Posts Tagged ‘CIA’s secret prisons’

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 >>

Deconstructing Obama’s Excuses

May 15, 2009

by Dan Froomkin | The Washington Post, May 14, 2009

In trying to explain his startling decision to oppose the public release of more photos depicting detainee abuse, President Obama and his aides yesterday put forth six excuses for his about-face, one more flawed than the next.

First, there was the nothing-to-see-here excuse. In his remarks yesterday afternoon, Obama said the “photos that were requested in this case are not particularly sensational, especially when compared to the painful images that we remember from Abu Ghraib.”

But as the Washington Post reports: “[O]ne congressional staff member, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the photos, said the pictures are more graphic than those that have been made public from Abu Ghraib. ‘When they are released, there will be a major outcry for an investigation by a commission or some other vehicle,’ the staff member said.”

The New York Times reports: “Many of the photos may recall those taken at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, which showed prisoners naked or in degrading positions, sometimes with Americans posing smugly nearby, and caused an uproar in the Arab world and elsewhere when they came to light in 2004.”

And if they really aren’t that sensational, then what’s the big deal?

Then there was the the-bad-apples-have-been-dealt-with excuse. This one, to me, is the most troubling.

Obama said the incidents pictured in the photographs “were investigated — and, I might add, investigated long before I took office — and, where appropriate, sanctions have been applied….[T]his is not a situation in which the Pentagon has concealed or sought to justify inappropriate action. Rather, it has gone through the appropriate and regular processes. And the individuals who were involved have been identified, and appropriate actions have been taken.”

But this suggests that Obama has bought into the false Bush-administration narrative that the abuses of detainees were isolated acts, rather than part of an endemic system of abuse implicitly sanctioned at the highest levels of government. The Bushian view has been widely discredited — and for Obama to endorse it suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of the past.

The notion that responsibility for the sorts of actions depicted in those photos lies at the highest — not lowest — levels of government is not exactly a radical view. No less an authority than the Senate Armed Services Committee concluded in a bipartisan report: “The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of ‘a few bad apples’ acting on their own….The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees.”

But as The Washington Post notes: “[N]o commanding officers or Defense Department officials were jailed or fired in connection with the abuse, which the Bush administration dismissed as the misbehavior of low-ranking soldiers.” And the “appropriate actions,” as Obama put it, have certainly not yet been taken. The architects of the system in which the abuse took place have yet to be held to account.

Then there was the no-good-would-come-of-this excuse.

Obama said it was his “belief 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.”

But the photos would add a lot. It was, after all, the photographs from the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq that forced the nation to acknowledge what had happened there. There is something visceral and undeniable about photographic evidence which makes it almost uniquely capable of cutting through the disinformation and denial that surrounds the issue of detainee abuse.

These photos are said to show that the kind of treatment chronicled in Abu Ghraib was in fact not limited to that one prison or one country. They would, as I wrote yesterday, serve as a powerful refutation to former vice president Cheney’s so far mostly successful attempt to cast the public debate about government-sanctioned torture as a narrow one limited to the CIA’s secret prisons.

Then there was the “protect-the-troops” excuse.

Said Obama: “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.”

But the concern about the consequences of the release, while laudable on one level, is no excuse for a cover-up.

Glenn Greewald blogs for Salon: “Think about what Obama’s rationale would justify. Obama’s claim…means we should conceal or even outright lie about all the bad things we do that might reflect poorly on us. For instance, if an Obama bombing raid slaughters civilians in Afghanistan…, then, by this reasoning, we ought to lie about what happened and conceal the evidence depicting what was done — as the Bush administration did — because release of such evidence would ‘would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.’ Indeed, evidence of our killing civilians in Afghanistan inflames anti-American sentiment far more than these photographs would. Isn’t it better to hide the evidence showing the bad things we do?…

“How can anyone who supports what Obama is doing here complain about the CIA’s destruction of their torture videos? The torture videos, like the torture photos, would, if released, generate anti-American sentiment and make us look bad. By Obama’s reasoning, didn’t the CIA do exactly the right thing by destroying them?”

Then there was the chilling-effect excuse.

Said Obama: “Moreover, I fear the publication of these photos may only have a chilling effect on future investigations of detainee abuse.”

But how so? Under questioning, press secretary Robert Gibbs failed miserably to explain that particular rationale at yesterday’s press briefing.

“[I]f in each of these instances somebody looking into detainee abuse takes evidentiary photos in a case that’s eventually concluded, this could provide a tremendous disincentive to take those photos and investigate that abuse,” Gibbs said.

Q. “Wait, try that once again. I don’t follow you. Where’s the disincentive?”

Gibbs: “The disincentive is in the notion that every time one of these photos is taken, that it’s going to be released. Nothing is added by the release of the photo, right? The existence of the investigation is not increased because of the release of the photo; it’s just to provide, in some ways, a sensationalistic portion of that investigation.

“These are all investigations that were undertaken by the Pentagon and have been concluded. I think if every time somebody took a picture of detainee abuse, if every time that — if any time any of those pictures were mandatorily going to be necessarily released, despite the fact that they were being investigated, I think that would provide a disincentive to take those pictures and investigate.”

Get that? Yeah, me neither.

And finally, there was the new-argument excuse.

Gibbs said “the President isn’t going back to remake the argument that has been made. The President is going — has asked his legal team to go back and make a new argument based on national security.”

But as the Los Angeles Times reports, the argument that releasing the photographs could create a backlash “was raised and rejected by a federal district court judge and the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, which called the warnings of a backlash ‘clearly speculative’ and insufficient to warrant blocking disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

“‘There’s no legal basis for withholding the photographs,’ said Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, ‘so this must be a political decision.'”

Margaret Talev and Jonathan S. Landay write for McClatchy Newspapers: “The request for what’s effectively a legal do-over is an unlikely step for a president who is trained as a constitutional lawyer, advocated greater government transparency and ran for election as a critic of his predecessor’s secretive approach toward the handling of terrorism detainees.

“Eric Glitzenstein, a lawyer with expertise in Freedom of Information Act requests, said he thought that Obama faced an uphill legal battle. ‘They should not be able to go back time and again and concoct new rationales’ for withholding what have been deemed public records, he said.

“The timing of the president’s decision suggests that a key factor behind his switch of position could have been a desire to prevent the release of the photos before a speech that he’s to give June 4 in Egypt aimed at convincing the world’s Muslims that the United States isn’t at war with them. The pictures’ release shortly before the speech could have negated its goal and proved highly embarrassing. Even if courts ultimately reject Obama’s new position, the time needed for their consideration could delay the photos’ release until long after the speech.”

Peter Wallsten and Janet Hook write in the Los Angeles Times: “President Obama’s decision Wednesday to try to block the court-ordered release of photographs depicting alleged abuse of detainees by U.S. soldiers sets him on a confrontational course with his liberal base. But it is a showdown he is willing to risk — and may even view as politically necessary…

“Obama now can tell critics on the right that he did his best to protect the nation’s troops, even if the courts eventually force the disclosure.

“Obama has been facing intense criticism from former Vice President Dick Cheney and other conservatives, who have argued that the new administration’s efforts to roll back Bush-era interrogation policies have made the country less safe.

“The praise for Obama that came Wednesday from Republicans such as House Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina can only help undercut those arguments.”

But, Wallsten and Hook write: “Obama’s dilemma is that he risks undermining one of the core principles he claimed for his presidency: transparency.”

The Washington political-media establishment seems to approve of Obama’s decision.

Rick Klein writes in ABC News’s The Note: “In the broader context, it’s cast as a sign of political maturation, maybe even classic Obama pragmatism. This is what it’s like to be commander-in-chief — one of those tough choices where there’s no easy answer, and no shame in reversing yourself.”

Ben Smith and Josh Gerstein write in Politico that Obama’s reversal “marks the next phase in the education of the new president on the complicated, combustible issue of torture.”

Washington Post opinion columnist David Ignatius blogs: “Is this a ‘Sister Soulja’ moment on national security, like Bill Clinton’s famous criticism of a controversial rap singer during the 1992 presidential campaign — which upset some liberal supporters but polished his credentials as a centrist?”

But anti-torture bloggers reject the comparison.

Andrew Sullivan blogs: “The MSM cannot see the question of torture and violation of the Geneva Conventions as a matter of right and wrong, of law and lawlessness. They see it as a matter of right and left. And so an attempt to hold Bush administration officials accountable for the war crimes they proudly admit to committing is ‘left-wing.’ And those of us who actually want to uphold the rule of law … are now the equivalent of rappers urging the murder of white people.”

In a separate post, Sullivan writes: “Slowly but surely, Obama is owning the cover-up of his predcessors’ war crimes. But covering up war crimes, refusing to proscute them, promoting those associated with them, and suppressing evidence of them are themselves violations of Geneva and the UN Convention. So Cheney begins to successfully coopt his successor.”

© 2009 The Washington Post

Dan Froomkin writes White House Watch (originally called White House Briefing) for the Washington Post. He is also deputy editor of NiemanWatchdog.org, a Web site devoted to encouraging watchdog and accountability journalism from the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University.

Dozens of CIA “Ghost Prisoners” Missing

April 26, 2009

By William Fisher | Inter Press Service News

NEW YORK, Apr 24 (IPS) – At least three dozen detainees who were held in the CIA’s secret prisons overseas appear to be missing – and efforts by human rights organisations to track their whereabouts have been unsuccessful.

The story of these “ghost prisoners” was comprehensively documented last week by Pro Publica, an online investigative journalism group.

In September 2007, Michael V. Hayden, then director of the CIA, said, “fewer than 100 people had been detained at CIA’s facilities.” One memo released last week confirmed that the CIA had custody of at least 94 people as of May 2005 and “employed enhanced techniques to varying degrees in the interrogations of 28 of these.”

Former President George W. Bush publicly acknowledged the CIA programme in September 2006, and transferred 14 prisoners from the secret jails to Guantanamo. Many other prisoners, who had “little or no additional intelligence value,” Bush said, “have been returned to their home countries for prosecution or detention by their governments.”

But Bush did not reveal their identities or whereabouts – information that would have allowed the International Committee for the Red Cross to find them – or the terms under which the prisoners were handed over to foreign jailers.

The U.S. government has never released information describing the threat any of them posed. Some of the prisoners have since been released by third countries holding them, but it is still unclear what has happened to dozens of others, and no foreign governments have acknowledged holding them.

Gitanjali Gutierrez, an attorney with the Centre for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which represents Majid Khan, a former ghost detainee at Guantánamo, told IPS, “The Obama administration must change course from its ‘forward-looking’ path because it leaves too many critical questions unanswered, including those about the fate of ghost prisoners held by the United States.”

“The United States is strong enough to examine the CIA and other agencies’ activities, to punish individuals who violated our laws, and to ensure that our nation does not slip to the dark side again,” she said.

Pro Publica reported that former officials in the Bush administration said that the CIA spent weeks during the summer of 2006 – shortly before Bush acknowledged the CIA prisons and suspended the programme – transferring prisoners to Pakistani, Egyptian and Jordanian custody.

The organisation said the population inside the programme had been shrinking since the existence of the prisons was detailed in a Washington Post article in November 2005. Renewed diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Libya in May 2006 made it possible for the CIA to turn over Libyan prisoners to Moammar Gadhafi’s control.

Joanne Mariner, director of the Terrorism and Counterterrorism Programme at Human Rights Watch, said, “If these men are now rotting in some Egyptian dungeon, the administration can’t pretend that it’s closed the door on the CIA programme.”

“Making the Justice Department memos on the CIA’s secret prison programme public was an important first step, but the Obama administration needs to reveal the fate and whereabouts of every person who was held in CIA custody,” she said.

The Red Cross has had access to and documented the experiences of only the 14 so-called “high value detainees” who were publicly moved out of the CIA programme and into the prison at Guantanamo Bay.

In June 2007, human rights groups released the names of three dozen people whose fates remained unknown.

“Until the U.S. government clarifies the fate and whereabouts of these individuals, these people are still disappeared, and disappearance is one of the most grave international human rights violations,” said Margaret Satterthwaite, a law professor at New York University. “We clearly don’t know the story of everyone who has been through the programme. We need to find out where they are and what happened.”

In a related development, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has asked the Obama administration to make public records pertaining to the detention and treatment of prisoners held at the Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.

The ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records pertaining to the number of people currently detained at Bagram and their names, citizenship, place of capture and length of detention. The ACLU is also seeking records pertaining to the process afforded those prisoners to challenge their detention and designation as “enemy combatants.”

“The U.S. government’s detention of hundreds of prisoners at Bagram has been shrouded in complete secrecy. Bagram houses far more prisoners than Guantánamo, in reportedly worse conditions and with an even less meaningful process for challenging their detention, yet very little information about the Bagram facility or the prisoners held there has been made public,” said Melissa Goodman, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project.

She told IPS, “Without transparency, we can’t be sure that we’re doing the right thing – or even holding the right people – at Bagram.”

Recent news reports suggest that the U.S. government is detaining more than 600 individuals at Bagram, including not only Afghan citizens captured in Afghanistan but also an unknown number of foreign nationals captured thousands of miles from Afghanistan and brought to Bagram.

Some of these prisoners have been detained for as long as six years without access to counsel, and only recently have been permitted any contact with their families. At least two Bagram prisoners have died while in U.S. custody, and Army investigators concluded that the deaths were homicides.

“When prisoners are in American custody and under American control, no matter the location, our values and commitment to the rule of law are at stake,” said Jonathan Hafetz, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. “Now that President Obama has taken the positive step of ordering Guantánamo shut down, it is critical that we don’t permit ‘other Gitmos’ to continue elsewhere.”

The ACLU’s request is addressed to the Departments of Defence, Justice and State, as well as the CIA.

A federal judge recently ruled that three prisoners being held by the U.S. at Bagram can challenge their detention in U.S. courts, in habeas corpus suits brought by a group of human rights legal advocates.

The prisoners, who were captured outside of Afghanistan and are not Afghan citizens, have been held there for more than six years without charge or access to counsel. The Obama administration is appealing the ruling.

Obama to let CIA use controversial renditions

February 2, 2009

Terror suspects can still be secretly seized and sent to other countries.

LOS ANGELES TIMES | statesman.com
Sunday, February 01, 2009

WASHINGTON — The CIA’s secret prisons and Guantánamo Bay detention center are being shuttered. Harsh interrogation techniques are off-limits.

But, under executive orders issued by President Barack Obama last week, the CIA still has authority to carry out “renditions,” the secret abductions and transfers of prisoners to countries that cooperate with the U.S.

Current and former U.S. intelligence officials said that the rendition program may be poised to play an expanded role going forward because it is the main remaining mechanism — aside from Predator missile strikes — for taking suspected terrorists off the street.

“Obviously you need to preserve some tools. You still have to go after the bad guys,” said an Obama administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity when discussing the legal reasoning. “The legal advisers working on this looked at rendition. It is controversial in some circles. … But if done within certain parameters, it is an acceptable practice.”

The decision to preserve the program didn’t draw major protests, even among some human rights groups.

“Under limited circumstances, there is a legitimate place” for renditions, said Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch.

But Malinowski said he has urged the Obama administration to require that prisoners be transferred to other countries only when there is a guarantee they will get a public hearing in an official court. “Producing a prisoner before a real court is a key safeguard against torture, abuse and disappearance,” Malinowski said.

RIGHTS: Treaty Languishes on State Terror

September 1, 2008

By Haider Rizvi

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 30 (IPS) – They have vanished, but are not forgotten. Whether they have been killed or are being kept in secret, dark, and unknown prisons, their relatives, family members and human rights activists want to know.

In marking the 25th International Day of the Disappeared on Aug. 30, rights activists in a number of countries across the world are holding rallies and sit-ins to press their governments for immediate ratification of the U.N. Convention against Enforced Disappearance.

The 2006 treaty was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in December 2006. It has been signed by 73 nations, but not ratified. So far, only four countries — Albania, Argentina, Mexico and Honduras — have ratified it.

“Enforced disappearance”, according to the treaty, is the “arrest, detention, abduction by agents of the state or by persons, groups or persons acting with the authorisation, support or acquiescence of the state, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person.”

The treaty contains an absolute prohibition on forced disappearances in both peacetime and wartime, and enshrines measures such as the registration of detainees, their right of access to a court and the right to contact their lawyers and families.

Recently, the U.N. Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances reported over 41,000 pending cases across 78 countries. Since its creation in 1980, the Geneva-based group has submitted more than 50,000 individual cases to governments in more than 90 countries.

According to the London-based rights watchdog Amnesty International, the worst national statistics referred to the Working Group last year were in Sri Lanka, where 5,516 people are currently registered as disappeared, and 30 new urgent action cases were identified in relation to alleged disappearances.

The Working Group and the Day of the Disappeared started at a time of mass disappearances during authoritarian rule in Latin America. Experts on international human rights laws note that today, disappearances tend to occur in nations suffering from internal conflict.

The group has documented a number of cases. To cite an example, Jorge Alberto Rosal Paz “disappeared” in Guatemala on Aug. 12, 1983. The 28-year-old agronomist was kidnapped by armed military personnel in a jeep, while driving between Teculutan and Zacapa. He was never seen again.

When he “disappeared”, Jorge Rosal was married and had a daughter. His wife was expecting their second child. It is believed he had no political or religious affiliations. Despite reported sightings of him in detention after his kidnapping, the Guatemalan authorities denied all knowledge of what had happened.

According to Amnesty International, Jorge’s family took his case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. In 2000, the Guatemalan government issued a statement acknowledging its institutional responsibility in Jorge Rosal’s case and others. In 2004, a settlement was reached between the state and Jorge Rosal’s family.

The rights group says in the past two decades, hundreds of thousands of people have become victims of enforced disappearances around the world. Their family members and friends are still left without any knowledge of their fate.

The Day of the Disappeared was started in 1983 by the Latin American non-governmental organisation FEDEFAM (Federación Latinoamericana de Asociaciones de Familiares de Detenidos-Desaparecidos) at a time when disappearances arose from authoritarian governance by military rulers.

But, as human rights researchers point out, enforced disappearances are taking place in all parts of the world. In September 2006, U.S. President George W Bush publicly acknowledged that the CIA was running prolonged incommunicado detention in secret locations. This practice has involved governments around the world.

Those being held in secret locations have no clue about where they are and what is going to happen to them. It is feared that most of them are at risk of torture and death. Bush reauthorised the programme in 2007.

After the Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal in Iraq in February 2004, the Bush administration ordered a number of investigations and reviews of its detention and interrogation practices.

The leaked reports of the probe by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba and Maj. Gen. George Fay, among others, documented the existence of so-called “ghost detainees,” who were held in secret and moved around the prisons where they were being held to hide them from visits by Red Cross members.

In scrutinising the Bush policy on secret detentions, the Amnesty International identifies Pakistan as one of the chief collaborators. The rights group says that in that country there are many cases of enforced disappearances linked to the so-called U.S. war on terror.

The group also points to Iraq as another major source of concern regarding the issue of enforced disappearances. The Asian Federation against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) says this Saturday, family members of the disappeared will gather in Baghdad to give public testimonies of what occurred to their relatives.

“Aug. 30 is very important for the families of the disappeared,” said Mary Aileen Bacalso, the secretary-general of AFAD. “It is the day wherein the families can collectively honour their memory. It is an insistence of their moral and spiritual presence despite their physical absence.”

Events are being organised in more than 20 countries to pay respect to disappeared persons as well as to campaign for the new convention on enforced disappearances. Among those countries are Sri Lanka, Thailand, the Philippines, Nigeria, Morocco, Belarus, France, Indonesia, the Netherlands, Uruguay, Chile, Argentina and Spain.

(END/2008)


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