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The New York Review of Books publishes a lengthy article documenting the Red Cross’s hitherto-secret report on US torture practices at several so-called “black sites.” The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) issued a report on “The Black Sites” in February 2007 (see October 6 - December 14, 2006), but that report has remained secret until now. These “black sites” are secret prisons in Thailand, Poland, Afghanistan, Morocco, Romania, and at least three other countries (see October 2001-2004), either maintained directly by the CIA or used by them with the permission and participation of the host countries.
Specific Allegations of Torture by Official Body Supervising Geneva - The report documents the practices used by American guards and interrogators against prisoners, many of which directly qualify as torture under the Geneva Conventions and a number of international laws and statutes. The ICRC is the appointed legal guardian of Geneva, and the official body appointed to supervise the treatment of prisoners of war; therefore, its findings have the force of international law. The practices documented by the ICRC include sleep deprivation, lengthy enforced nudity, subjecting detainees to extensive, intense bombardment of noise and light, repeated immersion in frigid water, prolonged standing and various stress positions—sometimes for days on end—physical beatings, and waterboarding, which the ICRC authors call “suffocation by water.” The ICRC writes that “in many cases, the ill-treatment to which they [the detainees] were subjected while held in the CIA program… constituted torture.” It continues, “In addition, many other elements of the ill-treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.” Both torture and “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” are specifically forbidden by Geneva and the Convention Against Torture, both of which were signed by the US (see October 21, 1994). The 14 “high-value detainees” whose cases are documented in the ICRC report include Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002), Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003), and Tawfiq bin Attash (see March 28, 2002-Mid-2004). All 14 remain imprisoned in Guantanamo. [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009 pdf file; New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] Based on the ICRC report and his own research, Danner draws a number of conclusions.
bullet The US government began to torture prisoners in the spring of 2002, with the approval of President Bush and the monitoring of top Bush officials, including Attorney General John Ashcroft. The torture, Danner writes, “clearly violated major treaty obligations of the United States, including the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture, as well as US law.”
bullet Bush, Ashcroft, and other top government officials “repeatedly and explicitly lied about this, both in reports to international institutions and directly to the public. The president lied about it in news conferences, interviews, and, most explicitly, in speeches expressly intended to set out the administration’s policy on interrogation before the people who had elected him.”
bullet Congress was privy to a large amount of information about the torture conducted under the aegis of the Bush administration. Its response was to pass the Military Commissions Act (MCA—see October 17, 2006), which in part was designed to protect government officials from criminal prosecutions under the War Crimes Act.
bullet While Congressional Republicans were primarily responsible for the MCA, Senate Democrats did not try to stop the bill—indeed, many voted for it. Danner blames the failure on its proximity to the November 2006 midterm elections and the Democrats’ fear of being portrayed as “coddlers of terrorists.” He quotes freshman Senator Barack Obama (D-IL): “Soon, we will adjourn for the fall, and the campaigning will begin in earnest. And there will be 30-second attack ads and negative mail pieces, and we will be criticized as caring more about the rights of terrorists than the protection of Americans. And I know that the vote before us was specifically designed and timed to add more fuel to that fire.” (Obama voted against the MCA, and, when it passed, he said, “[P]olitics won today.”)
bullet The damage done to the US’s reputation, and to what Danner calls “the ‘soft power’ of its constitutional and democratic ideals,” has been “though difficult to quantify, vast and enduring.” Perhaps the largest defeat suffered in the US’s “war on terror,” he writes, has been self-inflicted, by the inestimable loss of credibility in the Muslim world and around the globe. The decision to use torture “undermin[ed] liberal sympathizers of the United States and convinc[ed] others that the country is exactly as its enemies paint it: a ruthless imperial power determined to suppress and abuse Muslims. By choosing to torture, we freely chose to become the caricature they made of us.”
A Need for Investigation and Prosecution - Danner is guardedly optimistic that, under Democratic leadership in the White House and Congress, the US government’s embrace of torture has stopped, and almost as importantly, the authorization and practice of torture under the Bush administration will be investigated, and those responsible will be prosecuted for crimes against humanity. But, he notes, “[i]f there is a need for prosecution there is also a vital need for education. Only a credible investigation into what was done and what information was gained can begin to alter the political calculus around torture by replacing the public’s attachment to the ticking bomb with an understanding of what torture is and what is gained, and lost, when the United States reverts to it.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]

Entity Tags: Khallad bin Attash, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Abu Zubaida, New York Review of Books, Central Intelligence Agency, George W. Bush, Geneva Conventions, John Ashcroft, International Committee of the Red Cross, Mark Danner

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

The New York Times reports that there is fresh evidence the Pakistani government supports many Islamist militant groups who are fighting US forces. Pakistani support for militants has mainly run through the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency.
US Pressure Not Effective - Shortly after Asif Ali Zardari became president of Pakistan in September 2008 (see September 9, 2008), he faced accusations by the US that the ISI helped the militants bomb the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan (see July 7, 2008 and July 28, 2008). Zardari promised that the ISI would be “handled” and anyone working with militants would be fired. Some top ISI officials were replaced, including ISI Director Nadeem Taj (see September 30, 2008). However, many US and even Pakistani officials have since complained to the Times that there has been little effect seen. The Times reports that “new details reveal that the spy agency is aiding a broader array of militant networks with more diverse types of support than was previously known—even months after Pakistani officials said that the days of the ISI’s playing a ‘double game’ had ended.”
The Mysterious S Wing - US officials say that it is unlikely that the highest ranking Pakistani officials are managing relationships with militants. Instead, most of the contacts are done by the S Wing of the ISI. Very little is publicly known about the S Wing. [New York Times, 3/26/2009] However, a later Times article will note, “Pakistani military officials give the spy service’s ‘S Wing’—which runs external operations against the Afghan government and India—broad autonomy, a buffer that allows top military officials deniability.” [New York Times, 7/26/2010] The groups S Wing is believed to support include:
bullet The Taliban. Taliban leaders are believed to be given safe haven in the Pakistani town of Quetta.
bullet The Haqqani network. This is a semi-autonomous branch of the Taliban, based in Pakistan’s tribal region. Its leader is Jalaluddin Haqqani, who has been an ISI asset since the 1980s.
bullet The Gulbuddin Hekmatyar network. Like the Haqqani network, Hekmatyar’s network is based in Pakistan but attacks US forces in Afghanistan in alliance with Taliban forces.
bullet Lashkar-e-Taiba. This Pakistani militant group is not very active in Afghanistan, but it has been linked to a number of attacks, including the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India.
The ISI’s S Wing gives these groups funding, training, protection, and intelligence. The groups are tipped off to planned US drone strikes and other attacks. S Wing operatives even search radical madrassas (boarding schools) in Pakistan to find new recruits for the groups. Most shockingly, ISI officials regularly sit in on meetings of Taliban leaders and other militant leaders and help decide strategy. This practice has become so widely known that in recent months, the British government has repeatedly asked the ISI to use its influence with the Taliban to scale back attacks in Afghanistan before the August presidential elections there.
Opposition to Tehrik-i-Taliban - Not all militants are supported, however. For instance, the Pakistani government generally opposes the Tehrik-i-Taliban (also known as the Pakistani Taliban), even though it is linked to the Taliban and other groups Pakistan does support, because this group has the goal of overthrowing Pakistan’s government. Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair recently told US senators, “There are some [groups the Pakistani government] believe have to be hit and that we should cooperate on hitting, and there are others they think don’t constitute as much of a threat to them and that they think are best left alone.”
Pakistan's Reasoning - Publicly, Pakistan denies all support for militant groups. But privately, unnamed Pakistani officials tell the Times that “the contacts were less threatening than the American officials depicted and were part of a strategy to maintain influence in Afghanistan for the day when American forces would withdraw and leave what they fear could be a power vacuum to be filled by India, Pakistan’s archenemy.” One official says that Pakistan needs groups like the Taliban as “proxy forces to preserve our interests.” [New York Times, 3/26/2009]

Entity Tags: Lashkar-e-Toiba, Taliban, Nadeem Taj, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Haqqani Network, Tehrik-i-Taliban, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, S Wing, Dennis C. Blair, Asif Ali Zardari

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The CIA’s torture of a supposed high-ranking al-Qaeda operative, Abu Zubaida, produced no information that helped foil any terrorist attacks or plots, according to former senior government officials who closely followed the interrogations. Zubaida was subjected to intensive waterboarding and other tortures (see April - June 2002), and provided information about a fantastic array of al-Qaeda plots that sent CIA agents all over the globe chasing down his leads. But none of his information panned out, according to the former officials. Almost everything Zubaida said under torture was false, and most of the reliable information gleaned from him—chiefly the names of al-Qaeda members and associates—was obtained before the CIA began torturing him. Moreover, the US’s characterization of Zubaida as “al-Qaeda’s chief of operations” and a “trusted associate” of Osama bin Laden turned out to be false as well. Several sources have challenged the government’s characterization of Zubaida as a “high-level al-Qaeda operative” before now (see Shortly After March 28, 2002 and April 9, 2002 and After).
'Fixer' for Islamists before 9/11 - Zubaida, a native Palestinian, never even joined al-Qaeda until after 9/11, according to information obtained from court documents and interviews with current and former intelligence, law enforcement, and military sources. Instead, he was a “fixer” for a number of radical Islamists, who regarded the US as an enemy primarily because of its support for Israel. Many describe Zubaida as a “travel agent” for al-Qaeda and other radical Islamists. He joined al-Qaeda because of the US’s preparations to invade Afghanistan. US officials are contemplating what, if any, charges they can use to bring him into court. Zubaida has alleged links with Ahmed Ressam, the so-called “Millennium Bomber” (see December 14, 1999), and allegedly took part in plans to retaliate against US forces after the overthrow of the Taliban in late 2001 (see December 17, 2001). But some US officials worry that bringing him into a courtroom would reveal the extent of his torture and abuse at the hands of the CIA, and that any evidence they might have against him is compromised because it was obtained in part through torture. Those officials want to send him to Jordan, where he faces allegations of conspiracy in terrorist attacks in that country.
Defending Zubaida's Information - Some in the US government still believe that Zubaida provided useful information. “It’s simply wrong to suggest that Abu Zubaida wasn’t intimately involved with al-Qaeda,” says a US counterterrorism official. “He was one of the terrorist organization’s key facilitators, offered new insights into how the organization operated, provided critical information on senior al-Qaeda figures… and identified hundreds of al-Qaeda members. How anyone can minimize that information—some of the best we had at the time on al-Qaeda—is beyond me.… Based on what he shared during his interrogations, he was certainly aware of many of al-Qaeda’s activities and operatives.” But the characterization of Zubaida as a well-connected errand runner was confirmed by Noor al-Deen, a Syrian teenager captured along with Zubaida at a Pakistani safe house (see March 28, 2002). Al-Deen readily answered questions, both in Pakistan and in a detention facility in Morocco. He described Zubaida as a well-known functionary with little knowledge of al-Qaeda operations. (Al-Deen was later transferred to Syria; his current whereabouts and status are unknown to the public.) A former Justice Department official closely involved in the early investigation of Zubaida says: “He was the above-ground support” for al-Qaeda and other radicals. “He was the guy keeping the safe house, and that’s not someone who gets to know the details of the plans. To make him the mastermind of anything is ridiculous.” A former intelligence officer says the US spent an inestimable amount of time and money chasing Zubaida’s “leads” to no effect: “We spent millions of dollars chasing false alarms.”
Connected to KSM - Zubaida knew radical Islamist Khalid Shaikh Mohammed for years. Mohammed, often dubbed “KSM” by US officials, approached Zubaida in the 1990s about finding financial backers for a plan he had concocted to fly a small plane into the World Trade Center. Zubaida declined involvement but recommended he talk to bin Laden. Zubaida quickly told FBI interrogators of Mohammed and other al-Qaeda figures such as alleged “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla (see May 8, 2002). He also revealed the plans of the low-level al-Qaeda operatives he fled Afghanistan with. Some wanted to strike US forces in Afghanistan with bombs, while others harbored ideas of further strikes on American soil. But he knew few details, and had no knowledge of plans by senior al-Qaeda operatives. At this point, the CIA took over the interrogations, and the torture began (see Mid-April-May 2002). As a result of the torture, Zubaida began alternating between obstinate silence and providing torrents of falsified and fanciful “intelligence”; when FBI “clean teams” attempted to re-interview some detainees who had been tortured in order to obtain evidence uncontaminated by abusive treatment, Zubaida refused to cooperate. Joseph Margulies, one of Zubaida’s attorneys, says: “The government doesn’t retreat from who KSM is, and neither does KSM. With Zubaida, it’s different. The government seems finally to understand he is not at all the person they thought he was. But he was tortured. And that’s just a profoundly embarrassing position for the government to be in.” Margulies and other lawyers want the US to send Zubaida to another country besides Jordan—Saudi Arabia, perhaps, where Zubaida has family. Military prosecutors have already deleted Zubaida’s name from the charge sheets of detainees who will soon stand trial, including several who were captured with Zubaida and are charged with crimes in which Zubaida’s involvement has been alleged.
Pressure from the White House - The pressure from the White House to get actionable information from Zubaida was intense (see Late March 2002), according to sources. One official recalls the pressure as “tremendous.” He says the push to force information from Zubaida mounted from one daily briefing to the next. “They couldn’t stand the idea that there wasn’t anything new. They’d say, ‘You aren’t working hard enough.’ There was both a disbelief in what he was saying and also a desire for retribution—a feeling that ‘He’s going to talk, and if he doesn’t talk, we’ll do whatever.’” [Washington Post, 3/29/2009]

Entity Tags: Jose Padilla, Al-Qaeda, Ahmed Ressam, Abu Zubaida, Bush administration (43), Federal Bureau of Investigation, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, US Department of Justice, Joseph Margulies, Central Intelligence Agency, Noor al-Deen

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Brian Kilmeade.Brian Kilmeade. [Source: Chattahbox (.com)]Brian Kilmeade, a co-host of Fox News’s morning broadcast Fox and Friends, says he “feel[s] better” knowing that alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in a single month (see April 16, 2009 and April 18, 2009). “Guess what?” Kilmeade says. “Maybe if he were so scared of caterpillars [referring to militant training camp facilitator Abu Zubaida’s torture by insects—see August 1, 2002]… maybe he should have thought about that before he helped plot the taking down of 3,000-plus people on 9/11.” (Kilmeade is either unaware of, or ignoring, reports that show Zubaida may not have been a member of al-Qaeda and had no involvement in the 9/11 planning—see March 28, 2002, Shortly After March 28, 2002, and April 9, 2002 and After.) Kilmeade continues: “Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, I understand, was waterboarded 183 times. Did anyone care about that? Does anyone in America walk around going, ‘I’m really upset that the mastermind of 9/11 was waterboarded 183 times.’ That makes me feel better.… It’s unbelievable that people care more about Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, uh, his health, than they would about the future attacks that are being hatched.” [Media Matters, 4/20/2009]

Entity Tags: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Brian Kilmeade, Fox News

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

The White House announces the formation of a new unit to question “high-value” terrorism suspects. The unit is called the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG). It operates out of the FBI, but is overseen by the National Security Council; this structure removes the CIA as the primary interrogators of high-level detainees and gives the White House direct oversight. According to author and reporter David Ignatius, the HIG will be composed of small groups of “special interrogation experts” sent out to interrogate certain detainees. [PBS, 8/24/2009] Administration officials say all interrogations overseen by the HIG will comply with guidelines contained in the Army Field Manual, which prohibits the use of physical force. The group will study other interrogation methods, however, and may add additional noncoercive methods in the future. Tom Malinkowski of the organization Human Rights Watch says the new interrogation policy represents a significant step toward more humane treatment, though he wants stricter limits on rendition (see August 24, 2009]). Overall, Malinkowski says the Obama administration’s approach to counterterrorism issues is strong, noting that the government has now adopted “some of the most transparent rules against abuse of any democratic country.” [New York Times, 8/25/2009]
De-Emphasizing CIA's Role in Interrogations - Author and reporter Jane Mayer observes: “[T]o to some extent, this is bringing the CIA back to its earlier role traditionally, before 9/11, but still it’s taking authority away from the CIA. It’s also—the new rules for interrogation are going to make the CIA use only techniques that are allowed for the military. They’re not going to have any special dispensation to do enhanced interrogation techniques, so you’re basically seeing them kind of knocked down to just having to act like everybody else.” Ignatius adds: “My conversations today with the people who know the CIA tells me that the feeling out there is kind of, ‘Let this cup pass from our lips.’ You know, they are sick of this interrogation issue. They were in many cases reluctant to get into it in the first place. This has been a nightmare for them. Careers have been destroyed. Officers feel like their lives have been wrecked. And I think the career people there say, ‘Fine, you know, if the FBI wants to do this, let them have it.‘… [T]he only thing that worries me is putting it so directly under the White House, having the White House running interrogation programs, that seems a little odd to me.” [PBS, 8/24/2009] CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano says that the agency will continue to be involved in interrogations. “The CIA took active part in the work of the task force, and the agency’s strong counterterrorism knowledge will be key to the conduct of future debriefings,” he says. “That won’t change.” [New York Times, 8/25/2009]
Worries that Obama Administration May be Taking Too Much Power for Itself - MSNBC’s Alison Stewart says the decision “might cause involuntary eyebrow-raising among people who thought the Bush administration gave itself too much power in these matters.” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) supports the decision, saying that “it brings for the first time… a very rigorous and serious overview to our interrogation of high-value detainees. If you set aside all of the spin and all of the nonsense that you heard out of the top layers of the Bush administration, what you really saw was—for a lot of these high-value detainees, you saw very amateurish investigation by people who knew nothing about al-Qaeda, who knew nothing about interrogation, who had familiarity with antique techniques that were used by brutal tyrant regimes for propaganda purposes not for intelligence gathering purposes, and were put for reasons that are still not adequately explained into high value interrogations. We know from testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee that at least one very productive investigation was interrupted and probably ruined by the intervention of these amateurish and brutal techniques into an investigation—an interrogation that was generating absolutely first-class interrogation for our country.” Whitehouse does not identify the subject of that “productive interrogation,” but he could be referring to the interrogation of Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002). [MSNBC, 8/25/2009]

Entity Tags: Alison Stewart, High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, David Ignatius, Tom Malinkowski, Sheldon Whitehouse, Jane Mayer, National Security Council, Paul Gimigliano, Obama administration

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Representative Alan Grayson (D-FL), speaking on MSNBC’s The Ed Show to host Ed Schultz, criticizes former President Bush while discussing a current controversy regarding a combined mosque and Islamic community center being built near the ruins of the World Trade Center. Grayson says: “If we are going to talk about 9/11, why don’t we talk about how not so much the people who died on 9/11 were disgraced by the possibility of an Islamic athletic center several blocks away; how about the fact that they were disgraced by a president who let it happen? Who went on vacation for the entire month of August after he was warned in writing that Osama bin Laden was actually finding targets in NYC and learning how to take these planes and do terrible things with them? The [warning] itself said ‘hijacking’ and they did nothing about it” (See August 6, 2001, (August 4-5, 2001), and Between August 6 and September 10, 2001). [Raw Story, 8/21/2010]

Entity Tags: Alan Grayson, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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