Torture Feed

Torture, American Style: “a perfect storm of ignorance and enthusiasm”

From The New York Times, a stunning article: In Adopting Harsh Tactics, No Inquiry Into Their Past Use

In a series of high-level meetings in 2002, without a single dissent from cabinet members or lawmakers, the United States for the first time officially embraced the brutal methods of interrogation it had always condemned.

This extraordinary consensus was possible, an examination by The New York Times shows, largely because no one involved — not the top two C.I.A. officials who were pushing the program, not the senior aides to President George W. Bush, not the leaders of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees — investigated the gruesome origins of the techniques they were approving with little debate.

According to several former top officials involved in the discussions seven years ago, they did not know that the military training program, called SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, had been created decades earlier to give American pilots and soldiers a sample of the torture methods used by Communists in the Korean War, methods that had wrung false confessions from Americans.

Even George J. Tenet, the C.I.A. director who insisted that the agency had thoroughly researched its proposal and pressed it on other officials, did not examine the history of the most shocking method, the near-drowning technique known as waterboarding.

The top officials he briefed did not learn that waterboarding had been prosecuted by the United States in war-crimes trials after World War II and was a well-documented favorite of despotic governments since the Spanish Inquisition; one waterboard used under Pol Pot was even on display at the genocide museum in Cambodia.

They did not know that some veteran trainers from the SERE program itself had warned in internal memorandums that, morality aside, the methods were ineffective. Nor were most of the officials aware that the former military psychologist who played a central role in persuading C.I.A. officials to use the harsh methods had never conducted a real interrogation, or that the Justice Department lawyer most responsible for declaring the methods legal had idiosyncratic ideas that even the Bush Justice Department would later renounce.

The process was “a perfect storm of ignorance and enthusiasm,” a former C.I.A. official said.

Charles Taylor Caught! Then, Nigeria deports Charles Taylor to Liberia!

From Reuters:

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) - Nigeria captured fugitive former Liberian President Charles Taylor on the border with Cameroon on Wednesday and deported him to Liberia, easing its embarrassment at his escape earlier in the week.

The dramatic arrest and deportation came hours before President Olusegun Obasanjo was due to meet U.S. President George W. Bush, who has been pushing for Taylor to face war crimes charges in a special U.N.-backed court for years.

"President Obasanjo has ordered the immediate repatriation of Charles Taylor to Liberia ... to help the government of Liberia which had requested custody of the former president," Nigerian Information Minister Frank Nweke said in a statement.

Journalists saw Taylor, dressed in a white safari suit and surrounded by about 20 soldiers, walk onto the tarmac at Maiduguri airport, in Nigeria's far northeast, and board a Nigerian presidential jet.

On the subject of Taylor's arrest, Global Witness has issued this eloquent statement:


The ending of impunity for heads of state responsible for conflict, and crimes against humanity could be a step closer today with the dramatic arrest of Charles Taylor as he sought to flee Nigeria to Cameroon.

The speed with which Charles Taylor has been captured by vigilant Nigerian customs officials is to be congratulated. Not withstanding any further security breaches or accidents, Charles Taylor will finally have his day in court – be it in Freetown or The Hague – to face trial for the 17 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes that he has been indicted for by the United Nations appointed Special Court for Sierra Leone.   

As a result of his arrest the chance for regional security and the prospects for peace have increased. The trial of Taylor will bring to an end many years of violent conflict that have blighted the region and caused untold suffering to millions of people. 

Taylor used revenues derived from diamonds and timber to fuel two bloody conflicts in which hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians died. Justice must be done, the ending of impunity for sitting and ex heads of state that have been responsible for some of the worst human rights abuses in the last twenty years must be tackled by the international community.

“The international community and Nigeria must now ensure that Taylor is speedily and successfully handed over to the Special Court for Sierra Leone and stands trial for the crimes against humanity with which he has been indicted,” said Alex Yearsley of Global Witness.

See also The Yorkshire Ranter post Who Are You Going to Massacre Next?, mirrored here:

Charles Taylor has been re-nailed, after a day or so of freedom on the lam from the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone. I was amused by this description of his arrest on the Nigerian-Cameroonian border:

The former Liberian leader had arrived at the frontier in a Range Rover jeep with diplomatic corps number plates, a trader working at the Gamboru-Ngala border post told AFP news agency.

"He was wearing a white flowing robe," said Babagana Alhaji Kata.

"He passed through immigration but when he reached customs they were suspicious and they insisted on searching the jeep, where they found a large amount of US dollars.

"After a further search they discovered he was Charles Taylor."

Flowing white robes, a Range Rover and a pile of cash, eh? His innate style didn't desert him. Like 50 Cent, but with more violence. Wasn't his last album called The Massacre, too?

Taylor's "spiritual adviser" - now there's a busy man - had been saying that he was seeking political asylum in Syria, Ethiopia, Venezuela, Equatorial Guinea or Gabon. These states will now be spared the embarrassment of having to answer. The spiritual adviser, by the way, is an American evangelical Protestant of Indian extraction, one  Dr. Kilari Anand Paul - the very notion of caring for Charles Taylor's immortal soul, though, reminds me of the John Donne poem about "who shall give me grace to begin" seeking God's grace.

"Dr" Paul (the doctorate isn't real), it seems, specialises in bizarre, rocambolesque interventions in war zones and offering the consolations of religion to murderous bastards. There is an interesting article here including the skinny on his "Dr", and he has a website here. He also has a Boeing 747, which could have come in handy, and a bad reference from the Southern Baptist Missions Board, who doubt his financial probity...

And here's Doug Farah on the subject of Taylor's arrest:

What has complicated the issue for Obasanjo, if one wants to give him the benefit of the doubt, which I am not sure he deserves, is that Taylor’s financial power allowed him to ally himself with many of the most powerful and corrupt in Nigeria, including senior members of the government and perhaps even members of Obasanjo’s own family.

Taylor’s arrest may open the way for Obasanjo to begin cleaning house and take down some of the structures Taylor is participating in, including the widespread “bunkering” or theft of oil before it enters the official state system. But the ongoing, warm U.S. relationship with Obasanjo should be contingent on Obasanjo’s willingness to tackle the entire corrupt structure that has choked the life from one of Africa’s potentially most vibrant economies.

It is a good day for West Africa and those seeking to end the impunity that has ravaged the region for generations. It is a good day particularly for the thousands of victims of Taylor’s wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and Guinea. The amputee victims, the rape victims and the child soldiers may now have at least a small measure of closure when the architect of their misery finally faces justice.

And here is Laura Rosen's post:

Liberia's Charles Taylor arrested. A friend knowledgeable about US policy to West Africa writes, "[Nigerian president] Obasanjo can’t afford to play any more games, and Taylor will be sent to the tribunal, it looks like via Liberia.  Reuters reports that Obasanjo has ordered his immediate repatriation.  (UNMIL has a chapter VII mandate to make the arrest and transfer, and nobody wants him in Liberia, so this will go very quickly once he’s there.)   Obasanjo overplayed his hand, and got burned by the overwhelming response from Washington yesterday.  Never have I seen a better example of the White House, State Department, House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans, working together to send such a strong, clear signal.  US leadership yesterday may have saved West Africa from years of additional mayhem and suffering." More on what Taylor's arrest could mean for the region here.

Charles Taylor Escapes!

_39388539_taylor300Alex Harrowell of The Yorkshire Ranter just emailed me:

Looks like Charles Taylor's done flew the coop and done a runner from Nigeria to escape extradition to the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone.

And on his blog, Alex writes:

Liberian ex-dictator, war criminal and utter bastard Charles Taylor has done a runner from his Nigerian exile to avoid extradition to the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone, says the Nigerian government. Taylor has been living in comfortable exile in Calabar, Nigeria since an unairworthy Boeing 727 belonging to Ali Kleilat rescued him from his overthrow in 2004. Last week, Liberia's new president Ellen Johnston-Sirleaf issued a request for his extradition.

According to the Nigerian government, he's levanted. 5 security officers have been arrested as a pathetic sop to world opinion. This is bad news. Taylor was responsible for destabilising the whole of West Africa, reintroducing slavery to work his diamond mines, recruiting 10 year old kids into his army, hacking people's limbs off as a form of revolutionary terror, and more.

I am insanely disappointed by this news and the obvious Nigerian army partisanship (they are widely thought to have been complicit in his rise to power) that let the bugger get away.

Press reports last week said that Taylor had been summoned to the Nigerian capital Abuja on board an aircraft registered 5N-FGO. This plane is a Dassault Falcon 900 business jet belonging to the Nigerian Government, with "Federal Republic of Nigeria" titles on the fuselage.

Soj at Flogging the Simian writes:

Interesting. I wonder who composed the "security people" who were watching Taylor. I should mention that he was never in a prison or something, just a very expensive home that Nigerian police were supposed to be monitoring.

Here's the story from Reuters:

Charles Taylor said to have disappeared
Tue Mar 28, 2006 1:20 PM GMT

ABUJA (Reuters) - Former Liberian President Charles Taylor, wanted for war crimes by a court in Sierra Leone, has disappeared from his residence in southeastern Nigeria, the presidency said on Tuesday.

A statement said Nigeria would investigate whether Taylor had escaped or been abducted. President Olusegun Obasanjo has ordered the arrest of all security staff attached to Taylor, who has lived in exile in Nigeria since 2003.

From the Mail & Guardian yesterday:

As one of Charles Taylor’s closest advisers warns of “bloodshed and chaos” if the former Liberian president is extradited, analysts say the international community must act quickly to prevent his supporters from re-arming.

Taylor, currently in exile in Nigeria, faces 17 counts of crimes against humanity brought by an internationally backed special court in Sierra Leone.

In drawing my readers' attention to these links I do not, of course, intend in any way that anyone should actually click on them and look at the documents, let alone link to them far and wide . . .

ItelObtainedUnderTorture.jpgFrom Ken MacLeod:

Lenin's Tomb has published some letters which the Foreign Office is trying to suppress. The letters appear to document former UK ambassador Craig Murray's persistent attempts to persuade the Foreign Office of the futility and wickedness of relying on information possibly obtained under torture; and the FO's interesting response. In drawing my readers' attention to these links I do not, of course, intend in any way that anyone should actually click on them and look at the documents, let alone link to them far and wide, and I join all right-thinking people in unreservedly condemning the dastardly actions of the aforementioned sepulchre's inhabitant, a notorious Trotskyist wrecker, splitter, and underestimator of the peasantry.

See also Kos.

Weaponizing Sound the Old Fashioned Way

photo of a US plane making a sonic boom from the NASA websiteFurther to the subject of sonic weapons, Noah Schachtman at Defensetech writes about how the Israeli military is blasting the old fashioned way: with sonic booms produced by jets: Israeli Jets in Gaza Soundclash (This is contrast to the newer, more, shall we say, energy efficient technique available: using sonic blasters, aka "Long Range Acoustic Devices.") Photo to the right: US plane producing a sonic boom; from the NASA website.

(I'm a Seattle girl so I remember when the Seattle economy went down the tubes with the cancellation of the SST; I remember that billboard on I-5 that read Will the last person out of Seattle please turn out the lights? Accidental sonic booms were not permissible over inhabited areas and so Boeing had a huge layoff. Surely the world shouldn't be expected to accept the idea that it's OK to boom some of the people some of the time on purpose?)

The BBC has an interesting article on the problem: Medics condemn Gaza sonic booms

Doctors' groups have filed a petition at the Israeli Supreme Court seeking to halt air force jets from breaking the sound barrier over the Gaza Strip.
The UN says the tactic is an abuse of human rights, causing widespread fear especially among children, and medics say it induces miscarriages.

The sonic booms from Israeli jets are designed to be a show of force to militant groups, correspondents say. . . .

The joint Israeli-Palestinian petition filed in the Supreme Court by the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel says that according to international law, "the booms are collective punishment against the civilian population and thus illegal."

In my previous post on sonic weapons, I argued that such use violates the UN Convention Against Torture.

(For more on sound used as a weapon, see Noah Schachtman and Xeni Jardin. UPDATE: And see Xeni today.)

11/6 UPDATE: Defeat pirates with sound!
11/7 UPDATE: See also Noah Schachtman's new post, Sonic Boom Redux.

Sonic Weapons?

When reading Xeni Jardin's new post, Xeni on NPR, CNN: Sonic Weapons in Iraq -- and now, US cities, I had this terrible feeling of de ja vu. Hadn't I just read something very like that, say yesterday, but it was fiction?

In the July/August issue of Analog, Gregory Benford had a story called "The Pain Gun" about a future Middleeast conflict after a nucler war or two in which nonlethal weapons were used in preference to other types so as not to inflame the political situation back in the direction of nuclear war. The story concerns the use of a weapon that causes extreme pain but does no physical damage. I read the story yesterday.

Back in August, Defense Tech had a write-up on "sonic blasters" (aka "Long Range Acoustic Devices"), which apparently the NYPD had ready during the Republican convention and a new "improved" model was being tested by the LAPD.

This device far exceeds anything I'm aware of. Others are childrens' toys compared with this thing. The developer tells us that there are other configurations they believe will allow it to take even more energy. They estimated we were using 15,000 watts, but with a different type of magnet they believe we they can easily exceed 100,000 watts without overheating.

Further, by rearranging the orientation of the magnetic speakers, they can increase or decrease the width of the lobe, as well as decrease the size, weight and power. The device we tested is "full range;" that is, it provided clear sound from about 50 Hz to about 20,000 Hz. But if we were going to use it just for human voice or a siren, or some other specific frequency range, they can also "tune it" to provide maximum effectiveness for a specific frequency range and reduce the size and power, while increasing the range.

Back in March of last year, the Associated Press reported the use of the devices as weapons in Iraq. Earlier in September, Xeni Jardin documented the deployment of sonic blasters to New Orleans. OK, so there's no electricity and you want to get the word out to those hard-of-hearing old folks stuck in the flooded zone.  Is that what the sonic blasters were brought in for? This is from Xeni's article:

American Technology is donating four devices -- three MRADs (medium-range acoustic devices) and one LRAD (long-range acoustic device). The four devices will be shipped out Friday to a Marine military police unit that is deploying to the Gulf States area for disaster-relief efforts.

"We are donating the use of one of our most powerful prototypes, LTPMS-2, for use in Mississippi as soon as possible, because the governor of that state said that the biggest problem they have right now is the fact that they have no communications infrastructure to get information or instructions out to people," he said. "They can very easily put this on a truck and send sound out for a minimum of at least a mile in either direction."

And Blackwater's just there to help get the word out, too, right? Here's more from Xeni:

Vehicle-mounted devices were used by Israeli authorities to scatter groups earlier this year, when Palestinians and Jewish supporters gathered to protest Israel's West Bank separation barrier. Dubbed "The Scream" by the Israeli Army, the device sends out streams of noise in intervals of about 10 seconds. The specific sonic frequencies chosen affect the inner ear, creating dizziness and nausea in human targets.

Is it my imagination, or isn't the use of sonic blasters as weapons to deliberately inflict pain on crowds "torture" as defined in article 1 of the UN Convention Against Torture?

For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.

When sonic blasters are used as weapons, their use is in violation of the UN Convention Against Torture. I think the US is a signatory.

Continue reading "Sonic Weapons?" »

Mercenaries Turn State's Evidence

It looks like three mercenaries who have returned to South Africa have turned State's Evidence on Mark Thatcher. The Scotsman reports:

Three men who admitted violating South Africa’s anti-mercenary laws for their role in an failed coup in Equatorial Guinea were ordered to pay fines or go to prison today.

The three said they were involved in a conspiracy to overthrow Guinean President Teodoro Obiang that was foiled in March when scores of suspected mercenaries were arrested in the oil-rich west African nation and in Zimbabwe.

Crause Steyl, Lourens Horn and Harry Carlse pleaded guilty to violating the Foreign Military Assistance Act as part of a plea bargain under which they agreed to give evidence in court against other alleged coup participants.

Cape Town Magistrate Adriaan Bekker ordered them to pay fines of up to £18,000 or face prison terms of up to 10 years.

Officials in Equatorial Guinea said yesterday they intend to seek the extradition from South Africa of Sir Mark Thatcher, the 51-year-old son of the former British prime minister, in connection with the plot.

Equatorial Guinea has charged Thatcher with bankrolling the plot, defence lawyer Fabian Nsue Nguema said.

Australia's ABC Online remarks:

Several South African mercenaries have agreed to testify against the son of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Sir Mark Thatcher.

MEANWHILE, the Equatorial Guinea mercenary trial has resumed, but I haven't had a chance to read up on it yet. IOL in South Africa reports:

The fate of the alleged mercenaries involved in the attempted coup against the Equatorial Guinea government appears to hinge on the detailed confession of Nick du Toit, their alleged ringleader. He claims it was extracted by torture, but local law makes no provision for dismissing confessions extracted by torture.

Their prospects look grim as they face conviction and sentencing this  Friday. Du Toit faces the death sentence, although Equatorial Guinea has apparently promised the SA government that he will not die. The others face long terms in jail, so the tension among them is rising.

Mercenaries' Attorney Dies of Malaria

The attorney for the mercenaries on trial in Equatorial Guinea has died of malaria:

Malabo - The lawyer for eight South Africans implicated in a coup plot in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea died here on Tuesday of malaria, his family  said.

Fernando Mico Nsue, who also suffered from diabetes and high blood pressure, died in Malabo at the age of 62, his eldest son, Alberto Nguema said.

"He had not been feeling well over the past few days. He was suffering from malaria and when he had a relapse this morning, we decided to take him to the hospital. He died while he was being driven to the hospital," the son added.

A mercenary in jail in Zimbabwe for his part in the plot died of meningitis earlier this month. And a German member of the Equatorial Guinea group died of malaria in March. I imagine that the mercenaries sitting in jail all feel there is a strong chance they'll die there whether they receive a death sentence of not.

MEANWHILE, CACI's lawyers try to initmidate The New Standard when they report on the lawsuit against CACI filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights over the Abu Ghraib torture scandal. The New Standard responded Clint Eastwood style. The CACI fig leaf consists of the claim that the government's unwllingness to prosecute civilan contractors over Abu G clears CACI of all wrong-doing. Why hasn't John Ashcroft been fired yet? Let's all sing a round of "You're So Vain" for the CACI executives.

(Via Daily Kos.)

Finally, though I'm having a rough couple of weeks there is a lot more to tell. I hope to follow with my rollicking adventures stalking a flu shot AND the continuing saga of my sister and her lead-contaminated plumbing. But for now, I must sign off.

Outsourcing Torture

Not content to outsource torture to private contractors, Republicans are apparently pushing a bill to make it legal to outsource torture to other countries.  This is called "extraordinary rendition." Obsidian Wings has the story.

It's not as if to some extent having other countries do our torturing for us isn't done already: See, for example, Samuel M. Katz's book Relentless Pursuit: The DSS and the Manhunt for the Al-Qaeda Terrorists, pages 201-202 on the torture of "an Arab male."

(On the lighter side, see also Fafblog. Fafblog & Michael Bérubé are keeping me sane through election day.)

Civilian Contractors and the Iraqi Torture Scandal

A couple of people have sent me this URL, and I am insanely busy today so I had not intended any further blogging. But this shocks me.

I did not think I would be easy to shock on the subject of the use of private contractors in Iraq, but this bit -- the role of private contractors in the emerging scandal over the US treatment of Iraqi prisoners -- is just insane.

US military in torture scandal: Use of private contractors in Iraqi jail interrogations highlighted by inquiry into abuse of prisoners

Graphic photographs showing the torture and sexual abuse of Iraqi prisoners in a US-run prison outside Baghdad emerged yesterday from a military inquiry which has left six soldiers facing a possible court martial and a general under investigation.

The scandal has also brought to light the growing and largely unregulated role of private contractors in the interrogation of detainees.

According to lawyers for some of the soldiers, they claimed to be acting in part under the instruction of mercenary interrogators hired by the Pentagon.

Immediate questions that spring to mind for the next White House press conference or Pentagon briefing: Who hired these contractors? What private military firm are they with? What was the nature of their screening, if any?

Bot the Guardian and the L. A. Times reports that the companies involved were CACI International of Arlington, Va., and Titan Corp. of San Diego.

This, also, from the Guardian, tells what was done about contractor misbehavior:

Colonel Jill Morgenthaler, speaking for central command, told the Guardian: "One contractor was originally included with six soldiers, accused for his treatment of the prisoners, but we had no jurisdiction over him. It was left up to the contractor on how to deal with him."

She did not specify the accusation facing the contractor, but according to several   sources with detailed knowledge of the case, he raped an Iraqi inmate in his mid-teens.

We're paying these guys to rape boys? And, presumably, they sent they guy home to do it over here, without legal consquences? What planet are these people from?

Gary Farber has a detailed post on the torture story.

And I haven't even had a chance to scratch the surface of the new Mother Jones article, New Word Order.

Can I just repeat what I said a month ago? BREMER SHOULD RESIGN. And not only that, RUMSFELD SHOULD RESIGN.

(Thanks to Gary Farber and Andrea Eastman.)

This scandal has provoked a lot of blog discussion. Some of it can be found via this technorati link.