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“.

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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…”

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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”.

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US and UK – is there any movement on the use of torture?

Craig Murray, former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan and a human rights activist, has written on his blog that the British Foreign Office has admitted using intelligence obtained via torture: “This is the most important blog post I have ever made. I would be grateful if you could do everything in your power to disseminate a link to anyone you know who has the remotest interest in human rights – or should have. This blog will be silent for a few days now. Tucked away at Page 15 of its annual Human Rights report, the FCO has finally made a public admission of its use of intelligence from torture. Despite the Orwellian doublespeak about ‘unreserved condemnation of torture’, this is the clearest statement the government has ever made that it, as a policy, employs intelligence from torture…
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"America will not torture"

Among the things U.S. Vice President said at the Munich security conference is this: “America will not torture”.

The Politico blog reported that Biden said in Munich: “We will uphold the rights of those we bring to justice. And we will close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay” … In return for closing the Guantanamo Bay prison, as the administration has promised to do within a year, he said, the United States will ask other countries to accept the transfer of prisoners now held in the facility. While some European government have promised to consider the ideas, none has yet committed itself to accepting transfers of prisoners now at Guantanamo”. This can be read in full here.

One year is way too long — the special detention facilities at Guantanamo should be closed down now.

The most unforgivable actions of George W. Bush’s recently-departed administration were the introduction of “legalized” torture and the opening of special detention facilitiies to hold those unfortunate enough to have been put in the new and indeterminate category of “illegal combattants” — including at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay on the island of Cuba — as well as the vile and evil policy of secret rendition that allowed the movement of suspected “illegal combattants” into and out of secret facilities around the world, as well as into Guantanamo.

UPDATE: A BIG DISAPPOINTMENT — The New York Times wrote scathingly in an editorial on 10 February that “The Obama administration failed — miserably — the first test of its commitment to ditching the extravagant legal claims used by the Bush administration to try to impose blanket secrecy on anti-terrorism policies and avoid accountability for serial abuses of the law. On Monday, a Justice Department lawyer dispatched by the new attorney general, Eric Holder, appeared before a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco. The case before them involves serious allegations of torture by five victims of President Bush’s extraordinary rendition program. The five were seized and transported to American facilities abroad or to countries known for torturing prisoners. Incredibly, the federal lawyer advanced the same expansive state-secrets argument that was pressed by Mr. Bush’s lawyers to get a trial court to dismiss the case without any evidence being presented. It was as if last month’s inauguration had never occurred. Voters have good reason to feel betrayed if they took Mr. Obama seriously on the campaign trail when he criticized the Bush administration’s tactic of stretching the state-secrets privilege to get lawsuits tossed out of court. Even judges on the panel seemed surprised by the administration’s decision to go forward instead of requesting a delay to reconsider the government’s position and, perhaps, file new briefs.  The argument is that the very subject matter of the suit is a state secret so sensitive that it cannot be discussed in court, and it is no more persuasive now than it was when the Bush team pioneered it. For one thing, there is ample public information available about the C.I.A.’s rendition, detention and coercive interrogation programs. The fact that some of the evidence might be legitimately excluded on national security grounds need not preclude the case from being tried, and allowing the judge to make that determination. More fundamentally, the Obama administration should not be invoking state secrets to cover up charges of rendition and torture. President Obama has taken some important steps to repair Mr. Bush’s damaging legacy — issuing executive orders to prohibit torture, shut secret prisons overseas and direct closure of the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. It would have been good if he and Mr. Holder had shown the same determination in that federal court, rather than defending the indefensible”.   This NYTimes editorial is posted on the web here.

On Guantanamo and on Cuba

The UN’s independent investigator on human rights in the fight against terrorism, Martin Scheinin, said in a report released Monday to the UNGA in NY that he’s concerned about U.S. detention practices, military courts and interrogation techniques. He urged the U.S. government to end the CIA practice of extraordinary rendition, in which terrorism suspects are taken to foreign countries for interrogation”, the Associated Press reported.

The AP added that Scheinin said he was also concerned about what he termed ‘enhanced interrogation techniques reportedly used by the CIA’, saying that under international law ‘there are no circumstances in which cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment may be justified’.”

The AP story said that “In the report, Scheinin called for the abolition of the military commissions which were established in 2001 by President and declared unlawful by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2006 because they were not authorized by Congress. Congress responded by passing the Military Commissions Act of 2006. Scheinin said the offenses in the 2006 law — including terrorism, wrongfully aiding the enemy, spying and conspiracy — ‘go beyond offenses under the laws of war’. He argued that the offense did not apply at the time of the alleged acts by detainees, and maintained that the commissions are applying criminal law retroactively in violation of international law. Due to various concerns, Scheinin recommended the abolition of the commissions. ‘Wherever possible, ordinary civilian courts should be used to try terrorist suspects’, he said [Nevertheless] he welcomed the recent invitation by the U.S. government to Guantanamo to observe proceedings before military commissions. Scheinin called on the U.S. to lift restrictions that prohibit Guantanamo Bay detainees to seek “full judicial review of their combatant status.” The U.S. prohibition violates the International Covenant’s prohibitions on arbitrary detention, the right to a judicial review which could grant freedom, and the right to a fair trial within a reasonable time, he said. He urged “determined action” to move toward Bush’s goal of closing Guantanamo. Scheinin said he has been advised that up to 80 detainees will be tried by military commissions, and that the U.S. wants to return the rest to their countries of origin or to a third country. He said the U.S. and the U.N. should work together to resettle detainees in accord with international law”.
The AP report on the UN special rapporteur who is calling for the closure of the Guantanamo detention center is posted here.

The AP has also reported, meanwhile, that the UN General Assembly has voted overwhelmingly to urge the US to end its 46-year-old trade embargo against Cuba; “The resolution passed with 184 member states in favor, four against, and one abstention … “Cuba’s Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque foreign minister accused the U.S. of stepping up its ‘brutal economic war’ against his country… ‘The blockade had never been enforced with such viciousness as over the last year’, Perez Roque told the assembly, accusing President Bush’s administration of adopting ‘new measures bordering on madness and fanaticism’ “.   The AP report on the UNGA resolution calling for a lifting of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba is here.