Detainee treatment

  • November 28, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Peter Jan Honigsberg, Professor of Law, University of San Francisco School of Law, and Founder and Director of the Witness to Guantanamo project. He is also the author of Our Nation Unhinged:  The Human Consequences of the War on Terror  (University of California Press).


    People who have been following the cycle of violence after 9/11 -- in particular the human rights and rule of law violations that occurred in the detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- are aware of the solitary confinement and isolation abuses that were endemic to Guantanamo.  Isolation and its pernicious effects, however, did not only exist in Guantanamo. In the system of injustice that speaks to the decade following 9/11, high-ranking officials in the Bush administration who did not step firmly in line with the Bush/Cheney policy of torture and disregard of the rule of law were also isolated. 

    Certainly the isolation endured by the high-ranking government and military officials was not of the mental ruination, mind-numbing and sensory deprivation kind that the detainees suffered at the naval base detention center. Nevertheless, high-ranking officials in the Bush administration who preserved their integrity and adherence to the rule of law – and thereby stood in conflict with Bush administration policy – were isolated and marginalized from policy-making decisions. 

  • October 4, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Peter Jan Honigsberg a professor of law at the University of San Francisco and Director of the Witness to Guantanamo project. He is also the author of Our Nation Unhinged, the Human Consequences of the War on Terror (University of California Press).


    Adnan Latif, a Yemeni citizen, died at Guantanamo in early September. The military has not revealed how Adnan Latif died, but only that he was found unconscious in his cell.  However, like the detainee described below, Adnan Latif had lost hope, attempting suicide several times at Guantanamo. He was the ninth man to have died in Guantanamo, six reportedly had committed suicide. 

    Adnan Latif had been held in the detention center since early 2002, although he had never been charged with a crime. Both the Bush and Obama administrations recommended his transfer out of Guantanamo. In addition, in 2010 a federal district court granted Adnan Latif’s habeas petition for release. That decision, however, was overturned by the federal court of appeals last year, and the Supreme Court would not hear his further appeal. After Adnan Latif’s death, I decided to write the following piece about another tragic incident at the naval base. 

    A young man barely out of his teens had tried to commit suicide by hanging himself in a Guantanamo prison cell.  Although the prison guards were required to walk by the cells every 5-10 minutes, the guards did not discover him in time. When the guards cut him down and carried him to the clinic, he was brain dead. Prison guards, hospital corpsmen and other military staff who passed by him in the clinic saw the inert young man with his head slumped on his chest and his body shackled to his bed. 

    The military staff nicknamed him “Timmy,” after the disabled character in the animated show “South Park.” He was fed through feeding tubes pushed up through his nostrils and down into his stomach. Ensure and similar liquids were poured into the tubes at mealtimes.

    The Witness to Guantanamo project has interviewed 97 people in 14 countries including former detainees, as well as people who had lived or worked at the naval base or who had worked on Guantanamo issues, such as prison guards, interpreters, chaplains, medical personnel, psychologists, prosecutors, JAG attorneys, habeas attorneys, interrogators, FBI agents, NCIS agents, high-ranking government officials, high-ranking military officials and parents and wives of former detainees. Recently, the project interviewed the hospital corpsman who told us about “Timmy.” We asked him for his thoughts on “Timmy” and why he thought the young detainee had tried to commit suicide. 

  • September 4, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Late last week seemingly as quiet as possible, the attorney general announced no efforts to prosecute CIA officials accused of being involved in the torture of military prisoners. As The New York Times put it, Attorney General Eric Holder’s “announcement closes a contentious three-year investigation by the Justice Department and brings to an end years of dispute over whether line intelligence or military personnel or their superiors would be held accountable for the abuse of prisoners ….”

    Of course Holder’s action will stir more discussion, some of it shrill and way over-the-top, about the Obama administration’s record on national security and conducting a seemingly never-ending war against terrorism. For many liberals the Obama administration’s record in those areas appears just like his predecessor’s.

    Human Rights First issued a strong, clear-headed statement against Holder’s action.

    “Torture is illegal and out of step with American values,” Human Rights First’s Melina Milazzo said in an Aug. 30 press statement. “Attorney General Holder’s announcement is disappointing because it’s well documented that in the aftermath of 9/11 torture and abuse was widespread and systematic. These cases deserved to be taken more seriously from the outset. When you don’t take seriously the duty to investigate criminal acts at the beginning, resolution becomes even more difficult a decade later. It’s is shocking that the department’s review of hundreds of instances of torture and abuse will fail to hold even one person accountable.”

    Such disappointment is warranted, so is sharp, thoughtful criticism.

    But then predictably we are also subject to the overwrought. For example, see actor John Cusack’s lengthy and often insufferable discussion with law professor Jonathan Turley for Truthout. Their discussion drones on and includes claims of “Rubicon lines” being crossed and constitutional principles being trampled. Cusack says Obama has created an “imperial presidency.” Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, whole-heartedly concurs, adding “Oh, President Obama has created an imperial presidency that would have made Richard Nixon bush. It is unbelievable.”

  • May 29, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    As a presidential candidate in 2008, Barack Obama leveled broadsides against the counterterrorism efforts waged by the administration of George W. Bush. Deep into President Obama’s term many see a continuation if not drastic advancement of Bush counterterrorism policy.

    In an extensive piece Jo Becker and Scott Shane report for The New York Times that Obama has “preserved three major policies – rendition [where prisoners are sent to secretive sites to undergo harsh, often brutal interrogation], military commissions and indefinite detention – that have been targets of human rights groups since the 2001 terrorist attacks.” 

    The story also states that the president, who as a candidate railed against the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, and promised if elected to close it, did not have a plan to convince Congress to shutter the prison.

    A major piece of The Times reporting focuses on the personal involvement of the president in sessions to determine which terrorist suspects to kill or capture. “It is the strangest of bureaucratic rituals: Every week or so, more than 100 members of the government’s sprawling national security apparatus gather, by secure video teleconference, to pore over terrorist suspects’ biographies and recommend to the president who should be the next to die.” The president, The Times reports, will then sign off on who to target.

    In a piece titled “Obama the Warrior” for Salon, Glenn Greenwald highlights the support Obama has garnered from some of the far right architects of the Bush counterterrorism policy, noting a progressive myth that the far right never lauds the president:

    Virtually every one of the most far-right neocon Bush officials – including Dick Cheney himself – has spent years now praising Obama for continuing their Terrorism policies which Obama the Senator and Presidential Candidate once so harshly denounced. Every leading GOP candidate except Ron Paul wildly praised Obama for killing U.S. citizen Anwar Awlaki without a shred of due process and for continuing to drop unaccountable bombs on multiple Muslim countries.

  • 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.