Rendition and Torture

Rendition and torture have been official US policy since September 11, 2001. How can we find out all the abuses of the Bush administration and end these crimes?

Extraordinary Rendition is defined as:

the extrajudicial transfer of an individual to a country where there is reasonable probability he will be tortured.

Mother Jones (hat tip: Desi Italiana) recounts the renditions carried out by the United States, including those before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

In our research we have counted 67 known cases of extraordinary rendition by the United States since 1995. While the details are often incomplete, they help paint a more complete picture of this secretive and controversial Central Intelligence Agency program.

[…] Then-CIA director George Tenet testified before the 9/11 Commission that there were more than 80 renditions before September 11, 2001. We found information on 29 cases of extraordinary and ordinary rendition prior to 9/11. Of the 14 that qualify as extraordinary renditions, 12 were to Egypt.

[…] We found information on 117 renditions that have occurred since September 11, 2001. When we excluded renditions to Afghanistan, CIA secret prisons (or “black sites”), Guantanamo, or American custody, we found 53 cases of extraordinary rendition. All individuals for whom the rendition destination is known were sent to countries that have been criticized by the State Department’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, which document “torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

Of these 53 prisoners, more than one quarter have explicitly claimed that they were tortured while in foreign custody; four claim they were tortured while passing through American custody either en route to or following foreign custody. Four others may have been tortured while in foreign custody based on secondhand accounts or vague descriptions of treatment in prisons in their destination countries. Sixteen of the 53 individuals have been released after extraordinary renditions, and half of them claimed they were tortured while in foreign custody; two claim they were tortured while in American custody.

These renditions, which started in the Clinton era, resulted in torture by states that were well-known to use torture in their interrogations.

For hours, the words come pouring out of Abu Omar as he describes his years of torture at the hands of Egypt’s security services. Spreading his arms in a crucifixion position, he demonstrates how he was tied to a metal door as shocks were administered to his nipples and genitals. His legs tremble as he describes how he was twice raped. He mentions, almost casually, the hearing loss in his left ear from the beatings, and how he still wakes up at night screaming, takes tranquilizers, finds it hard to concentrate, and has unspecified “problems with my wife at home.” He is, in short, a broken man.

Torture is not just something we have outsourced to countries like Egypt. Instead, after the September 11 attacks, the Bush administration has issued legal opinions declaring torture okay. John Yoo of the Office of Legal Counsel wrote a memo in August 2002 and another one in March 2003, basically declaring an imperial Presidency that had the power to declare torture legal if it felt like it.

Torture was discussed and approved at the highest levels of the government.

In dozens of top-secret talks and meetings in the White House, the most senior Bush administration officials discussed and approved specific details of how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the Central Intelligence Agency, sources tell ABC News.

[…] The high-level discussions about these “enhanced interrogation techniques” were so detailed, these sources said, some of the interrogation sessions were almost choreographed — down to the number of times CIA agents could use a specific tactic.

The advisers were members of the National Security Council’s Principals Committee, a select group of senior officials who met frequently to advise President Bush on issues of national security policy.

At the time, the Principals Committee included Vice President Cheney, former National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as CIA Director George Tenet and Attorney General John Ashcroft.

As the national security adviser, Rice chaired the meetings, which took place in the White House Situation Room and were typically attended by most of the principals or their deputies.

And Bush approved of these torture policies.

In a stunning admission to ABC news Friday night, President Bush declared that he knew his top national security advisers discussed and approved specific details of the CIA’s use of torture. Bush reportedly told ABC, “I’m aware our national security team met on this issue. And I approved.” Bush also defended the use of waterboarding.

ACLU suggests that we should demand accountability from Congress and I urge you to send a letter to your Congressman right now.

The Bush administration is still using the euphemism of “enhanced interrogation techniques” for torture and claiming that the CIA is allowed to use these methods.

The Justice Department has told Congress that American intelligence operatives attempting to thwart terrorist attacks can legally use interrogation methods that might otherwise be prohibited under international law.

The legal interpretation, outlined in recent letters, sheds new light on the still-secret rules for interrogations by the Central Intelligence Agency. It shows that the administration is arguing that the boundaries for interrogations should be subject to some latitude, even under an executive order issued last summer that President Bush said meant that the C.I.A. would comply with international strictures against harsh treatment of detainees.

While the Geneva Conventions prohibit “outrages upon personal dignity,” a letter sent by the Justice Department to Congress on March 5 makes clear that the administration has not drawn a precise line in deciding which interrogation methods would violate that standard, and is reserving the right to make case-by-case judgments.

“The fact that an act is undertaken to prevent a threatened terrorist attack, rather than for the purpose of humiliation or abuse, would be relevant to a reasonable observer in measuring the outrageousness of the act,” said Brian A. Benczkowski, a deputy assistant attorney general, in the letter, which had not previously been made public.

The rot in the state is widespread. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia likes to excuse torture for the purpose of thwarting terrorist attacks and Republican Presidential candidate Senator John McCain, while an opponent of tortute, voted against prohibiting torture by the CIA, despite the fact that he was tortured by using stress positions by the North Vietnamese when he was a prisoner of war.

May be Congress can get the 7,000 documents relating to torture and rendition that the CIA is unwilling to release and make them public and the next administration can untie the hands of the FBI and get it to investigate these abuses.

Terror of School Districts

Law enforcements and government give the best of reasons for new laws on surveillance and powers for law enforcement. But they are always used for trivial or the worst of reasons too.

Laws giving more power of surveillance to the state are often justified in terms of their use against terrorists, pedophiles and other such criminals, but such laws can and will be used for such purposes as finding deadbeat dads or even checking if families reside in a specific school district.

A council has admitted spying on a family using laws to track criminals and terrorists to find out if they were really living in a school catchment.

A couple and their three children were put under surveillance without their knowledge by Poole Borough Council for more than two weeks.

The council admitted using powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) on six occasions in total.

Three of those were for suspected fraudulent school place applications.

It said two offers of school places were withdrawn as a consequence.

[…] RIPA legislation allows councils to carry out surveillance if it suspects criminal activity.

On its website, the Home Office says: “The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) legislates for using methods of surveillance and information gathering to help the prevention of crime, including terrorism.”

It goes on to say the act allows the interception of communications, carrying out of surveillance and the use of covert human intelligence sources.

Poole council said it used the legislation to watch a family at home and in their daily movements because it wanted to know if they lived in the catchment area for a school, which they wanted their three-year-old daughter to attend.

Also, in the past, these kind of laws have been used against political opponents, as the Church Committee reports show. It is quite probable that they will be used similarly again.

Rendition

This is a movie about sending a man, suspected to be a terrorist, to another country so that he can be tortured. The practice of extraordinary rendition actually dates from the war on drugs. It’s a good movie, worth watching.

Rendition is about an Egyptian American who is sent to a North African country as he is suspected of having some connection with a terrorist. There of course he is tortured. This process of handing out suspects to other countries to be tortured is known as extraordinary rendition.

The impressive parts of the movie are what happens in North Africa. The torture scenes are not easy to watch but affect you a lot. Also, the subplot about the daughter of the local law enforcement guy overseeing the torture is also very interesting.

On the other hand, the acting of Meryl Streep, who is a great actress, and Reese Witherspoon did not impress me much.

Overall, I rate the movie 8/10.

And finally a question: Considering that the United States has (indirectly) tortured innocent people via extraordinary rendition (for example, Maher Arar), do you worry something like this could happen to you or your loved ones? Also, please note that extraordinary rendition did not start with the war on terror. Instead, it dates from the war on drugs as Jonathan Edelstein shows in a great blog post.

Empire and Torture

Torture is bad, empire might even be worse, especially when all the people in the world could be its subjects.

Somehow with so much news about torture by the US I have refrained from commenting on any of it for a while. What can I say, I have become disillusioned. But here are some scattered thoughts.

The Washington Post has an article about “black sites”:

The CIA has been hiding and interrogating some of its most important al Qaeda captives at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe, according to U.S. and foreign officials familiar with the arrangement.

The secret facility is part of a covert prison system set up by the CIA nearly four years ago that at various times has included sites in eight countries, including Thailand, Afghanistan and several democracies in Eastern Europe, as well as a small center at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, according to current and former intelligence officials and diplomats from three continents.

When there are prisons, detention and torture centers spread around the world, can we finally say “Empire”?

On the other hand, His Imperial Majesty says:

“There’s an enemy that lurks and plots and plans and wants to hurt America again,” Bush said. “So you bet we will aggressively pursue them but we will do so under the law.”

He declared, “We do not torture.”

[…] “Our country is at war and our government has the obligation to protect the American people,” Bush said. “Any activity we conduct is within the law. We do not torture.”

While some libertarians have been worried about the rights of Americans being lost due to the war on terror, I am not extremely worried about that. The rights and liberties might vary over time but they will most likely remain within US historical norms (though historical norms isn’t good enough). However, with the reach of the US government beyond any historical power and its willingness to use that power, foreigners (especially those outside the US) might have something to fear. As an example, did you know that the US senate removed passed an amendment which if it goes through the rest of the legislative process would remove the right of habeas corpus from Gitmo detainees last week?

The Senate today passed Lindsay Graham’s amendment, 49 to 42 barring detainees at Guantanamo and others declared by the Executive Branch to be enemy combatants from seeking judicial review of the legality of their detentions.

To read more about the stupidity behind Senator Graham’s amendment, please do read the following Obsidian Wings posts.

The latest news on Guantanamo and habeas corpus is that a further amendment has been passed by the Senate.

Senators also voted to endorse the Bush administration’s military tribunals for prosecuting foreign terrorism suspects at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but to allow the detainees to appeal their detention status and punishments to a federal court.

[…] Senators added the language Tuesday that would allow Guantanamo detainees to appeal their status as “enemy combatants” and the rulings of U.S. military tribunals to a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. That avenue would take the place of the one tool the Supreme Court gave detainees in 2004 to fight the legality of their detentions — the right to file habeas corpus petitions in any federal court.

Senators approved the measure on tribunals by an 84-14 vote. It was a bipartisan compromise reached after last week’s Senate approval of a provision that stripped detainees entirely of their ability to file the petitions. Critics said that provision did not provide a meaningful way for detainees to appeal their status or the decisions of military tribunals.

Earlier Tuesday, senators defeated a Democratic proposal that would have reinstated the right to file habeas corpus lawsuits, but limited the challenges to one court.

The idea of not giving any rights to foreigners detained outside the US by Americans seems to remind me to some extent of former empires. After all, an Englishman was not the same as an Indian in the British empire. This action creates two classes of people, “us” and “them”: We have rights and they don’t. The point is argued well in this Slate article.

As if using Soviet-era prison compounds in Eastern Europe wasn’t enough, the United States is also copying communist torture tactics.

The Pentagon effectively signed off on a strategy that mimics Red Army methods. But those tactics were not only inhumane, they were ineffective. For Communist interrogators, truth was beside the point: their aim was to force compliance to the point of false confession.

Fearful of future terrorist attacks and frustrated by the slow progress of intelligence-gathering from prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Pentagon officials turned to the closest thing on their organizational charts to a school for torture. That was a classified program at Fort Bragg, N.C., known as SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape. Based on studies of North Korean and Vietnamese efforts to break American prisoners, SERE was intended to train American soldiers to resist the abuse they might face in enemy custody.

The Pentagon appears to have flipped SERE’s teachings on their head, mining the program not for resistance techniques but for interrogation methods. At a June 2004 briefing, the chief of the United States Southern Command, Gen. James T. Hill, said a team from Guantánamo went “up to our SERE school and developed a list of techniques” for “high-profile, high-value” detainees. General Hill had sent this list – which included prolonged isolation and sleep deprivation, stress positions, physical assault and the exploitation of detainees’ phobias – to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who approved most of the tactics in December 2002.

While you are at it, read this account of a guy tortured and murdered by the CIA in Iraq.

Reaction to Criticism

The Bush administration responds to Amnesty International’s cataloging of abuses in Gitmo and beyond by tarnishing Amnesty’s name. The Musharraf regime saves Pakistan’s reputation by not allowing Mukhtaran Bibi, a gang rape victim, to go abroad.

Amnesty recently came out with a report detailing the US practices violating human rights in Guantanamo and beyond. Most conservative and Republic commentary has focused on the word “gulag” used by Irene Khan in the press conference instead of the torture and other activities of the US government. Here is Bush expressing his opinion about the report.

I’m aware of the Amnesty International report, and it’s absurd. […] It seemed like to me they based some of their decisions on the word of — and the allegations — by people who were held in detention, people who hate America, people that had been trained in some instances to disassemble — that means not tell the truth. And so it was an absurd report.

Cheney:

Dick Cheney said Monday he was offended by Amnesty International’s condemnation of the United States for what it called “serious human rights violations” at Guantanamo Bay.

“For Amnesty International to suggest that somehow the United States is a violator of human rights, I frankly just don’t take them seriously.”

“Guantanamo’s been operated, I think, in a very sane and sound fashion by the U.S. military. … I think these people have been well treated, treated humanely and decently,” Cheney said. “Occasionally there are allegations of mistreatment.

“But if you trace those back, in nearly every case, it turns out to come from somebody who has been inside and been released … to their home country and now are peddling lies about how they were treated.”

On the other side of the world, via Dad, Mukhtaran Bibi is not being allowed to move about freely while the people who raped her have been freed by the courts.

Mukhtaran, the Meerwala gang-rape victim, has accused the government of forcibly restricting her movement so that she could not meet her lawyers and sympathizers.

[…] Mukhtaran said some federal government officials had recently visited her and advised her not to talk to journalists and rights activists if she wanted the government to be on her back. Their logic was that her media exposure painted a bad image of the country in the international community. “No one will have to seek help of the media and the rights activists if police and courts in the country dispense justice without any prejudice,” she remarked.

And to save the national reputation, she is not allowed to go abroad, after all she got the invitation from that “disgusting” and “absurd” organization, Amnesty International.

The interior ministry has placed Mukhtaran Mai’s name on the Exit Control List (ECL).

Sources in the ministry told Dawn on Friday that Mukhtaran Mai had been scheduled to leave for London in a day or two on an invitation from the Amnesty International.

“Her name has been placed on the ECL with a directive to the Federal Investigation Agency to ensure compliance,” an officer of the FIA said.

The official said the government had taken the decision on reports that her visit could ‘tarnish’ the image of the country abroad.

Wow! Her going abroad and talking about what happened to her would tarnish the country’s reputation but the gang rape and acquittal of the rapists didn’t?

Don’t Bush and Cheney wish they could do freely what Musharraf, the “enlightened moderate,” so easily can?

POSTSCRIPT: Chapati Mystery is right and Kristof is wrong. This is what Musharraf is. He is doing what dictators do.

Civil Liberties, Republicans and TV News

There is an interesting public opinion survey out from Cornell.

In a study to determine how much the public fears terrorism, almost half of respondents polled nationally said they believe the U.S. government should — in some way — curtail civil liberties for Muslim Americans, according to a new survey released today (Dec. 17) by Cornell University.

[…] The Media and Society Research Group, in Cornell’s Department of Communication, commissioned the poll, which was supervised by the Survey Research Institute, in Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. The results were based on 715 completed telephone interviews of respondents across the United States, and the poll has a margin of error of 3.6 percent.

The survey also examined the relation of religiosity to perceptions of Islam and Islamic countries among Christian respondents. Sixty-five percent of self-described highly religious people queried said they view Islam as encouraging violence more than other religions do; in comparison, 42 percent of the respondents who said they were not highly religious saw Islam as encouraging violence. In addition, highly religious respondents also were more likely to describe Islamic countries as violent (64 percent), fanatical (61 percent) and dangerous (64 percent). Fewer of the respondents who said they were not highly religious described Islamic countries as violent (49 percent), fanatical (46 percent) and dangerous (44 percent). But 80 percent of all respondents said they see Islamic countries as being oppressive toward women.

[…] “Our results highlight the need for continued dialogue about issues of civil liberties in time of war,” says James Shanahan, Cornell associate professor of communication and a principal investigator in the study. Shanahan and Erik Nisbet, senior research associate with the ILR Survey Research Institute, commissioned the study, and Ron Ostman, professor of communication, and his students administered it.

And what do you know, Erik Nisbet has a weblog.

The results are reported in two parts:

I’ll focus on the issue of civil liberties for American Muslims.

Statement Agree
All Muslim Americans should be required to register their whereabouts with the federal government. 27%
Mosques should be closely monitored and surveilled by U.S. law enforcement agencies. 26%
U.S. government agencies should profile citizens as potential threats based on being Muslim or having Middle Eastern heritage. 22%
Muslim civic and volunteer organizations should be infiltrated by undercover law enforcement agents to keep watch on their activities and fundraising. 29%
Agreed with none of the statements 48%
Agreed with one statement 15%
Agreed with two or more statements 29%

While all of these statements are problematic with respect to civil liberties, the monitoring of mosques and organizations could be useful if limited to specific suspicious cases (as Volokh Conspiracy point out.) Profiling might wrong but is an American institution with a history older than the United States itself. The most egregious one then is the requirement for registering every Muslim in the US. Please note that the statement addresses US citizens specifically.

So who are these 27% who want me to register with the government? According to the survey, 40% of the Republicans, 17% of independents and 24% of Democrats want to require Muslim registration. Does this support depend on how personally afraid of terrorism the survey respondents are? Yes, 24% of those with “low fear” and 37% of those with “high fear” want this restriction. Oh and religion seems to make one more of an asshole in this case. Support for registration increases from 15% (low level of religiosity) to 30% (moderate level) to 42% (high level). However, I am not sure how much of this is an artifact of party identity with Republicans being more likely to be more religious and asshole-ish.

Another interesting thing in the survey is the effect of TV news on the opinions of people. Those with low or moderate levels of religiosity don’t show much variation in their support of Muslim registration based on how much attention they give to the TV news. However, highly religious people are affected a lot by the idiot box with only 26% of those who pay low attention to TV news supporting registration as compared to 56% of those whose attention to TV news is classified as high.

None of this is really surprising. It is easy to give up civil rights when those rights belong to the other rather than you. I also remember a Gallup poll from October 2001 in which 49% wanted Arab Americans to carry a special ID and I posted about the effect of media on misperceptions about the Iraq war.

I don’t think that a general measure like registration of all American Muslims or internment like that of Japanese-Americans in World War II is likely to happen. I also don’t think that the US is becoming fascist. But fascist baby steps can happen in a democracy and one of the important battlegrounds is public opinion as Unqualified Offerings points out.

Given the protorture credentials of the Bush administration and the anti-civil-liberties stance of a lot of Republican voters, I don’t understand how any intelligent, reasonable person could have voted for George Bush last month. May be some Bush voter can enlighten me?

And I love the title The Poor Man gave to his post on this topic.

Legal Torture

Obsidian Wings has a very important post about a bill in Congress which will allow the US to legally send suspected terrorists to any country for torture.

The Republican leadership of Congress is attempting to legalize extraordinary rendition. “Extraordinary rendition” is the euphemism we use for sending terrorism suspects to countries that practice torture for interrogation.

[…] As it stands now, “extraordinary rendition” is a clear violation of international law—specifically, the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Degrading and Inhuman Treatment. U.S. law is less clear. We signed and ratified the Convention Against Torture, but we ratified it with some reservations. They might create a loophole that allows us to send a prisoner to Egypt or Syria or Jordan if we get “assurances” that they will not torture a prisoner—even if these assurances are false and we know they are false.

Here is some information about the bill from Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Congressman’s office.

These are excerpts from a press release one of Markey’s staffers just emailed me:

The provision Rep. Markey referred to is contained in Section 3032 and 3033 of H.R. 10, the “9/11 Recommendations Implementation Act of 2004,” introduced by House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL). The provision would require the Secretary of Homeland Security to issue new regulations to exclude from the protection of the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, any suspected terrorist – thereby allowing them to be deported or transferred to a country that may engage in torture. The provision would put the burden of proof on the person being deported or rendered to establish “by clear and convincing evidence that he or she would be tortured,” would bar the courts from having jurisdiction to review the Secretary’s regulations, and would free the Secretary to deport or remove terrorist suspects to any country in the world at will – even countries other than the person’s home country or the country in which they were born. The provision would also apply retroactively.

Please contact your Congressman and tell him/her to vote against this provision.

And in November, please vote the Republicans out who are thinking up such crazy laws and has been doing what the law would make legal for quite some time now.

Here is the text of the bill (large PDF file; another option is to go here and search for HR10). Sections 3032 and 3033 are the relevant ones.