Two suspects in Vittorio's case die surrounded by Hamas forces

This was utterly predictable.

Two of three (later, according to a report in Ma’an News Agency four) suspects listed publicly as wanted in connection with the abduction, torture and murder of Italian activist Vittorio Arrigoni in Gaza last week are now reported to have died yesterday, surrounded by Hamas forces during a siege on a house in which they had been hiding in Gaza.

According to the account presented by Hamas, they died at their own hands — one of them threw a grenade at the other two.

The grenade-thrower and one of the others has died. The third is wounded, and in Hamas custody. [No mention of any fourth suspect…]

The record of experience is that when Hamas goes after those who threaten its rule, no holds are barred. There are usually many casualties.

Questions are not welcomed — and in fact are received with derision. We are just supposed to accept it all as dictated.

This is why we should never expect to know what really happened in Vittorio’s case, which we wrote about earlier on this blog.

Without a great many details, Vittorio’s death is reported (through implication) to have happened before Hamas forces arrived on the scene.

It was the intention of Vittorio’s captors to kill him all along, we are told.

UPDATE: The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights [PCHR] issued a statement later in the day on Wednesday calling on “the Attorney General’s office in Gaza to open an into the circumstances of deaths of two wanted persons and the injury of a third one during an armed clash with security services in Nussairat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip on Tuesday, 19 April 2011. [And in addition] PCHR emphasizes the importance of finalizing investigations into the hideous murder of the Italian solidarity activist, Vittorio Arrigoni, to reveal its circumstances and publishing the results of investigations”.

Continue reading Two suspects in Vittorio's case die surrounded by Hamas forces

U.S. "supports investigation" into death of Egyptian blogger Khaled Said

The U.S. State Department Acting Deputy Department Spokesman, Mark Toner, told journalists at a regular briefing in Washington on Friday that “We have called for – and I believe there is an ongoing investigation in that case, so we support — that investigation” [into the brutal death of Khaled Said soon after being detained by Egyptian police — see our earlier report published here].

It had to be coaxed, and it was in response to a journalist’s question, but there it is.

Here is the full transcript of the brief exchange:

Continue reading U.S. "supports investigation" into death of Egyptian blogger Khaled Said

El-Baradei joins Egyptian demonstrators saying enough – stop torture

Ben Wedeman’s report for CNN today on yesterday’s demonstration in Alexandria [there was also a big demonstration in Cairo] against the death in police custody of Khaled Said, and against torture, is posted here.

One woman demonstrating told CNN that: “They want to tame us and they want to get us used to torture, even in the streets, and shutting up.”

Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency or IAEA in Vienna, now retired and returned home where he appears to be charting a new role in domestic politics, participated in the Alexandria demonstration.

The photo of ElBaradei below, taken during Friday’s protest, is from the My Name is Khaled Said page [it is in Arabic, Ana Ismi Khaled Said — it seems I can’t reproduce the Arabic script here] on Facebook.

The same site also shows the terrible closeup of Khaled Said’s bloodied face taken shortly after he was evidently beaten to death: in the close-up post-mortem photo, only a frontal view of his head can be seen, with blood running out from the side or back of the skull; his jaw and some of his teeth are broken, and a trianglular flap of his lower face is missing, from the lower lip down to the jaw line.

Mohamed ElBaradei at Alexandria demonstration 25 July 2010 - from Facebook

Continue reading El-Baradei joins Egyptian demonstrators saying enough – stop torture

Obama's Executive Order to close Guantanamo expired yesterday

“One of US President Barack Obama’s most publicized and internationally applauded first acts upon coming into office was his executive order to shut down the detention center at Guantanamo Bay within a year”, as Sara Kuepfer Thakkar wrote in an analysis for the Zurich-based ISN Security Watch, but “The deadline for closing Guantanamo, which expires today [this was published yesterday, Friday 22 January 2010], has not been met”.

The Guantanamo Naval Base Detention Facility was opened on 11 January 2002, to imprison suspects in George W. Bush’s War on Terror.

At the time that this War on Terror was declared, experts warned that it could be a long time before it could be declared over — a fact which could create multiple problems, including what to do with the detainees being held in various covert facilities around the world.

President Obama has ordered an end to the terminology (“War on Terror”), but it seems that the policies and practices die harder.

Sara Kuepfer Thakkar wrote in her ISN analysis that “The prison at Guantanamo Bay had become a symbol of American abuse of Muslims, a convenient recruiting tool for al-Qaida, and thus a real liability for a war that ultimately can only be won by securing the support of Muslims around the world …

Continue reading Obama's Executive Order to close Guantanamo expired yesterday

Everything we know about Al-Qaeda may be untrue – if based on torture

The Washington Post, in an article published on Saturday, reported that “previously unpublicized details about the transformation, in 2005-2006, of the man known to U.S. officials as [Khalid Sheik Mohammed ] KSM  [was transformed] from an avowed and truculent enemy of the United States into what the CIA called its ‘preeminent source’ on al-Qaeda.  This reversal occurred after Mohammed was subjected to simulated drowning and prolonged sleep deprivation, among other harsh interrogation techniques … enduring the CIA’s harshest interrogation methods and spending more than a year in the agency’s secret prisons” before the transformation.

But, what he provided in the first year of his detention (2003-2004) was untrue: ” ‘KSM, an accomplished resistor, provided only a few intelligence reports prior to the use of the waterboard, and analysis of that information revealed that much of it was outdated, inaccurate or incomplete’, according to newly unclassified portions of a 2004 report by the CIA’s then-inspector general released Monday by the Justice Department.   The debate over the effectiveness of subjecting detainees to psychological and physical pressure is in some ways irresolvable, because it is impossible to know whether less coercive methods would have achieved the same result. But for defenders of waterboarding, the evidence is clear: Mohammed cooperated, and to an extraordinary extent, only when his spirit was broken in the month after his capture March 1, 2003, as the inspector general’s report and other documents released this week indicate.   Over a few weeks, he was subjected to an escalating series of coercive methods, culminating in 7 1/2 days of sleep deprivation, while diapered and shackled, and 183 instances of waterboarding. After the month-long torment, he was never waterboarded again … Mohammed, in statements to the International Committee of the Red Cross, said some of the information he provided was untrue.  ‘During the harshest period of my interrogation I gave a lot of false information in order to satisfy what I believed the interrogators wished to hear in order to make the ill-treatment stop. I later told interrogators that their methods were stupid and counterproductive. I’m sure that the false information I was forced to invent in order to make the ill-treatment stop wasted a lot of their time’, he said … After his capture, Mohammed first told his captors what he calculated they already knew.  ‘KSM almost immediately following his capture in March 2003 elaborated on his plan to crash commercial airlines into Heathrow airport’, according to a document released by the CIA on Monday that summarizes the intelligence provided by Mohammed. The agency thinks he assumed that Ramzi Binalshibh, a Sept. 11 conspirator captured in September 2002, had already divulged the plan”.

So, what reason is there to think that what he told CIA and other personnel in 2005-2006 about Al-Qaeda is true?

Here is the reasoning given in the Washington Post story:  “One former U.S. official with detailed knowledge of how the interrogations were carried out said Mohammed, like several other detainees, seemed to have decided that it was okay to stop resisting after he had endured a certain amount of pressure. ‘Once the harsher techniques were used on [detainees], they could be viewed as having done their duty to Islam or their cause, and their religious principles would ask no more of them’, said the former official, who requested anonymity because the events are still classified.  ‘After that point, they became compliant. Obviously, there was also an interest in being able to later say, “I was tortured into cooperating” ‘.'”

Or, he was tortured into lying … and inventing and making up stories …

We previously discussed the reports that KSM and other alleged High Value Detainees implicated each other after being tortured, here and here.

The Washington Post report adds that “One former agency official recalled that Mohammed was once asked to write a summary of his knowledge about al-Qaeda’s efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction. The terrorist group had explored buying either an intact nuclear weapon or key components such as enriched uranium, although there is no evidence of significant progress on that front. ‘He wrote us an essay’ on al-Qaeda’s nuclear ambitions, the official said. ‘Not all of it was accurate, but it was quite extensive’. Mohammed was an unparalleled source in deciphering al-Qaeda’s strategic doctrine, key operatives and likely targets, the summary said, including describing in ‘considerable detail the traits and profiles’ that al-Qaeda sought in Western operatives and how the terrorist organization might conduct surveillance in the United States. Mohammed was moved to the U.S. military facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in September 2006, and his loquaciousness is now largely confined to occasional appearances before a military commission. Back in his 86-square-foot cell at the secret Camp 7 at Guantanamo, he spends most of his waking hours in prayer, according to a source familiar with his confinement who spoke on the condition of anonymity”.

The Washington Post report can be read in full here .

Sleep deprivation is torture

One of the documents on interrogation techniques released this week in Washington [[see our previous post here ]] was an internal CIA report that, as AP says, describes “two instances in 2007 in which the CIA was allowed to exceed the guidelines set by Bush administration lawyers allowing prisoners to be kept awake for up to four days”.

It specifies that “CIA operatives used severe sleep deprivation tactics against a terror detainee in late 2007, keeping him awake for six straight days with permission from government lawyers”.

According to the AP story, “The first episode occurred in August 2007, when interrogators were given permission from the Office of Legal Counsel to keep an unidentified detainee awake for five days, a U.S. government official confirmed … According to the documents, the sleep-deprived prisoner was kept awake by being forced to stand with his arms chained above heart level. He wore diapers, allowing interrogators to keep him chained continuously without bathroom breaks. [[One has to ask who, if anyone, changed his diapers? Wearing soiled diapers for even one full causes serious skin burns from the ammonia in urine …]] The second incident occurred in November 2007. After again asking permission from Justice lawyers to keep a detainee awake an extra day, interrogators pressed to extend the treatment for another 24 hours, depriving the prisoner of sleep for six straight days. It is unclear from the documents whether the two incidents involved the same detainee. CIA spokesman George Little would not provide the identity of the prisoner referred to in the document … According to the documents, the prisoner was monitored by closed-circuit television. If he started to fall asleep, the chains jerking on his arms would wake him up. If a prisoner’s leg swelled — a condition known as edema, which can cause blood clots and stroke — interrogators could chain him to a low, unbalanced stool or on the floor with arms outstretched“.

Continue reading Sleep deprivation is torture

Torture – an unforgivable crime

John Sifton has just written in The Daily Beast that in the “Bush-era documents about the CIA’s detention and interrogation program”, just released by the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Justice, “it’s difficult to know what they say: Many key sections of the most important documents contain heavy redactions”.

Nevertheless, Sifton, says. “There are some striking new pieces of information. One of the most important parts of the report comes not with grisly details of waterboarding or the program’s excesses with power drills or threats of rape, but confirmations and new revelations about White House involvement in approving the expansion of the CIA interrogation program in the summer of 2003…”

Continue reading Torture – an unforgivable crime

Today is International Day Against Torture

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights calls it the “International Day in Support of Victims of Torture”, and she issued a statement saying that “The prohibition of torture is one of the most absolute to be found anywhere in international law. Article 2 of the Convention against Torture is unequivocal: ‘No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture’. And no one is let off the hook – neither the actual torturers themselves, nor the policy-makers and public officials who define the policy or give the orders”.

Continue reading Today is International Day Against Torture

Condoleezza Rice on waterboarding: "I did not authorize anything … "

On 1 May, Scott Horton, a New York attorney with an interest in international law, especially human rights law, and a contributing editor to Harper’s Magazine, posted an extraordinary recent amateur video, taken from Youtube, on his No Comment blog (located on Harper’s website).

Horton’s post is entitled “Condi’s really bad day“, and can be read in full here.

The Youtube video (uploaded by reynagarcia621) that Horton dissects in his blog post shows former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice talking with Stanford University students on 27 April — and denying that she had authorized … well, yes, torture.

“We did not torture anyone”, she said (at 4:07 minutes into the video).

In this video, taken by a student, Rice said that “in terms of enhanced interrogation, rendition, and all the issues around the detainees, Abu Ghraib was not a policy … and it was wrong”.

But, she went on about “enhanced interrogation”, saying that “anything that was legal and that was gonna make this country safer, the President wanted to do — nothing that was illegal and nothing that was gonna make the country less safe … You cannot possibly imagine the dilemmas that we faced … foreign policy is full of a lot of tough choices, very tough choices”.

Continue reading Condoleezza Rice on waterboarding: "I did not authorize anything … "

Do legal memos on torture exonerate Private Graner and Lynndie England?

The Washington Post reports that the recent release of Justice Department [Office of Legal Affairs] memos [addressed to the CIA] authorizing the use of “harsh interrogation techniques” has given Army Pvt. Charles A. Graner Jr and other soldiers [including Lynndie R. England] “new reason to argue that they were made scapegoats for policies approved at high levels. They also contend that the government’s refusal to acknowledge those polices when Graner and others were tried undermined their legal defenses. Graner remains locked up at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, about halfway through a 10-year prison sentence for detainee abuse, assault and dereliction of duty. His lawyer said this week that he is drafting appeals arguments centered largely on the revelations in the memos and a newly released congressional investigation into the interrogation practices … When the photos of detainee abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq surfaced in 2004, U.S. officials portrayed … Graner as the ringleader of a few low-ranking ‘bad apples’ who illegally put naked Iraqi detainees in painful positions, shackled them to cell doors with women’s underwear on their heads and menaced them with military dogs … Graner and other defendants — including Lynndie England, who was photographed holding a naked detainee by a leash — were blocked by military judges from calling senior U.S. officials to the stand at their trials in 2004 and 2005. The government would not acknowledge any policy or procedure that could have led to what the world saw in the photographs. Some of what the guards at Abu Ghraib did, such as throwing hooded detainees into walls, echoes tactics authorized in the Justice Department memos, such as ‘walling’, in which interrogators were allowed to push detainees in CIA custody into a flexible wall designed to make a loud noise … Charles Gittins, a Virginia lawyer who represents Graner, said he has been fuming since reading the memos. He said he has long believed that there was no way Graner and the other Army Reservists invented techniques such as stress positions, leashing and the use of dogs, and he says the documents confirmed his suspicions … Gittins said he hopes to convince the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces that top officials improperly influenced the court and kept evidence from the defense. According to the memos and congressional documents, U.S. officials reverse-engineered techniques from U.S. survival training courses designed to teach troops how to endure capture and interrogation. Justice and Defense department officials approved the use of dogs, nudity, stress positions, sleep deprivation and other techniques. Those tactics, according to the documents, were put into use at the facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in the CIA’s secret prisons, and eventually were adopted in Afghanistan and Iraq after then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s approval was forwarded from officials at Guantanamo to Capt. Carolyn Wood, a military intelligence officer. She told investigators that she then sought approvals in Afghanistan for the tactics and brought them with her to Iraq and Abu Ghraib. Senior officers in Iraq also approved the methods there”.

Whatever the similarities — and there are many — the Washington Post article notes that “the Abu Ghraib photographs also depicted some actions, such as punching or stomping, that bear no relation to the techniques described in the memos, as well as others that were improvised by guards, such as forcing detainees to masturbate or to form human pyramids while naked”.

This article can be read in full here.

Some of the comments on this article argue that, regardless of orders emanating from above, the Army prison guards were nonetheless still guilty of abuse and torture: lrobby1 commented, for example, that “Private Graner was brutally sadistic toward the Iraqi detainees. There are videos on Google here that show him torturing prisoners. The other guards were also guilty of horrifically abusing military detainees and they should all be punished. Lawyers for the DOJ, including Alberto Gonzales, legitimized the torture of military detainees and provided justification for their abuse. But neither the legal memos nor the authorizations by Rumsfeld and others approved of urinating on prisoners, pulling out pubic and chest hairs, sexual molestation, electrocution, pyramiding detainees, sodomizing prisoners or dragging them naked on concrete floors … no one knows exactly how many people were disappeared into blacksites and ultimately killed. While I still believe that a thorough investigation of those involved in the authorization of torture should be conducted, lawyers should be disbarred and Bush Administration officials should be prosecuted, I also believe that Pvt. Graner and the other guards were justifiably punished for their own actions”.