inquiry into the policies and practices of detention enacted by the US government since the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Such an inquiry is the essential first step of a four-part process involving truth,accountability, reform, and reconciliation.
Truth is the foundation of all else. Without it, accountability is abusive, reform is blind, and reconciliation is hollow. Accountability and reform are preconditions for reconciliation as well. Without them, the victims have no reason to believe that the crimes will not be revisited, upon them or upon others, in the future. Consequently, they will continue to be on guard. Worse yet, they may feel that the period of abuse has not really ended, and they will not be delivered from the temptation to retaliate.
Almerindo E. Ojeda is the founding director of the UC Davis Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas and the Principal Investigator for its flagship Guantánamo Testimonials Project.
June 11th, 2011
Andy Worthington has written an invaluable piece for those trying to make sense of the recently released by Wikileaks Guantánamo Detainee Assessment Briefs:
How to Read WikiLeaks’ Guantánamo Files
By Andy Worthington
A week after WikiLeaks began releasing classified military files — known as Detainee Assessment Briefs (DABs) — relating to the majority of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened in January 2002, I am reassured that the prison, its remaining inhabitants and its back story have reemerged so forcefully into the consciousness of the general public. Over the last few months, in particular, it had become apparent, to those of us who still cared about Guantánamo, that President Obama’s stated mission to close the prison had ended ignominiously, and that the prison’s supporters in the US (particularly in Congressand the judiciary) had won a resounding victory, closing off every avenue that might have led to the release of all but a few of the remaining 172 prisoners.
However, although it’s reassuring to see renewed interest in Guantánamo — and to see a decent amount of insightful reporting about the crimes and distortions of the Bush administration in the reporting of WikiLeaks’ media partners in the US and throughout Europe — I’m not yet persuaded that the release of these documents has caused significant enough ripples in the US to effect any kind of change to the existing policies.
This may not be possible — given the current deplorable state of US politics, and the New York Times‘ damaging introduction to its own unofficial release of the WikiLeaks documents last week — and it may be, as I have been suggesting all year, that the only answer to the appalling inertia regarding Guantánamo is for the international community, including the UN, to reassert the kind of criticism to which George W. Bush was particularly subjected in his second term in office.
With more articles by WikiLeaks’ media partners to be published in the weeks to come, and with my own detailed analyses of some of the documents also forthcoming, the story is far from over, but for now, as I continue to release links to interviews in which I discuss the importance of the released documents — and the particular importance of recognizing that the supposed intelligence in the files is in fact thoroughly infected with the unreliable testimony of tortured, coerced and bribed prisoners — I’m posting below the notes I wrote for WikiLeaks explaining how to read and understand the different sections in the documents, and also the introductions I wrote for a handful of briefing documents that were also made available last week by WikiLeaks.
Of particular interest, I hope, is my observation, under “5. Capture Information,” that the “Reasons for Transfer” included in the documents, which have been repeatedly cited by media outlets as an explanation of why the prisoners were transferred to Guantánamo, are, in fact, lies that were grafted onto the prisoners’ files after their arrival at Guantánamo. This is because, contrary to the impression gven in the files, no significant screening process took place before the prisoners’ transfer. As a senior interrogator who worked in Afghanistan explained in a book that he wrote about his experiences, every prisoner who ended up in US custody had to be sent to Guantánamo, even though the majority were not even seized by US forces, but were seized by their Afghan and Pakistani allies at a time when substantial bounty payments for “al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects” were widespread.
No exceptions to these rules were allowed, which explains why Maj. Gen. Michael Dunlavey, an early commander at the prison, complained about the large number of “Mickey Mouse prisoners” that he was expected to deal with, and the lack of screening also helps to explain why Marine Brig. Gen. Mike Lehnert, the prison’s first commander, told the BBC in February 2002 (before he was silenced) that “A large number [of the prisoners] claim to be Taliban, a smaller number we have been able to confirm as al-Qaeda, and a rather large number in the middle we have not been able to determine their status. Many of the detainees are not forthcoming. Many have been interviewed as many as four times, each time providing a different name and different information.”
How to Read WikiLeaks’ Guantánamo Files
The nearly 800 documents in WikiLeaks’ latest release of classified US documents are memoranda from Joint Task Force Guantánamo (JTF-GTMO), the combined force in charge of the US “War on Terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to US Southern Command, in Miami, Florida, regarding the disposition of the prisoners.
Written between 2002 and 2008, the memoranda were all marked as “secret,” and their subject was whether to continue holding a prisoner, or whether to recommend his release (described as his “transfer” — to the custody of his own government, or that of some other government). They were obviously not conclusive in and of themselves, as final decisions about the disposition of prisoners were taken at a higher level, but they are very significant, as they represent not only the opinions of JTF-GTMO, but also the Criminal Investigation Task Force, created by the Department of Defense to conduct interrogations in the “War on Terror,” and the BSCTs, the behavioral science teams consisting of psychologists who had a major say in the “exploitation” of prisoners in interrogation.
Under the heading, “JTF-GTMO Detainee Assessment,” the memos generally contain nine sections, describing the prisoners as follows, although the earlier examples, especially those dealing with prisoners released — or recommended for release — between 2002 and 2004, may have less detailed analyses than the following:
1. Personal information
Each prisoner is identified by name, by aliases, which the US claims to have identified, by place and date of birth, by citizenship, and by Internment Serial Number (ISN). These long lists of numbers and letters — e.g. US9YM-000027DP — are used to identify the prisoners in Guantánamo, helping to dehumanize them, as intended, by doing away with their names. The most significant section is the number towards the end, which is generally shortened, so that the example above would be known as ISN 027. In the files, the prisoners are identified by nationality, with 47 countries in total listed alphabetically, from “az” for Afghanistan to “ym” for Yemen.
This section describes whether or not the prisoner in question has mental health issues and/or physical health issues. Many are judged to be in good health, but there are some shocking examples of prisoners with severe mental and/or physical problems.
3. JTF-GTMO Assessment
a. Under “Recommendation,” the Task Force explains whether a prisoner should continue to be held, or should be released.
b. Under “Executive Summary,” the Task Force briefly explains its reasoning, and, in more recent cases, also explains whether the prisoner is a low, medium or high risk as a threat to the US and its allies and as a threat in detention (i.e. based on their behavior in Guantánamo), and also whether they are regarded as of low, medium or high intelligence value.
c. Under “Summary of Changes,” the Task Force explains whether there has been any change in the information provided since the last appraisal (generally, the prisoners are appraised on an annual basis).
4. Detainee’s Account of Events
Based on the prisoners’ own testimony, this section puts together an account of their history, and how they came to be seized, in Afghanistan, Pakistan or elsewhere, based on their own words.
5. Capture Information
This section explains how and where the prisoners were seized, and is followed by a description of their possessions at the time of capture, the date of their transfer to Guantánamo, and, spuriously, “Reasons for Transfer to JTF-GTMO,” which lists alleged reasons for the prisoners’ transfer, such as knowledge of certain topics for exploitation through interrogation. The reason that this is unconvincing is because, as former interrogator Chris Mackey (a pseudonym) explained in his book The Interrogators, the US high command, based in Camp Doha, Kuwait, stipulated that every prisoner who ended up in US custody had to be transferred to Guantánamo — and that there were no exceptions; in other words, the “Reasons for Transfer” were grafted on afterwards, as an attempt to justify the largely random rounding-up of prisoners.
6. Evaluation of Detainee’s Account
In this section, the Task Force analyzes whether or not they find the prisoners’ accounts convincing.
7. Detainee Threat
This section is the most significant from the point of view of the supposed intelligence used to justify the detention of prisoners. After “Assessment,” which reiterates the conclusion at 3b, the main section, “Reasons for Continued Detention,” may, at first glance, look convincing, but it must be stressed that, for the most part, it consists of little more than unreliable statements made by the prisoners’ fellow prisoners — either in Guantánamo, or in secret prisons run by the CIA, where torture and other forms of coercion were widespread, or through more subtle means in Guantánamo, where compliant prisoners who were prepared to make statements about their fellow prisoners were rewarded with better treatment. Some examples are available on the homepage for the release of these documents (cross-posted with links here).
With this in mind, it should be noted that there are good reasons why Obama administration officials, in the interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force established by the President to review the cases of the 241 prisoners still held in Guantánamo when he took office, concluded that only 36 could be prosecuted.
The final part of this section, “Detainee’s Conduct,” analyzes in detail how the prisoners have behaved during their imprisonment, with exact figures cited for examples of “Disciplinary Infraction.”
8. Detainee Intelligence Value Assessment
After reiterating the intelligence assessment at 3b and recapping on the prisoners’ alleged status, this section primarily assesses which areas of intelligence remain to be “exploited,” according to the Task Force.
9. EC Status
The final section notes whether or not the prisoner in question is still regarded as an “enemy combatant,” based on the findings of the Combatant Status Review Tribunals, held in 2004-05 to ascertain whether, on capture, the prisoners had been correctly labeled as “enemy combatants.” Out of 558 cases, just 38 prisoners were assessed as being “no longer enemy combatants,” and in some cases, when the result went in the prisoners’ favor, the military convened new panels until it got the desired result.
In addition, please find below the introductions that I wrote to three briefing documents that were put up on WikiLeaks’ Guantánamo Files page last week, to accompany the release of the prisoner files (which have now almost all been released). I also wrote the introduction to a classification document, whch is not incuded here, because it is probably only of interest those who take a professional interest in the US military’s obsession with classification, but I hope that the three briefing documents provide a fascinating accompaniment to the prisoner files.
Cover Story Assessment
This document, a four-page briefing paper entitled, “Assessment of Afghanistan Travels and Islamic Duties as they Pertain to Interrogation,” was published in August 2004 and provides interrogators with information about the perceived activities of foreigners in Afghanistan, and the types of cover stories that were allegedly used on a regular basis by foreigners who had traveled there for jihad.
While this may well have proved useful in identifying individuals who were attempting to hide their true motives, it also undoubtedly contributed to an atmosphere in which everyone who claimed to be innocent was regarded as having been trained by al-Qaeda to resist interrogation, leading to confirmation bias, even if, as was the case with many of those held, they were indeed innocent.
EC Threat Indicators
This document, a 17-page briefing paper entitled, “JTF-GTMO Matrix of Threat Indicators for Enemy Combatants,” was intended to help interrogators “to determine a detainee‟s capabilities and intentions to pose a terrorist threat if the detainee were given the opportunity,” primarily through the use of three types of indicators: “1) the detainee himself provides acknowledgement of a fact; 2) another detainee, document, government, etc. provides an identification of the detainee; and 3) analysis of the detainee‟s timeline, activities, and associates in context with other known events and individuals.”
The document contains detailed lists of places where prisoners were captured, which are regarded as suspicious, and groupings of prisoners regarded as significant. It also includes signs allegedly indicating military training and fighting, indicators of membership in al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, including travel routes and locations allegedly frequented by al-Qaeda members, and an analysis of what are regarded as common cover stories.
Also included are similar analyses regarding the Taliban or “Anti-Coalition Militia,” and a worryingly large list of “Associated Forces,” including relief organizations that were not regarded as a threat outside of Guantánamo, and the huge missionary organization Jama’at Al-Tablighi, which has millions of members worldwide, but which was routinely described in Guantánamo as a front for terrorist activities.
JTF-GTMO Threat Matrix
This two-page document, entitled, “JTF-GTMO Detainee Recommendation and Threat Matrix,” was published in May 2008 and explains the different categories of prisoners at Guantánamo, designated as high-risk, medium-risk and low-risk, and the recommendations for their disposition, which consist of “Continued Detention,” “Transfer Out of DoD Control,” and “Release.”
It should be noted that there is no category for innocent people seized by mistake, even though the documents themselves reveal that many of the prisoners were indeed seized by mistake, and were therefore no risk at all, although two of the definitions of a low-risk prisoner are that they “had little or no terrorist sponsored or related training” and that they “had few, if any, associations with terrorists, terrorist groups, or terrorist support networks.”
The document also includes the following alarming footnote about prisoners facing “Imminent Death”: “Medical prognosis indicating death within 6-12 months may be justification for humanitarian transfer.”
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, and available on DVD here — or here for the US), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free tomake a donation.
May 2nd, 2011
As one of very few health professionals who has viewed Guantanamo detainee health files as a consultant to defense and habeas attorneys, I was not at all surprised by the findings of a new paper in PLOS Medicine by Vincent Iacopino and Stephen N. Xenakis: Neglect of Medical Evidence of Torture in Guantánamo Bay: A Case Series. Iacopino and Xenakis report on their examination of the medical records and reports by independent medical and psychological consultants on nine Guantanamo prisoners. They find that, despite strong evidence that the prisoners were subjected to torture, the health professionals examining and treating them made no attempt to determine if the prisoners had been abused and failed in their ethical (and military) duty to document and report torture and ill treatment.
The findings of this study demonstrate that allegations by these nine detainees of torture were corroborated by forensic evaluations by non-governmental medical experts and that DoD medical and mental health providers at GTMO failed to document physical and/or psychological evidence of intentional harm.
In each case we reviewed, detainees alleged forms of abuse that are highly consistent with torture as defined by the UN Convention Against Torture as well as the more restrictive US definition of torture that was operational at the time . In one case, unclassified interrogation plans and interrogation summaries provided precise corroboration of the methods of torture and ill treatment that the detainee alleged.
The medical evaluations in this case series revealed evidence of severe physical and severe and prolonged psychological pain as stipulated in the Bybee definition of torture. But, according to the Bybee definition of torture, even if the requisite pain thresholds had been exceeded, the infliction of such pain had to be the interrogator’s “precise objective” to constitute torture.
The medical doctors and mental health personnel who treated the detainees at GTMO failed to inquire and/or document causes of the physical injuries and psychological symptoms they observed. Psychological symptoms were commonly attributed to “personality disorders” and “routine stressors of confinement.” Temporary psychotic symptoms and hallucinations did not prompt consideration of abusive treatment.
The documentation of torture and ill treatment in medicolegal evaluations conducted by non-governmental medical experts indicates that each of the detainees continues to experience severe, long-term and debilitating psychological symptoms that are likely to persist for many years, and possibly a lifetime.
The Defense Department has issued a response to Iacopino and Xenakis which, in its failure to even mention their main charges can be taken as an official confirmation that Guantanamo health professionals do no investigate or document the terrible abuses suffered by many prisoners there:
DoD personnel working in detention facilities operate under a high level of scrutiny and consistently provide the most humane and safe care and custody of individuals under their control. The Joint Medical Group is committed to providing unconditional appropriate comprehensive medical care to all detainees regardless of their disciplinary status, cooperation, or participation in a hunger strike. The healthcare provided to the detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay rivals that provided in any community in the United States. Detainees receive timely, compassionate, quality healthcare and have regular access to primary care and specialist physicians. The care provided to detainees is comparable to that afforded our active duty service members. All medical procedures performed are justified and meet accepted standards of care. A detainee is provided medical care and treatment based solely on his need for such care and the level and type of treatment is dependent on the accepted medical standard of care for the condition being treated. Diagnosis of such conditions and medical care and treatment for them are not affected in any way by a detainee’s cooperation, or lack thereof, during an interrogation session. Similarly, medical care is not provided or withheld based on a detainee’s compliance or noncompliance with detention camp rules or on his refusal to end a hunger strike. Medical decisions and treatment are not withheld as a form of punishment. Additionally, the medical staff has no involvement in discipline decisions made by detention personnel.
This DoD reesponse also neatly elides the Iacopino and Xenakis claims in another way in that it is written in the present tense and thus only applies to current practices. Yet Iacopino and Xenakis, by their methodology of examining medical records, are talking about past practices. The DoD “response” makes no claims whatsoever recording the appropriateness of past practices. It thus seems likely that some of those practices were indefensible, even by Defense Department spokespeople not usually noted for their truthfulness.
The Iacopino and Xenakis findings are entirely consistent with my experience reading medical files on one Guantanamo prisoner on whom I consulted. Despite claims that he had been subjected to abuse, and mental health symptoms consistent with abuse, there was no indication in the hundreds of pages I read that any health professional had made any attempt to find out if he had been abused or to document possible abuse. Rather, the mental heath staff seemed only interested in whether the prisoner might make a suicide attempt. Beyond that, his obvious anguish appeared to be of no interest to the psychologists and other mental health staff.
Further, the Guantanamo medical unit and the Obama Justice Department fought tooth and nail to prevent any independent examination of these records, much less of the prisoner himself. The prisoner’s attorneys requested, and the habeas judge ordered, that the records be made available for examination by an independent psychologist, me, to determine if there was a possibility that mental health issues might interfere with the prisoner’s ability to cooperate with his attorneys. The Guantanamo medical staff filed a declaration denying any need for independent evaluation. And the Justice Department appealed every step. First they opposed any access to records as too burdensome. Then they appealed access to more than the past few month’s records. They appeared to objected to any scrutiny on principle, which in itself in a sign of inadequate transparency at Guantanamo and is the exact opposite of what should occur in an institution run by a democratic government. We cannot take the word of officials at an institution absent meaningful independent scrutiny that abuses and ethical lapses were, or are, absent.
The Iacopino and Xenakis paper contributes to existing evidence, including the questionable use of anti-malarial drugs, that Guantanamo healthcare was often problematic and deserves independent scrutiny. While the Bush and Obama administrations have made every effort to keep those records secret, health professionals should challenge that secrecy. We should demand that Guantanamo medical records be opened, with prisoner consent, to independent inspection. Further, all detainees desiring it should be able to receive independent medical evaluations.
Additionally, independent of the issues of possible abuse, the complete medical records of released prisoners should be made available to those prisoners and/or their current health providers. To suppress medical records for years of a person’s life is unethical as it interferes with released individuals’ ability to obtain required care in the present and the future. Health professionals from all disciplines should make clear that denial of access to their records by released prisoners is in simply unacceptable.
May 1st, 2011
There are an overwhelming number of articles on the Wiki8leaks’ Guantanamo Files. However, the most important take home message, that the prison was based on a tissue of lies, is outlined in this article from McClatchy. See also their Guantanamo secret files show U.S. often held innocent Afghans:
WikiLeaks: Just 8 at Gitmo gave evidence against 255 others
By Tom Lasseter and Carol Rosenberg | McClatchy Newspapers
WASHINGTON — U.S. military intelligence assessing the threat of nearly 800 men held at Guantanamo in many cases used information from a small group of captives whose accounts now appear to be questionable, according to a McClatchy analysis of a trove of secret documents from the facility.
The allegations and observations of just eight detainees were used to help build cases against some 255 men at Guantanamo — roughly a third of all who passed through the prison. Yet the testimony of some of the eight was later questioned by Guantanamo analysts themselves, and the others were subjected to interrogation tactics that defense attorneys say amounted to torture and compromised the veracity of their information.
Concerns about the quality of the “facts” from the eight men goes to the heart of Guantanamo’s “mosaic” approach of piecing together detainees’ involvement with insurgent or terrorist groups that usually did not depend on one slam-dunk piece of evidence. Rather, intelligence analysts combined an array of details such as the items in detainees’ pants pockets at capture and whether they had confessed to interrogators — American or otherwise.
More than two-thirds of the men and boys at Guantanamo were not captured by U.S. forces. So analysts were often left to weave together the stories told by detainees, the context of where and how they were initially scooped up, the information passed on by interrogators at other U.S. detention sites and, crucially, the testimony of fellow detainees at Guantanamo.
At Guantanamo, the captives were aware that some prisoners were providing a pipeline of information to interrogators — either to justify their continued detention or for use in potential prosecutions before military commissions.
“I heard there was another detainee talking about me,” former Briton detainee Feroz Abassi said in a recent interview with McClatchy. “I thought, let them talk. They’re only going to corroborate my story.”
After being held at Guantanamo for more than three years, Abassi was released in a diplomatic deal in January 2005 at age 25. He now works as a caseworker at the London-based detainee activist group Cageprisoners.
Abassi said it later became apparent that some informants were “straying away from the truth, trying to save themselves. They crack and they think it helps them to point fingers. But they only dig a hole for themselves.”
That appears to have been the case for Mohammed Basardah, a self-described one-time jihadist whose information was used in assessments for at least 131 detainees. In some instances, he accused fellow detainees of training at militant camps or taking part in the fighting in Afghanistan against the United States and its allies in late 2001.
Other times, intelligence analysts simply inserted a sliver of a quote from Basardah about the guilt of everyone caught at Tora Bora — the rugged mountain region where Osama bin Laden and members of his inner circle fled following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks — as a sort of blanket truism.
The Yemeni’s testimony was included despite worries highlighted in a 2008 Guantanamo intelligence assessment that his “first-hand knowledge in reporting remains in question” and a remark that many of fellow prison camp captives seemed “willing to reveal self-incriminating information to him.”
At the Pentagon, Army Lt. Col. Tanya Bradsher said the military would not comment on the findings, based on documents obtained by WikiLeaks and given to McClatchy, because “the documents disclosed by Wikileaks are the stolen property of the U.S. government. The documents are classified and do not become declassified due to an unauthorized disclosure.”
Among the other informants, who were used in the assessments to both make direct allegations against detainees and explain more general issues such as the relationship between various militant groups:
- A Syrian detainee known as Abdul Rahim Razak al Janko, whose own file said that “there are so many variations and deviations in his reporting, as a result of detainee trying to please his interrogators, that it is difficult to determine what is factual.” He was quoted or cited in records for 20 detainees.
- Muhammad al Qahtani, a Saudi man whose interrogations reportedly included 20-hour sessions and being led around by a leash, appeared as a source in at least 31 cases. A Guantanamo analyst note about Qahtani acknowledged that “starting in winter 2002/2003, (Qahtani) began retracting statements,” though it argued that based on corroborating information “it is believed that (his) initial admissions were the truth.”At the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, the firm that has championed Qahtani’s unlawful detention lawsuit, senior attorney Shane Kadidal said that “the information that was given in the first place (by Qahtani) was not reliable.” As a condition of his security clearance, Kadidal said, he couldn’t discuss the specifics of the WikiLeaks documents.
- Ibn al Shaykh al Libi, a Libyan, told CIA de-briefers in 2004 that he had earlier exaggerated his status in al Qaida because he thought that’s what American interrogators wanted to hear. He also said that he fabricated connections between Iraq and al Qaida to avoid mistreatment or torture by Egyptian interrogators. Information from al Libi, thought to have been collected elsewhere, was cited in at least 38 of the Guantanamo files.
- Mohammed Hashim, an Afghan whose reporting was described in one analyst’s note as “of an undetermined reliability and is considered only partially truthful,” showed up in assessments for 21 detainees.
- Statements from Ali Abdul Motalib Hassan, an Iraqi whose assessment said he “has admitted that he exaggerates in order to make himself appear more important” and who was seen as “unreliable,” appeared in 33 detainee files.
- Zayn al Abidin Muhammad Husayn, a Saudi-born Palestinian who’s known more widely as Abu Zubaydah, was cited in about 127 detainee files. His interrogations are reported to have included at least 83 instances of water boarding, and his attorney, Brent Mickum, recently told McClatchy that “he provided tremendous amounts of information that was worthless.”
- Fawaz Naman Hamoud Abdullah Mahdi was used in only six cases. But given a 2004 Guantanamo assessment of the Yemeni, it seems surprising that the fruit of his interrogations would be used as evidence against anyone: His “severe psychological disorder and deteriorating attention span” meant “the reliability and accuracy of the information provided by (Mahdi) will forever remain questionable,” according to the assessment.
On Sunday, the Department of Defense released a statement saying the Obama administration’s current Guantanamo Review Task Force has in some cases come to the same conclusions as the 2002-2009 assessments, and “in other instances the review task force came to different conclusions, based on updated or other available information.”
Any lingering doubts about the eight men and the quality of their statements were rarely listed when their information appeared in the case files of other detainees. Guantanamo officials were so pleased with Basardah’s work, for example, that his identifying a fellow detainee was used as an example in a guide to “threat indicators.”
But in a 2009 opinion ordering the Pentagon to release Guantanamo detainee Saeed Mohammed Saleh Hatim, U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina pointed out that Basardah’s allegations about Hatim were collected several years after Guantanamo interrogators knew there were problems.
While the government maintained that Basardah provided interrogators with “accurate, reliable information,” Urbina said that Basardah had been flagged as early as May 2002 by a Guantanamo interrogator who did not recommend using him for further intelligence gathering “due in part to mental and emotional problems (and) limited knowledgeability.”
The interrogation in which Basardah fingered Hatim for operating heavy weapons on the front lines in Afghanistan happened in January 2006.
For Human Rights Watch senior counterterror counsel Andrea Prasow, who earlier in her career defended several Guantanamo captives, the military’s heavy reliance on such prison camp snitches vindicates the role of federal judges in analyzing the Pentagon’s patchwork of cases.
“But for habeas,” she said Monday, “we’d never have known that Basardah was a liar.”
U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler took a similar view of Basardah in the unlawful detention lawsuit of Guantanamo detainee Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed. Kessler referred to Basardah as having “shown himself to be an unreliable source whose statements have little evidentiary value.”
Kessler also wrote of the U.S. government’s case against Ahmed and other Guantanamo detainees that “the mosaic theory is only as persuasive as the tiles which compose it … if the individual pieces of a mosaic are inherently flawed or do not fit together, then the mosaic will split apart.”
Basardah was not named publicly in either case, but his identity is clear after comparing the new Guantanamo files and the court cases.
In both cases, the judges ruled that the detainees should be freed.
April 27th, 2011