Torture

  • August 8, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Raha Wala, Senior Counsel, Defense & Intelligence, Human Rights First

    Last week President Obama admitted what most people have long known—that, in the president’s words, “we tortured some folks” after 9/11 in a bid to thwart future terrorist plots.  The president was referring to a soon-to-be released report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) that documents the CIA’s use of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment at secret “black sites” around the world in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. But the CIA has resisted and even undermined oversight on this critical issue from the beginning. And now current and former CIA leaders appear poised to mount a “counterattack” to undermine the report’s key findings and defend the so-called “enhanced interrogation” program. President Obama can’t let that happen.  He should direct members of his administration, including CIA Director Brennan, to get in line with the anti-torture policy he laid out when he—as one of his first official acts as president—signed an Executive Order shuttering the CIA black sites and banning torture and other forms of cruel treatment. 

    The SSCI report is the result of a five-year inquiry into the CIA rendition, detention and interrogation program; it began when the committee discovered that the CIA had disregarded warnings from the White House and destroyed videotapes of waterboarding and other brutal torture sessions. The report—a voluminous account, at 6,700 pages—is based on a review of more than 6 million pages of official documents, and is said to conclude that interrogations in the CIA program were much more widespread and brutal than previously known, and much less effective at gathering intelligence to stop terrorist plots than proponents of so-called “enhanced interrogation” claim. The report will show, for example, how the interrogation program played no meaningful role in gathering intelligence to help discover Osama Bin Laden’s whereabouts. It is also said to document how the CIA systematically misled Congress, the Department of Justice, and the White House about the effectiveness of the program. Senator Dianne Feinstein, Chair of the SSCI, has called the investigation into the CIA’s use of torture one of the most significant in the history of the United States Senate, and the most important oversight activity ever conducted by the SSCI. The executive summary, findings and conclusions of the SSCI report—about 600 pages of material—are set to be released in the coming weeks.

  • April 16, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    President Obama promised but failed to shutter the Guantánamo Bay military prison and has refused to launch an investigation into the use of torture at the prison and other unknown or “black sites.” But groups like Human Rights Watch and many others, including inmates at the prison, strive to highlight the injustices and atrocities of the prison, rendition and military commissions.

    It’s not an easy endeavor in a nation where polls suggest that many people are not terribly concerned about the rights of people who the American government has labeled terrorist suspects. In a piece for The New York Times op-ed page that garnered notice, Samir Najl al Hasan Moqbel, a prisoner at Guantánamo for more than 10 years, explained his reasons for going on a hunger strike. He’s never been charged with a crime, he has been left to languish in a dark hole, where prison officials brutally force-feed him. “The situation is desperate now,” he writes. “All of the detainees are suffering deeply. At least 40 people are on a hunger strike. People are fainting with exhaustion every day. I have vomited blood.”

    It has been widely documented that military detainees have been tortured at Guantánamo and other unknown or “black” sites overseas, with the knowledge of top administration officials in the administration of George W. Bush. In 2011, Human Rights Watch issued a report documenting evidence that top Bush administration officials, including the president, approved of torture. (Office of Legal Counsel memoranda were eventually made public reveling the lengths attorneys took to justify torture.) The Constitution Project, as reported by The New York Times’ Scott Shane, has released an exhaustive report, more like a book, that adds “considerable detail” to the treatment of military detainees. See the group’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment.

    Another report from Seton Hall School of Law provides more evidence that the Guantánamo military tribunals are a sham.

    In “Spying on Attorneys at Gitmo,” the Seton Hall School of Law’s Center for Policy & Research, details a system of “surveillance and recording” devices in “designated attorney-client meeting rooms at the military prison.”

    Law Professor Mark Denbeaux, director of the law school’s policy and research center, said government surveillance of conversations between attorneys and military detainees greatly undermines the already wobbly legitimacy of the military commissions.

  • February 21, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Thanks to scholars like Michelle Alexander, Americans and policymakers are increasingly questioning the effectiveness the nation’s system of mass incarceration and taking note of its great harm to certain populations of Americans.

    In this ACS Book Talk, Alexander, a former ACLU attorney and now a law professor at Ohio State University, explains how mass incarceration has disproportionately targeted African Americans. She wrote that more “African Americans are under correctional control today – in prison or jail, on probation or parole – than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.”

    The widespread use of solitary confinement in our nation’s prisons is also coming under greater – and long overdue – scrutiny, as noted in this ACSblog post, which highlighted a 2011 statement from the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture that blasted solitary confinement as “a harsh measure which is contrary to rehabilitation” that “can amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”

    The conservative columnist George F. Will is also weighing in on the matter, noting in a Feb. 20 piece for The Washington Post that “tens of thousands of American prison inmates are kept in protracted solitary confinement that arguably constitutes torture and probably violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition of ‘cruel and unusual punishment.’”

    Will cites federal law on torture barring “conduct ‘specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering.’” He notes what others have long known, that “severe mental suffering from prolonged solitary confinement puts the confined at risk of brain impairment.”

    Although solitary confinement was once considered a humane tool for rehabilitation, it is now widely considered debilitating, creating inmates who are unfit for social interaction.

    “Americans should be roused against this by decency – and prudence,” Will writes.

     

  • February 5, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Federal courts have avoided legal challenges against President George W. Bush’s construction of counterterrorism policies that included extraordinary rendition where terrorism suspects were secretly shipped to countries well-known for employing torture. The Bush and Obama administrations urged the federal courts to dismiss legal challenges to extraordinary rendition and secret detention sites arguing that they would expose “state secrets.”

    But an exhaustive report from the Open Society Foundations’ Justice Initiative reveals the policies marketed as a way to protect Americans from terrorism, trampled human rights and produced fatally flawed information. Rendition, in particular, “stripped people of their most basic rights, facilitated gruesome forms of torture, at time captured the wrong people, and debased the United States’ human rights reputation world-wide,” write OSF’s Jonathan Horowitz and Stacy Cammarano  about the report.

    The federal government has refused to acknowledge participation in rendition and according to Horowitz and Cammarano more than 50 other governments were also involved though have refused to admit it. The initiative’s report details the brutality and senselessness of secret prisons and rendition.

    In "Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detention and Extraordinary Rendition," Amrit Singh, a senior legal officer of OSF’s Justice Initiative, states that “more than a decade after September 11, there is no doubt that high-ranking administration officials bear responsibility for authorizing human rights violations associated with secret detention and extraordinary rendition, and the impunity that they have enjoyed to date remains a matter of significant concern.”

    But because the government has used the so-called state-secrets privilege to scuttle lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of its counterterrorism work, it has until now been difficult to discern the scope of rendition, its number of victims and other government involvement.

    In the report’s executive summary, it is noted that “based on credible public sources and information provided by reputable human rights organizations, this report is the most comprehensive catalogue of the treatment of 136 individuals reportedly subjected to these operations. There may be many more such individuals, but the total number will remain unknown until the United States and its partners make the information publicly available.”

     

  • March 1, 2012
    BookTalk
    Cheating Justice
    How Bush And Cheney Attacked The Rule Of Law, Plotted To Avoid Prosecution, And What We Can Do About It
    By: 
    Cynthia L. Cooper and Elizabeth Holtzman

    By Cynthia L. Cooper, an award-winning journalist and lawyer, and Elizabeth Holtzman, a lawyer, former prosecutor and former member of Congress who served on the House committee that investigated Watergate.


    When President George W. Bush and his team left office, mounds of misdeeds were left to fester. Some of their transgressions in office were so shocking – lying to Congress in order to embroil the nation in war and occupation, illegally wiretapping Americans without warrants, authorizing torture that had been outlawed by U.S. and international law – that he and Vice President Cheney probably should have been impeached and removed from office.

    Instead, they completed their terms and sped away. Even though Bush publicly announced in his 2010 memoir that he had personally authorized waterboarding, a recognized form of torture  -- “Damn right,” he is quoted as saying – hardly a peep was heard about seeking accountability. But how can that be? Key to preserving our democracy is the concept that no person is above the law.

    In order to ignite a national conversation on the topic, we set out to show how and why the president and vice president should be held accountable – especially, how they can be prosecuted. That meant looking at the available evidence, investigating precisely what laws are implicated and determining, as best as possible, whether a prima facie case could be made. We found enough to make a courageous prosecutor sit up and take notice, although the statute of limitations is ticking in some areas. We found clear problems under laws related to the conspiracy to deceive Congress, foreign intelligence surveillance and U.S. anti-torture laws – each of which needs prosecutorial attention.

    Along the way, we found something else disturbing, too: a repeated pattern by which Bush and Cheney took extraordinary efforts to protect themselves from the sting of the law. In Cheating Justice: How Bush and Cheney Attacked the Rule of Law, Plotted to Avoid Prosecution – And What We Can Do About It, we look at both: how the ex-president and vice-president can be held personally accountable, but, also, how they tried to manipulate the system from inside to keep themselves from being held to account.

    Perhaps the most startling example of their extraordinary actions was the gutting of the War Crimes Act of 1996.