Posts Tagged ‘American Civil Liberties Union’

Obama to continue ‘renditions’

August 25, 2009
Al Jazeera, Aug 25, 2009

Critics say diplomatic assurances offer no protection against inhumane treatment [GALLO/GETTY]

The White House has admitted that Barack Obama’s government will continue the previous administration’s practice of sending terrorism suspects to other countries for detention and interrogation.

But Obama administration officials told the New York Times on Monday that the treatment of suspects will be monitored to ensure that they are not tortured.

Continues >>

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CIA ‘threatened September 11 suspect’s children’

August 25, 2009

Times Online/UK, Aug 25, 2009

Tim Reid in Washington

A camp guard at Guantanamo Bay carries a set of leg shackles into the detention centre

(Peter Nicholls/The Times)

The Obama Administration will launch criminal investigations into brutal Bush-era terror interrogations, after a report last night revealed that operatives threatened to kill the children of a key September 11 suspect and told another that his mother would be sexually assaulted in front of him.

The report, which also said that detainees suffered mock executions and death threats, convinced Eric Holder, President Obama’s Attorney-General, to appoint the veteran federal prosecutor John Durham to investigate CIA abuse of terror suspects.

The 2004 report, which has been suppressed for five years but was released after a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), lays out in detail the abuse of suspects between 2002 and 2004 at secret CIA “black site” prisons.

Its contents, and the decision by Mr Holder to explore prosecutions, will reignite the partisan debate on Capitol Hill over the issue of torture. Mr Obama has said repeatedly that he wants to look forward rather than get bogged down in investigations of Bush-era abuses.

The controversial move by Mr Holder will prove a significant distraction for Mr Obama as he continues his troubled push to reform the US healthcare system, in addition to setting up a politically uncomfortable clash with his own Attorney-General.

According to the report, written by the CIA’s former inspector general, John Helgerson, one CIA interrogator told Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks that “We’re going to kill your children” if there was another terror strike on US soil. Another interrogator allegedly tried to convince Abd al-Nashiri, who allegedly devised the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000, that his mother would be sexually assaulted in front of him, a claim that the operative has denied.

Mr Holder’s decision was bolstered by a recommendation from his Justice Department’s ethics office to reopen nearly a dozen alleged abuse cases. “I fully realise my decision … will be controversial,” Mr Holder said last night.

As Mr Holder reopens investigations into the actions of CIA interrogators, human rights groups and many Democrats are urging him also to focus on the Bush-era officials who, they claim, authorised the abusive methods. They are particularly focused on the Bush-era Justice Department lawyers who wrote legal guidelines for the CIA in 2002, redefining torture to allow techniques such as waterboarding, which simulates drowning, and severe physical abuse.

“The important thing now is that any action doesn’t focus solely on the people who carried out the torture, but on the people who gave the orders and who wrote the legal memos which facilitated torture,” said Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU.

US laws on torture forbid threatening a detainee with death. The report said that at least Mr al-Nashiri was hooded, handcuffed and threatened with a gun and a power drill. Another detainee was forced to listen to a gunshot in a nearby room, with the aim of making him think that a fellow detainee had just been executed.

The Justice Department also announced yesterday that Mr Obama has approved the creation of a special team of interrogators to question high-level terror suspects, a move aimed at ending the chances of further abuse.

The new team, known as the High-Value Detention Interrogation Group, will be based at the FBI but will be overseen by the National Security Council, taking oversight of interrogations away from the CIA and giving it instead to the Obama White House.

Abu Ghraib abuse photos ‘show rape’

May 28, 2009

Photographs of alleged prisoner abuse which Barack Obama is attempting to censor include images of apparent rape and sexual abuse, it has emerged.

By Duncan Gardham, Security Correspondent and Paul Cruickshank
Telegraph.co.uk, 28 May 2009

Iraq prison abuse: Abu Ghraib abuse photos 'show rape'

A previous image of Iraq prison abuse

At least one picture shows an American soldier apparently raping a female prisoner while another is said to show a male translator raping a male detainee.

Further photographs are said to depict sexual assaults on prisoners with objects including a truncheon, wire and a phosphorescent tube.

Another apparently shows a female prisoner having her clothing forcibly removed to expose her breasts.

Detail of the content emerged from Major General Antonio Taguba, the former army officer who conducted an inquiry into the Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq.

Allegations of rape and abuse were included in his 2004 report but the fact there were photographs was never revealed. He has now confirmed their existence in an interview with the Daily Telegraph.

The graphic nature of some of the images may explain the US President’s attempts to block the release of an estimated 2,000 photographs from prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan despite an earlier promise to allow them to be published.

Maj Gen Taguba, who retired in January 2007, said he supported the President’s decision, adding: “These pictures show torture, abuse, rape and every indecency.

“I am not sure what purpose their release would serve other than a legal one and the consequence would be to imperil our troops, the only protectors of our foreign policy, when we most need them, and British troops who are trying to build security in Afghanistan.

“The mere description of these pictures is horrendous enough, take my word for it.”

In April, Mr Obama’s administration said the photographs would be released and it would be “pointless to appeal” against a court judgment in favour of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

But after lobbying from senior military figures, Mr Obama changed his mind saying they could put the safety of troops at risk.

Earlier this month, he said: “The most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to inflame anti-American public opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.”

It was thought the images were similar to those leaked five years ago, which showed naked and bloody prisoners being intimidated by dogs, dragged around on a leash, piled into a human pyramid and hooded and attached to wires.

Mr Obama seemed to reinforce that view by adding: “I want to emphasise that these photos that were requested in this case are not particularly sensational, especially when compared to the painful images that we remember from Abu Ghraib.”

The latest photographs relate to 400 cases of alleged abuse between 2001 and 2005 in Abu Ghraib and six other prisons. Mr Obama said the individuals involved had been “identified, and appropriate actions” taken.

Maj Gen Taguba’s internal inquiry into the abuse at Abu Ghraib, included sworn statements by 13 detainees, which, he said in the report, he found “credible based on the clarity of their statements and supporting evidence provided by other witnesses.”

Among the graphic statements, which were later released under US freedom of information laws, is that of Kasim Mehaddi Hilas in which he says: “I saw [name of a translator] ******* a kid, his age would be about 15 to 18 years. The kid was hurting very bad and they covered all the doors with sheets. Then when I heard screaming I climbed the door because on top it wasn’t covered and I saw [name] who was wearing the military uniform, putting his **** in the little kid’s ***…. and the female soldier was taking pictures.”

The translator was an American Egyptian who is now the subject of a civil court case in the US.

Three detainees, including the alleged victim, refer to the use of a phosphorescent tube in the sexual abuse and another to the use of wire, while the victim also refers to part of a policeman’s “stick” all of which were apparently photographed.

‘Prisoner abuse’ photographs surface as Barack Obama prepares to block publication

May 16, 2009

Graphic photographs of alleged prisoner abuse, thought to be among up to 2,000 images Barack Obama is trying to prevent from being released, have emerged.
Images emerged from Australia yesterday where they were originally obtained by the channel SBS in 2006 in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal.

Images emerged from Australia yesterday where they were originally obtained by the channel SBS in 2006 in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal.

Shocking images of inmates in Iraq are the kind of images whose release the president has now vowed to fight in court.

They risk provoking renewed hostility in the Middle East as Mr Obama attempts to build bridges with the Islamic world.

He is scheduled to make a major speech in Cairo on June 4 when he will launch his version of a plan to bring peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

One picture showed a prisoner hung up upside down while another showed a naked man smeared in excrement standing in a corridor with a guard standing menacingly in front of him. Another prisoner is handcuffed to the window frame of his cell with underpants pulled over his head.

Others yet to be released reportedly show military guards threatening to sexually assault a detainee with a broomstick and hooded prisoners on transport planes with Playboy magazines opened to pictures of nude women on their laps.

The images emerged from Australia where they were originally obtained by the channel SBS in 2006 in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal. They were not distributed around the world at the time but are now believed to be among those the president is trying to block.

Mr Obama previously committed to allowing thousands of images to be published but changed his mind after senior generals warned that their publication could place US troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan in greater danger.

The president’s change of heart brought bitter criticism from the left wingers and the American Civil Liberties Union, which had brought a freedom of information case against the US government applying to see the pictures.

Pledging to fight the case all the way to the Supreme Court, the ACLU accused him of betraying his principles of open government and “complicity in covering up” the “commission of torture by the Bush administration”.

“It is true that these photos would be disturbing. The day we are no longer disturbed by such repugnant acts would be a sad one,” said Anthony Romero, executive director.

“Only by looking squarely in the mirror, acknowledging the crimes of the past and achieving accountability can we move forward and ensure that these atrocities are not repeated.”

The White House legal team was yesterday preparing for a June 9 deadline to present its case that it would be against the interests of national security to make the pictures public.

The controversy came as it was revealed that the administration is considering detaining terror suspects from Guantanamo Bay indefinitely and without trial on US soil.

Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator, said after meeting White House lawyers that terror suspects deemed too dangerous to release could be jailed permanently by a new national security court.

Other options include revising the Bush administration’s military commissions for senior al-Qaeda suspects that have been criticised for relying too heavily on hearsay and uncontestable intelligence information.

When he took office on Jan 20 Mr Obama ordered that the prison at a US naval base on Cuba be closed within a year.

Rights Groups Slam Bid to Suppress Abuse Pics

May 15, 2009
by William Fisher | Antiwar.com, May 15, 2009

President Barack Obama’s decision Wednesday to object to the planned release of photos showing abuse of prisoners in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan has drawn quiet praise from the military and some in Congress – and outspoken scorn from human rights advocates, a number of legal scholars and religious leaders, and many on the left of his Democratic Party.

The release, originally scheduled for May 28, was ordered by a federal appeals court in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The Obama Justice Department initially indicated it had run out of legal options and would comply with the court order.

But Wednesday, the president made a 180-degree U-turn and ordered his lawyers to go back to court to appeal the decision. It is likely the case will eventually make its way to the Supreme Court.

At a press conference, Obama said that, “Any abuse of detainees is unacceptable. It is against our values. It endangers our security. It will not be tolerated.”

However, he argued that “the publication of these photos would not add any additional benefit to our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals. In fact, the most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.”

“These photos that were requested in this case are not particularly sensational, especially when compared to the painful images that we remember from Abu Ghraib,” Obama added, in an apparent contradiction.

Photographs released in 2006 of detainees being abused and humiliated at the Abu Ghraib military prison in Iraq sparked widespread outrage and led to convictions for several prison guards and the ouster of the prison’s commander. The Pentagon shut down the prison in the wake of the scandal but it reopened under Iraqi control earlier this year.

It is being widely reported in the U.S. press that two factors played significant roles in the president’s turnabout.

One was objections from top military leaders, concerned that release of the images would inflame the Muslim world at the moment when the U.S. is planning to draw down its troops from Iraq and initiate a new counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan.

The second factor is Obama’s scheduled Jun. 4 speech in Egypt; some in the administration were reportedly worried that the photos would blunt the president’s message of reconciliation with the Muslim community by providing fresh fodder for the anti-U.S. press in the Middle East.

Those said to be making this case to the White House include Robert Gates, the secretary of defense; Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Gen. David Petraeus, the CENTCOM commander; Gen. Ray Odierno, the U.S. commander in Iraq; and Gen. David McKiernan, the outgoing U.S. commander in Afghanistan.

Some influential members of Congress have also been urging Obama not to release the photos. They include Senator Lindsay Graham, a conservative Republican from South Carolina and a long-time military lawyer in the Air Force Reserve; and Senator Joe Lieberman, an Independent from Connecticut. Graham is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Lieberman is chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

The two senators wrote to Obama on Mar. 7, “Releasing these old photographs of detainee treatment now will provide new fodder to al-Qaeda’s propaganda and recruitment operations, undercut the progress you have made in our international relations, and endanger America’s military and diplomatic personnel throughout the world.”

Support for the Obama decision has also came from some veterans’ groups. David Rehbein, the national commander of the American Legion, wrote in the Wall Street Journal that nothing good can come from the release of the photographs.

“Other than self-flagellation by certain Americans, riots and future terrorist acts, what else do people expect will come from the release of these photographs?” he asked.

But this reasoning has failed to impress human rights groups and some religious leaders, many on the Left of the Democratic Party, and some spokesmen for the Right.

Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, told IPS, “The Obama administration’s effort to suppress the photos is disappointing, particularly because President Obama has made a very public commitment to government transparency.”

“These photos would provide further evidence that abuse was systemic rather than aberrational and further evidence that abuse was the result of policy. The public has a right to see these photographs, and the Obama administration has no legal basis for withholding them,” he said.

Human Rights First argues that releasing the photos is vital. The group says it has set up a nonpartisan inquiry to “evaluate the full cost of abuses, look at how we got there, and come up with safeguards so we don’t repeat the same mistakes.”

Amnesty International USA’s executive director, Larry Cox, said, “Today’s decision to hold the torture photos only points more firmly to the urgent need for an investigation to expose, prosecute and finally close the book on torture. The American people have been lied to, and government officials who authorized and justified abusive policies have been given a pass.”

Criticism of Obama’s decision also came from some conservatives.

Bruce Fein, chairman of the American Freedom Agenda and a senior Justice Department official during the administration of President Ronald Reagan, told IPS, “The more things change, the more they stay the same. To maintain that the more grisly the abuses or torture revealed by the photos, the greater the urgency of secrecy to prevent infuriating foreigners is a page from George Orwell’s 1984.”

Some religious leaders are also critical of Obama’s decision. Rev. Richard Killmer, executive director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, told IPS, “President Obama promised to make his administration ‘the most open and transparent in history.’ It is unfortunate that he appears to have chosen to backpedal on that promise on the issue of U.S.-sponsored torture.”

“Not only should he allow the release of these photos, but he should also move to establish a Commission of Inquiry to investigate and report on our use of torture since 9/11,” Killmer said.

Legal scholars are also expressing opposition to Obama’s decision. Typical is Prof. Francis Boyle of the University of Illinois law school.

He told IPS, “This tragic, misguided, and unprincipled reversal seems to be consistent with the fact that instead of getting a real ‘change’ on policies under the Obama administration, the American people are experiencing continuity across the board with those of the discredited and criminal Bush administration when it comes to international law, human rights, and U.S. constitutional law related thereto.”

A similar view comes from Marjorie Cohn, president of the National Lawyers Guild. She told IPS, “President Obama’s about-face on releasing the photos belies his commitment to transparency. Those who authorized the mistreatment depicted in the photos have not been punished. By refusing to make the photos public, the administration is withholding evidence that could be used to bring the real culprits to justice.”

Criticism of the Obama decision has also become viral among liberals in the blogosphere, For example, Cenk Uygur, writing in the left-leaning Huffington Post, said, “This is an unbelievable moment. Dick Cheney’s PR offensive over the last month actually worked. Barack Obama just crumbled and will follow Cheney’s command to not release the new set of detainee abuse pictures.”

(Inter Press Service)

President Obama to restart Guantanamo Bay military tribunals

May 15, 2009

May 15, 2009

Obama bows to Republican right and military on torture photos

May 14, 2009
By Bill Van Auken | WSWS, 14 May 2009

The Obama administration’s decision Wednesday to renege on its promise to comply with a court order and release photographs of US personnel torturing detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan represents another capitulation by his administration to mounting pressure from the right and the military-intelligence apparatus.

Speaking briefly to reporters Wednesday afternoon, Obama said that the photographs would “further inflame anti-American opinion and put our troops in greater danger.”

He claimed that the images are “not particularly sensational” and “would not add any additional benefit to our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals.” Obama failed to explain what makes the US president the arbiter of what is of “benefit to our understanding.”

The Pentagon, with Obama’s declared support, announced last month that it would release a “substantial number” of photos of US personnel abusing detainees at several prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan. The decision was taken in compliance with a decision last September by a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals upholding a lower court victory for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which had sought the photographs in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The full appeals court refused to rehear the case.

The photographs, reportedly 44 in all, were set to have been released May 28.

The Bush administration had argued that the release of the photos would generate international outrage and violate the rights of the detainees under the Geneva Conventions, rights that the administration had explicitly claimed had no application to detainees, who were classified as “enemy combatants.”

Apparently, the Obama administration is preparing to repackage the arguments made under George W. Bush, claiming that the release of the photos would threaten national security and, as the president asserted unconvincingly Wednesday, would have a “chilling effect on future investigations of detainee abuse.”

In making its “national security” case for suppressing the photographs, the Obama administration would likely be compelled to go to the US Supreme Court.

Amplifying on Obama’s statements, an administration spokesman told the media, “The president would be the last to excuse the actions depicted in these photos. That is why the Department of Defense investigated these cases and why individuals have been punished through prison sentences, discharges, and a range of other punitive measures.”

Nothing could more clearly sum up the criminal character of the Obama administration’s decision to prevent the release of these photos. Those subjected to “punitive measures” have consisted of a handful of junior enlisted men, such as those individuals punished in connection with the photographs uncovered in 2004 depicting the horrific treatment of detainees held at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

The entire point of exposing the photographs of similar abuse from a half dozen other prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan was that they prove that the torture of detainees was not the work of a few “bad apples” or psychopaths in uniform, but was systemic. The photographs showing prisoners at Abu Ghraib being beaten, threatened with attack dogs, piled naked in pyramids, smeared with feces, hanging from shackles and dragged on leashes did not represent an aberration. Rather these odious practices and worse were carried out on orders that came from the White House to the Pentagon and down the military chain of command.

The ACLU’s Executive Director Anthony D. Romero denounced the about-face by the White House. “The Obama administration’s adoption of the stonewalling tactics and opaque policies of the Bush administration flies in the face of the president’s stated desire to restore the rule of law, to revive our moral standing in the world and to lead a transparent government,” he said in a statement Wednesday. “This decision is particularly disturbing given the Justice Department’s failure to initiate a criminal investigation of torture crimes under the Bush administration.

Romero continued, “It is true that these photos would be disturbing; the day we are no longer disturbed by such repugnant acts would be a sad one. In America, every fact and document gets known—whether now or years from now. And when these photos do see the light of day, the outrage will focus not only on the commission of torture by the Bush administration but on the Obama administration’s complicity in covering them up. Any outrage related to these photos should be due not to their release but to the very crimes depicted in them. Only by looking squarely in the mirror, acknowledging the crimes of the past and achieving accountability can we move forward and ensure that these atrocities are not repeated.”

Jameel Jaffar, who argued the case for the ACLU called the decision “inconsistent with the promise of transparency that President Obama has repeated so many times.”

What is to account for the Obama administration’s sudden reversal?

The New York Times cited administration officials arguing that the photographs should be suppressed because “the missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan were entering risky, new phases. In Iraq, American combat forces are withdrawing from urban areas and are reducing their numbers nationwide. In Afghanistan, more than 20,000 new troops are flowing in to combat an insurgency that has grown in potency.”

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said Wednesday that Generals Raymond Odierno, the US commander in Iraq, David McKiernan, the recently sacked commander in Afghanistan, and David Petraeus, the chief of US Central Command, which oversees both wars, “have all voiced real concern about this.” He added, “Particularly in Afghanistan, this is the last thing they need.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, appearing before the House Armed Services Committee Wednesday, said that the generals had “expressed very serious reservations about this and their very, very great worry that release of the photographs will cost American lives. That was all it took for me.”

Obama informed Odierno of his decision at a White House meeting Tuesday, before announcing it to the public.

Thus, Obama bowed to the demands of Gates, Petraeus, Odierno and McKiernan, all of whom were placed in their present positions by the same Bush administration that instituted torture as a standard operation procedure for the military and the CIA.

Even more importantly, Obama’s U-turn on the question of the torture photos has been carried out in the face of a concerted campaign led by former Vice President Dick Cheney to defend torture and portray the new administration’s decision to repudiate “enhanced interrogation techniques” and to release Justice Department memos justifying torture methods as paving the way for new terrorist attacks.

This has been accompanied by an attempt to justify the crimes of the Bush administration in relation to torture by emphasizing the complicity of key Democrats, particularly House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who were briefed on the use of waterboarding and other acts of torture being carried out against detainees and voiced no objection.

This effort has apparently been spearheaded by the CIA itself, which leaked documents detailing the number of briefings provided to members of Congress on the ongoing torture of detainees beginning in 2002.

There is no doubt that Obama is retreating in the face of this offensive by the Republican right and the national security complex. More fundamentally, however, the administration has made it clear from the outset that it has no interest in seeing any serious investigation of the torture carried out under the Bush administration, much less in the prosecution of those who ordered these practices, from Bush, Cheney, Condoleezza Rice and other cabinet members on down.

Its aim is to preserve intact the police-state infrastructure erected by the Bush administration in its “global war on terror,” while continuing to wage the wars of aggression that the previous government began in Afghanistan and Iraq.

This policy of political cowardice and complicity has inevitably turned Obama himself into a defender of torture, using the same “national security” arguments as the Bush administration to cover up its crimes.

Photo evidence bring new claims US abused prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan

April 25, 2009

The Obama Administration is to release up to 2,000 photographs showing the abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, a move that will intensify pressure on the White House to back the prosecution of Bush-era officials for authorising alleged torture.

The release of the pictures, forced on the White House by a freedom of information lawsuit lodged five years ago, will complicate President Obama’s desire to move on from the abuse issue, which has begun to bedevil his presidency. The images are proof that the brutal treatment of detainees went far beyond the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq. They must be made public by May 28.

The leading anti-torture envoy at the United Nations stoked the controversy by insisting that the US was obligated by the UN’s Convention on Torture to prosecute lawyers in the Bush Administration who justified harsh interrogations.

For the first time the photographs are believed to provide images of abuse at Guantánamo Bay, as well as at facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to US officials who have seen the pictures, some show American service members intimidating prisoners by pointing weapons at them, an offence that in the past has brought courts martial.

One official said that the pictures were not as shocking as those that emerged from Abu Ghraib but were “not good”. The Abu Ghraib photographs showed Iraqi prisoners hooded, intimidated by dogs, beaten and piled naked in sexually embarrassing positions.

Since his decision to release four CIA torture memos last week that detailed the harsh interrogation techniques approved by the White House under President Bush, Mr Obama and his aides have faced anger from both liberals and Republicans.

The move dismayed officials inside the CIA, despite Mr Obama’s initial assurance that neither CIA agents nor Bush-era policymakers would face prosecution.

Then this week Mr Obama appeared to raise the possibility of the possible prosecution of officials. That triggered such an uproar from Republicans, led by the former Vice-President Dick Cheney, who is calling for more documents to be declassified to prove that methods including simulated drowning worked, that Mr Obama has retreated from the idea.

Mr Obama said on Thursday that he did not favour congressional hearings or a “truth commission” into alleged abuses, but he has no power to block such moves on Capitol Hill. Momentum is rapidly building there for bringing senior members of the former Administration before House and Senate committees.

Liberals, meanwhile, are expressing anger that Mr Obama is not backing prosecutions, and the release of the new photographs will increase their demands for retribution.

Amrit Singh, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the freedom of information lawsuit, said of the photographs: “This will constitute visual proof that, unlike the Bush Administration’s claim, the abuse was not confined to Abu Ghraib and was not aberrational. This disclosure is critical for helping the public understand the scope and scale of prisoner abuse as well as for holding senior officials accountable for authorising or permitting such abuse.”

CIA reveals it has 3,000 pages of documents relating to destroyed interrogation tapes

March 21, 2009

John Byrne | The Raw Story
Published: Friday March 20, 2009
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The Central Intelligence Agency disclosed Friday that it has 3,000 summaries, transcripts, reconstructions and memoranda relating to 92 interrogation videotapes that were destroyed by the agency, the American Civil Liberties Union revealed Friday evening.

The agency, however, says they won’t make them public or provide them to the civil rights group. The disclosure came as part of a lawsuit.

The CIA says they incinerated the tapes to protect the identities of agents involved in the interrogations. Their destruction came at the same time a federal judge was seeking information from Bush administration lawyers about the interrogation of alleged al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah.

The CIA also refused to publicly disclose any witnesses who may have viewed the destroyed tapes or had custody of them prior to their destruction.

“The government is still needlessly withholding information about these tapes from the public, despite the fact that the CIA’s use of torture is well known,” Amrit Singh, staff attorney with the ACLU, said in a release. “Full disclosure of the CIA’s illegal interrogation methods is long overdue and the agency must be held accountable for flouting the rule of law.”

The CIA could not be reached for comment.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the information came to light late Friday and was sent out by the ACLU in a release at 6:44PM ET. Organizations and agencies often release unfavorable information on Friday evenings, because American newspapers have the lowest circulation on Saturdays.

More from the ACLU’s release issued Friday follows.


In December 2007, the ACLU filed a motion to hold the CIA in contempt for its destruction of the tapes in violation of a court order requiring the agency to produce or identify all records requested by the ACLU. That motion is still pending.

The agency’s latest submission came in response to an August 20, 2008 court order issued in the context of the contempt motion. That order required the agency to produce “a list of any summaries, transcripts, or memoranda regarding the [destroyed tapes] and of any reconstruction of the records’ contents” as well as a list of witnesses who may have viewed the videotapes or retained custody of the videotapes before their destruction. The CIA will provide these lists to the court for in camera review on March 26, 2009.

Earlier this month, the CIA acknowledged it destroyed 92 tapes of interrogations. The tapes, some of which show CIA operatives subjecting suspects to extremely harsh interrogation methods, should have been identified and processed for the ACLU in response to its Freedom of Information Act request demanding information on the treatment and interrogation of detainees in U.S. custody. The tapes were also withheld from the 9/11 Commission, appointed by former President Bush and Congress, which had formally requested that the CIA hand over transcripts and recordings documenting the interrogation of CIA prisoners.

The government’s letter to U.S. District Court Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein of the Southern District of New York is available online here.

The ACLU’s contempt motion and related legal documents are available online here.

CIA Confirms a Dozen Destroyed Interrogation Tapes Depicted Torture

March 7, 2009

By Jason Leopold | The Public Record, March 6, 2009

Heavily redacted government documents filed in a New York federal court Friday afternoon state the CIA destroyed 12 videotapes that specifically showed two detainees being tortured by interrogators, the first time the agency has disclosed the exact number of .

The documents were filed in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union seeking documentary evidence on the Bush administration’s treatment of detainees. In December 2007, the ACLU filed a motion to hold the CIA in contempt for destroying the videotapes, alleging the agency violated a court order requiring the immediate production or identify all records requested by the ACLU related to detainee treatment. That motion is still pending.

The videotaped interrogations, which were also withheld from the 9/11 Commission, were destroyed in November 2005 after The Washington Post published a story exposing the CIA’s use of so-called “black site” prisons overseas to interrogate terror suspects with techniques that were not legal on U.S. soil.

On Monday, the Justice Department revealed for the first time in court documents the CIA destroyed 92 videotapes – far more than previously known – to prevent disclosure of evidence revealing how the agency’s interrogators subjected “war on terror” detainees to waterboarding and other brutal methods.

The tape destruction has been the subject of a year-long criminal investigation by John Durham, the acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia who was appointed special prosecutor last year by Attorney General Michael Mukasey.

According to Friday’s court documents, 90 tapes relate to one detainee and two tapes relate to another detainee. The detainees are said to be al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah, who was captured in Pakistan in March 2002 and flown to a secret CIA prison site in Thailand where he was tortured in what has been called the Bush administration’s extraordinary rendition program. The other so-called “high-value” detainee whose interrogation was videotaped was identified as al-Nashiri. It is believed that all of the videotaped interrogations took place at secret CIA detention center in Thailand. (Please see this investigative report on how a newly published Justice Department legal memo authorizing extraordinary renditions was drafted exactly two weeks before Zubaydah’s capture).

In a letter filed Friday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Acting U.S. Attorney Lev Dassin said a complete list of summaries, transcripts or memoranda related to the videotapes would be filed with the court by March 20. The CIA requested an extra two weeks, Dassin said, “because it is still searching and identifying the records at issue.”

However, “to date, the CIA is not aware of any transcripts of the destroyed videotapes,” Dassin wrote. An unredacted version of the inventory of the destroyed videotapes will only be made available for the ACLU to view behind closed doors in court.  “This inventory identifies the tapes and includes any descriptions that were written on the spine of the tapes.”

Dassin said much of the information the ACLU is seeking remains classified and still cannot be released publicly. Dassin said an unredacted version of the inventory of videotapes the CIA destroyed can be viewed “in camera” by the judge presiding over the case. Additionally, the identities of individuals who viewed the videotapes also remains classified.

Amrit Singh, a staff attorney with the ACLU, said Friday the “government is needlessly withholding information about these tapes from the public, despite the fact that the CIA’s use of torture – including waterboarding – is no secret.”

“This new information only underscores the need for full and immediate disclosure of the CIA’s illegal interrogation methods,” Singh said. “The time has come for the CIA to be held accountable for flouting the rule of law.”

Dassin added that the CIA turned over to the ACLU additional unredacted pages of a highly-classified CIA inspector general’s report from 2004 that concluded the techniques used on the prisoners “appeared to constitute cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, as defined by the International Convention Against Torture.”

In a little known Jan. 10, 2008 declaration in response to the ACLU’s contempt motion, the CIA provided some insight into the inspector general John Helgerson’s report and revealed that he viewed the torture tapes, which formed the basis for his still classified report on the CIA’s methods of interrogation.

“In January 2003, [Office of Inspector General] OIG initiated a special review of the CIA terrorist detention and interrogation program. This review was intended to evaluate CIA detention and interrogation activities, and was not initiated in response to an allegation of wrongdoing,” the declaration says. “During the course of the special review, OIG was notified of the existence of videotapes of the interrogations of detainees. OIG arranged with the NCS to review the videotapes at the overseas location where they were stored.

“OIG reviewed the videotapes at an overseas covert NCS facility in May 2003. After reviewing the videotapes, OIG did not take custody of the videotapes and they remained in the custody of NCS. Nor did OIG make or retain a copy of the videotapes for its files. At the conclusion of the special review in May 2004, OIG notified DOJ and other relevant oversight authorities of the review’s findings.”

Although the report remains classified, previously published news reports and books provided some insight into the report’s contents.

“In his report, Mr. Helgerson also raised concern about whether the use of the techniques could expose agency officers to legal liability,” according to a November 9, 2005, story in The New York Times published the same month the tapes were destroyed. “They said the report expressed skepticism about the Bush administration view that any ban on cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment under the treaty does not apply to CIA interrogations because they take place overseas on people who are not citizens of the United States.”

“The officials who described the report said it discussed particular techniques used by the CIA against particular prisoners, including about three dozen terror suspects being held by the agency in secret locations around the world,” The New York Times reported.”They said it referred in particular to the treatment of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is said to have organized the Sept. 11 attacks and who has been detained in a secret location by the CIA since he was captured in March 2003. Mr. Mohammed is among those believed to have been subjected to waterboarding, in which a prisoner is strapped to a board and made to believe he is drowning.”

According to New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer, it is also believed that the tapes were destroyed because Democratic members of Congress who were briefed about the tapes began asking questions about whether the interrogations were illegal.

“Further rattling the CIA was a request in May 2005 from Senator Jay Rockefeller, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, to see over a hundred documents referred to in the earlier Inspector General’s report on detention inside the black prison sites,” Mayer wrote in her book “The Dark Side.” “Among the items Rockefeller specifically sought was a legal analysis of the CIA’s interrogation videotapes.

“Rockefeller wanted to know if the intelligence agency’s top lawyer believed that the waterboarding of [alleged al-Qaeda operative Abu] Zubayda and [alleged 9/11 mastermind] Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, as captured on the secret videotapes, was entirely legal. The CIA refused to provide the requested documents to Rockefeller. But the Democratic senator’s mention of the videotapes undoubtedly sent a shiver through the Agency, as did a second request the made for these documents to [former CIA Director Porter] Goss in September 2005.”

According to Mayer, ex-Vice President Dick Cheney stopped Helgerson from fully completing his investigation. That proves, Mayer contends, that as early as 2004 “the Vice President’s office was fully aware that there were allegations of serious wrongdoing in The [interrogation] Program.”

“Helgerson was summoned repeatedly to meet privately with Vice President Cheney” before his investigation was “stopped in its tracks.” Mayer said that Cheney’s interaction with Helgerson was “highly unusual.”

Cheney has admitted in several interviews before he exited the White House that he personally “signed off” on waterboarding three terrorist detainees and approved the “enhanced interrogation” of 33 detainees.

In October 2007, former CIA Director Michael Hayden ordered an investigation into Helgerson’s office, focusing on internal complaints that the inspector general was on “a crusade against those who have participated in controversial detention programs.”

Dassin said the additional pages from the inspector general’s report that were turned over the ACLU identify the number of videotapes that were destroyed.


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