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Forum Post: On Bringing War Criminals to Justice

Posted 7 years ago on April 28, 2014, 4:16 p.m. EST by LeoYoh (115)
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On Bringing War Criminals to Justice

Monday, 28 April 2014 12:30
By Dahr Jamail, Truthout | Report


This is part II of a series on Dahr Jamail's trip to the Iraq Commission conference in Brussels. Also see Part I: International Lawyers Seek Justice for Iraqis

Narmeen Saleh and her husband Shawki were detained by US military forces during a violent 2004 raid of their home in Baghdad.

Saleh spent 16 days in prison, where "the interrogations didn't stop for one minute." She was beaten, electrocuted and threatened with rape if she didn't "confess."

"They [US soldiers] tortured and beat me a lot, and when they found out that I was pregnant they told me they would kill the baby in my womb," she was quoted, as her testimony was read at the Iraq Commission conference in Brussels recently. "They then concentrated their beating and electricity on my abdomen area."

Her daughter, who is now 8 years old, has cerebral palsy, and her husband remains in custody of the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for the bogus charge of "illegally entering Iraq."

This shocking testimony was provided to international lawyers, journalists , and activists converged at a conference titled, "The Iraq Commission," held in Brussels, Belgium, April 16 and 17, with the primary aim of bringing to justice government officials who are guilty of war crimes in Iraq.

The conference represented the most powerful and most current organized movement in the world to hold accountable those responsible for the catastrophic invasion and occupation in Iraq, including UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and former US President George W. Bush, along with others in their administrations.

War Crimes in Iraq

Nawal al-Obaidi, an Iraqi academic and founding trustee of the International Action for Iraqi Refugees NGO, provided somber testimony about how her brother was killed by US forces.

Hazim al-Obaidi left his wife and four children at their home in Mosul to go to work at his grocery store one morning in January 2005.

That same evening, his wife became worried when Hazim had not returned home and began a search.

"The whole family could not sleep that night, wondering what had happened to Hazim and why he did not return back home," his sister Nawal told the audience. "As the curfew was in place, no one could leave the house until the next morning."

The next morning, family members searched the morgues of the main hospital, but to no avail. Two days later, they learned of his burned car.

Eyewitnesses informed the family of the car being attacked by US forces, who "started shooting at him and at his car, until the car exploded." What was left of the severely burned body was removed by family members, then, "to the bewilderment of his family, US troops stopped them after they had collected the body, uncovered it and took photos."

"Hazim was not a "terrorist" or a "Saddamist," al-Obeidi explained. "He was a cheerful family man who was wounded in the Iran-Iraq war and survived the harshness of the sanctions years by selling groceries. Who is going to investigate his killing, compensate his family, and help his children to make sense of their tragedy? Will it be the Iraqi government, or the US-led occupation? Judging by the human rights records of both, the answer is that neither of them will investigate Hazim's killing, or any other. [Hundreds of] thousands of civilians have been killed for no reason. One of them was my brother."

This writer, too, provided testimony: I spoke of several war crimes I witnessed during my reportage from Iraq during the US-led occupation.

In May 2004, I interviewed a man who had just been released from Abu Ghraib prison. Like so many I interviewed from various US military detention facilities who'd been tortured horrifically, he still managed to maintain his sense of humor.

He began laughing when telling of how US soldiers made him beat other prisoners. He laughed because he told me he had been beaten himself prior to this and was so tired that all he could do to beat other detained Iraqis was to lift his arm and let it drop on the other men.

Later in the same interview, when telling of another story, he laughed again and said, "The Americans brought electricity to my ass before they brought it to my house."

Another story I reported to the international lawyers was that of 55-year-old Sadiq Zoman, who was tortured horrifically by US military personnel. I shared documentation of US military doctors, nurses and medics being complicit with that torture.

Zoman was detained from his home in Kirkuk in a raid by US soldiers that produced no weapons. He was taken to a police office in Kirkuk, the Kirkuk Airport Detention Center, the Tikrit Airport Detention Center and then the 28th Combat Support Hospital, where he was treated by Dr. Michael Hodges, a lieutenant colonel.

Hodges' medical report listed the primary diagnoses of Zoman's condition as hypoxic brain injury (brain damage caused by lack of oxygen) "with persistent vegetative state," myocardial infraction (heart attack) and heat stroke.

After one month in custody, Zoman was dropped off in a coma at the General Hospital in Tikrit by US soldiers.

Zoman's last name was listed as his first name on the report, despite the fact that all of his identification papers were taken during the raid on his home. Because of this, it took his family weeks to locate him in the hospital.

Hodges' medical report did not mention the fact that the back of Zoman's head was bashed in, nor that he had electrical burn marks on the bottoms of his feet and genitals, or why he had lash marks across his back and chest.

Zoman remains in a coma, and there has been no compensation provided to his now-impoverished family for what was done to him.



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[-] 5 points by LeoYoh (115) 7 years ago

Bringing Justice

Inder Comar, who testified at the commission, is the legal director at Comar Law in San Francisco, California.

"On March 13, 2013, my client, an Iraqi single mother and refugee now living in Jordan, filed a class action lawsuit against George W. Bush, Richard Cheney, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz in a federal court in California," Comar has written about his case.

"She alleges that these six defendants planned and waged the Iraq War in violation of international law by waging a 'war of aggression,' as defined by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, more than sixty years ago," Comar added. (The current complaint can be found here). http://witnessiraq.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Amended-Complaint-FINAL-Stamped.pdf

Comar's client, Sundus Shaker Saleh, is alleging "crime of aggression" in the San Francisco Federal Court against the aforementioned. "Crime of aggression" emanates from the Nuremberg Trials following World War II and is what Comar is arguing was committed in the Iraq War.

The lawsuit includes all Iraqis who have suffered harm as a result of the war, and Comar's firm is representing Saleh pro bono.

"This could be precedent setting," Comar told the commission. "And this is the first time a US court is looking at a crime of aggression since Nuremberg, since 1945. We're very curious to see how this judge will decide this issue."

US courts have immunized many of the members of the Bush Administration, but Comar thinks his case is different and will not be subject to the same kind of immunity.

"The crime of aggression is part of international law, so we are arguing with good precedent that international law is part of federal law," he said.

Comar's case against Bush is based on the conduct of members of his administration prior to their coming into office, as well as conduct taking place during and after the events of September 11, 2001.

Evidence of premeditation abounds.

Years before their appointment to the Bush administration, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz were vocal advocates of a militant neoconservative ideology that called for the United States to use its armed forces in the Middle East and elsewhere.

They openly chronicled their desire for aggressive wars through a nonprofit called The Project for the New American Century (PNAC). In 1998, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz personally signed a letter to then-President Clinton urging him to implement a "strategy for removing Saddam's regime from power," which included a "willingness to undertake military action as diplomacy is clearly failing."

On September 11, 2001, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz openly pressed for the United States to invade Iraq, even though intelligence at the time confirmed that Saddam Hussein was in no way responsible. Richard Clarke, former national coordinator for security, infrastructure protection and counterterrorism, famously told President Bush that attacking Iraq for 9/11 "would be like invading Mexico after Pearl Harbor."

Comar's case states: "Defendants planned the war against Iraq as early as 1998; manipulated the United States' public to support the war by scaring them with images of 'mushroom clouds' and conflating the Hussein regime with al-Qaeda; and broke international law by commencing the invasion without proper legal authorization."

By comparison, more than 60 years ago, American prosecutors in Nuremberg, Germany, convicted Nazi leaders of the crimes of conspiring and waging wars of aggression. They found the Nazis guilty of planning and waging wars that had no basis in law and which killed millions of innocents.

The plaintiff in the case, Saleh, is thus seeking justice under the Nuremberg principles, as well as US law, for damages she and others like her suffered because of the defendants' premeditated plan to invade Iraq.

Comar detailed to the commission how the premeditation was obvious, showing slides from an article titled "Saddam Must Go," penned by Wolfowitz and Zalmay Khalilzad, as well as others titled, "Overthrow Him," "How to Attack Iraq" and "Bombing Iraq is not enough."

"When we talk about these war criminals, we need to employ the language of pirates in order to engage the basis of universal jurisdiction," Comar added. "Because when pirates go anywhere they have no safe haven from being held accountable for their actions."

Comar told Truthout that he decided to take this case because he was inspired by the Nuremberg judgment.

"That and my client's bravery to want to do this and be committed to her case," he explained. "In law school, I was fascinated by Nuremberg and the trail of facts."

Comar believes strongly in the morality behind the case.

"We have to use every avenue the law provides us to try to do something, and it's amazing that it took a single mother refugee from Iraq to press for justice for a war our leaders continue to want to ignore," he said. "What I'm doing can have a ripple, it might inspire other lawyers, it might cause people to start asking questions about the Bush administration."

According to Comar, his case represents the first time a US judge will hear about a crime of aggression since 1946, "So this case will be looked at internationally. We have to set the stage for other countries to start working to conform to principles of peace."

Comar added that his case in California serves as a template that could be used in every other US state.

Planning for Prosecutions

Sabah al-Mukhtar, the president of the Arab Lawyers Association, chaired the final session of the Iraq commission. The session investigated what the next steps should be toward bringing those responsible for the Iraq invasion and occupation to justice.

"The delegitimization of major war criminals is complete in terms of the understanding around the world that these successive wars that have been waged are in complete opposition to international law," Dr. Niloufer Bhagwat, professor of comparative constitutional law at the University of Mumbai and vice president of the Indian Lawyers Association in Mumbai testified.

She addressed the fact that there have been no reparations, the sanctions crimes need to be addressed, including the fact that the US government knowingly killed more than 500,000 Iraqi children via malnourishment and disease, and added, "The work we've done here has to be carried from country to country so the political formations adopt our viewpoint, that these wars of aggression can only come to an end when we have an overturning of the political and economic systems."

Professor Gurdial Singh Nijar, a senior practicing lawyer and lead prosecutor of the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunals on Iraq, believes that the people's tribunals that have been held on Iraq "are becoming an increasingly important tool for recapturing the lost space and jurisprudence over war crimes. We've had three war crimes tribunals and we intend to have more and to introduce this thinking into law schools like the one in which I teach."

He believes the next step toward justice is for countries to exercise universal jurisdiction as a means of charging war criminals.

"Three quarters of UN states have authorized their courts to exercise universal jurisdiction over war crimes, so the stage is actually set," he said. "The challenge then is how to get these countries to institute charges against these war criminals on the basis of credible trials that have been conducted and ended up in convictions, either by peoples' tribunals or otherwise. The next step is to go country to country and begin to file charges in each of these jurisdictions."

Dr. Curtis F. J. Doebbler, an international lawyer who practices law before the International Court of Justice, shared an instance where there has already been some success.

"We suggested, for Syria, and I was in the room with the negotiators, that [US Secretary of State John] Kerry be advised that the use of force could lead to violations of international law, and there could be war crimes," he said. "So I think we're making some inroads."

Lindsey German, the convener of the British antiwar organization Stop the War Coalition, stated in her concluding remarks that Bush and Blair are "by far the most responsible persons for the Iraq war."

She added, "Blair is still the envoy for peace in the Middle East, of all things, for which they obviously didn't check his CV. We have to stress the connections between the wars and the political and economic systems under which we live. We can't have economic justice without bringing justice to the war criminals."

Comar addressed the "banality of militarism" in the United States, said he hopes that the work he is doing "is creating a vaccine for that" and stressed the need for confidence in international law.

"We in the US can work to take power back from the federal system on a state system and begin to incorporate international law into our own laws," he said. "Or maybe we can do this on a city level to criminalize this wrongdoing in a lawful manner so that we have more control. I look forward to sharing my court complaint with any other lawyer. We need to work together to help get people reparations from this war and to prevent the next war."

Dirk Adriaensens, a long-time Iraq activist and cofounder of the Iraq Commission, concluded the commission by calling for concrete proposals that will lead to global court cases regarding Iraq.

"If Inder Comar says that his court case can be replicated in all other 49 US states," he said, "then we can replicate this in every country around the world."

Copyright, Truthout.

[-] 3 points by LeoYo (5909) 7 years ago

The Road From Abu Ghraib: A Torture Story Without a Hero or an Ending

Monday, 28 April 2014 09:39
By Karen J Greenberg, TomDispatch | News Analysis


It’s mind-boggling. Torture is still up for grabs in America. No one questions anymore whether the CIA waterboarded one individual 83 times or another 186 times. The basic facts are no longer in dispute either by those who champion torture or those who, like myself, despise the very idea of it. No one questions whether some individuals died being tortured in American custody. (They did.) No one questions that it was a national policy devised by those at the very highest levels of government. (It was.) But many, it seems, still believe that the torture policy, politely renamed in its heyday “the enhanced interrogation program,” was a good thing for the country.

Now, the nation awaits the newest chapter in the torture debate without having any idea whether it will close the book on American torture or open a path of pain and shame into the distant future. No one yet knows whether we will be allowed to awake from the nightmarish and unacceptable world of illegality and obfuscation into which torture and the network of offshore prisons, or “black sites,” plunged us all.

April 28th marks the tenth anniversary of the moment that the horrors of Abu Ghraib were made public in this country. On that day a decade ago, the TV news magazine "60 Minutes II" broadcast the first photographs from that American-run prison in “liberated” Iraq. They showed U.S. military personnel humiliating, hurting, and abusing Iraqi prisoners in a myriad of perverse ways. While American servicemen and women smiled and gave a thumbs up, naked men were threatened by dogs, or were hooded, forced into sexual positions, placed standing with wires attached to their bodies, or left bleeding on prison floors.

Thus began America’s public odyssey with torture, a story in many chapters and still missing an ending. As the Abu Ghraib anniversary nears and the White House, the CIA, and various senators still battle over the release of a summary of a 6,300-page report by the Senate Intelligence Committee on Bush-era torture policies, it’s worth considering the strange journey we’ve taken and wondering just where we as a nation mired in the legacy of torture might be headed.

Chapter One: Revelations

The odyssey started with the shock of those "60 Minutes II" photos, followed two days later by the reporting of veteran New Yorker writer Seymour Hersh. Having seen even more grim photographs and interviewed many in the chain of command stretching from Abu Ghraib to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Pentagon, Hersh painted a picture of a deliberate policy of abuse. He traced Abu Ghraib’s crimes to pressure from “military-intelligence teams, which included CIA officers and linguists and interrogation specialists from private defense contractors,” urging the production -- and fast -- of crucial information from U.S. captives in Iraq. Towards this end, the guards at Abu Ghraib were encouraged to “soften up” the detainees for interrogation.

That summer and fall of 2004, the Washington Post, the New York Times, the ACLU, and others got their hands on several Bush administration memos justifying and legalizing torture. These had largely been written by John Yoo and Jay Bybee, lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice, and they proved grim reading indeed. The documents provided uniquely tortured definitions of torture that made almost any act in which the infliction of pain didn’t rise to the level of “organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death” acceptable. As if that weren’t enough, they developed no less tortured theories of executive power in which the president as commander-in-chief retained the right to authorize torture for national security reasons, despite its illegality under domestic, military, and international law.

With this anything-goes green light switched on, the memos proceeded to expressly approve individual methods of abuse (previously defined as torture) for American interrogators. Used in combination and repeatedly, these were known to destroy the human psyche and bring severe pain to the body as well. Specifically, they put the Bush administration’s stamp of approval on graphically described “techniques,” including sleep deprivation, slapping, the dangling of trussed prisoners from beams, and especially waterboarding, a process in which individuals essentially experience drowning, only to be saved at the last moment.

The trail of evidence went right to the top. The office of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told the interrogators of “the American Taliban,” John Walker Lindh, to “take the gloves off.” Vice President Dick Cheney, who famously said it was time to “work the dark side,” has repeatedly defended the policy of harsh interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, as effective and essential in keeping the nation safe. Top officials reportedly had various “enhanced interrogation techniques” demonstrated in the White House. The 2002 torture memos were addressed to White House Counsel and later Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

CIA director George Tenet knew, too. Rumsfeld approved the use of special techniques in a December 2002 memo. It is impossible to imagine that Yoo’s boss, Attorney General John Ashcroft, didn’t know about the memos as well, and given what everyone else knew, it’s unlikely President George W. Bush was left in the dark for long, if at all.

There were those who protested, but they did so only inside “the family.” FBI Director Robert Mueller, for instance, knew enough to forbid the Bureau to use the techniques. He even pulled his men away from CIA interrogations of terror suspects, including the one that ended with the brutal waterboarding of suspected al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah 83 times. Colin Powell, the four-star general who was Secretary of State, balked at the notion of removing the prisoner of war protections of the Geneva Conventions from al-Qaeda detainees for the purposes of “interrogation and length of the detention.” He went no further, however, than protesting vigorously in that early 2002 memo, urging the president to reconsider his options and stay within the law.

Michael Chertoff, the head of the Criminal Division at the Department of Justice and the future head of the Department of Homeland Security, abruptly left a meeting at which he was asked to give immunity in advance to those who would use harsh interrogation techniques. He refused to do so. But no one went public.

All told, there were no vocal dissidents when it came to the torture policy; no one resigned over it; no one even leaked the story to the media to protest the evisceration of American values and the constitutional or legal principles involved. In the aftermath of Abu Ghraib and the revelations that followed, there was just a chorus of “it wasn’t torture” or “I didn’t know” from nearly every official inside the executive branch who had known.

Chapter Two: The End Is(n’t) in Sight

Many initially believed that the Abu Ghraib revelations would bring a quick policy about-face. After all, torture is against the law in the United States, as well as under international law and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Once awakened to the facts, could there be any question that the country’s nightmare would end promptly? Americans and their officials would wake up, shake off the bad episodes, and move on in law-abiding fashion.

The government, it was assumed, would back down from its violations of the law, the programs would be terminated, the perpetrators would be punished, Americans would lament the error, and chalk it all up -- ruefully -- to the misbehavior unleashed by the shock and fears of 9/11.

But these predictions -- and they were widespread -- proved wrong. Rather than recant, the administration, top to bottom, chose to lie, denying that “torture” in its true sense was taking place, and accusing the media and civil libertarians of exaggerating. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, for example, called the accusations “isolated pockets of international hyperventilation.”

The administration’s counter-story took the My Lai massacre path: there was no policy, no conspiracy to torture. The Abu Ghraib photos reflected a few low-level bad apples and rogue players, soldiers with anger management issues, who were understandably full of hate post-9/11 and unfortunately sexually perverse as well. They were in need of punishment, to be sure, but no one else was. And as for those memos, they were just drafts and suggestions, not accepted policy at all.

[-] 3 points by LeoYo (5909) 7 years ago

Chapter Three: Yet More Revelations (Don’t) Turn the Tide

Meanwhile, by summer’s end in 2004, four official reports on detainee treatment had already been released to the public, making it clear that Abu Ghraib represented a pattern of abuse extending elsewhere. All concluded that what had occurred there violated military code. All also concluded that, when it came to the military, there was “no evidence of a policy of abuse promulgated by senior [Pentagon] officials or military authorities.” One of them, the Fay-Jones Report, hinted that the problem did not lie inside the military at all. “It is clear that the interrogation practices of other government agencies led to a loss of accountability at Abu Ghraib,” it noted, adding, “This requires further investigation.”

Once again, however, revelations and documentation led to nothing. George Bush was decisively reelected sixth months after the first stories on Abu Ghraib broke. The shadow of torture seemed not to harm him at all and had done nothing to deter his claim to the presidency, despite the fact that a Gallup poll at the time of his second inauguration showed that American opposition to torture -- 39% in favor, 59% against -- hadn’t changed significantly since the war on terror began, when a Gallup poll showed 45% in favor and 53% against.

The implications of reelecting a president who had presided over a policy of torture soon came further into focus. In November 2005,Washington Post reporter Dana Priest documented the existenceof "black sites," secret CIA prisons scattered in eight countries around the world. They had been set up to interrogate detainees without any fear of being bothered by the U.S. legal system or its courts. The idea was to find convenient spots where no one would complain when those newly approved brutal techniques of interrogation were put into action by the CIA, private contractors, or in some cases foreign torturers. In other words, an offshore system of injustice for a state-sponsored policy of torture had been successfully created.

Chapter Four: The President Embraces the Torture Program

In the wake of Bush’s reelection, any pressure to change the detention and interrogation practices of the government naturally ebbed. Although late in 2004 the Justice Department revoked the original torture memos, new memos approved harsh interrogation techniques, albeit not the harshest of the earlier approved methods like waterboarding. A Detainee Treatment Act was indeed passed in 2005, introduced by John McCain, but its focus was on the military, not the CIA. Worse yet, it was amended to offer immunity to personnel who had followed “lawful” interrogation procedures -- that is, the ones to which the torture memos had given the go-ahead. In other words, Congress was not about to step forward and rid the country of its torture regime.

In September 2006, five days before the anniversary of 9/11, however, President Bush suddenly announced an end to the black sites interrogation program. In this way, he admitted for the first time that an official policy of brutality in the service of interrogation had indeed existed. There was, however, little cause for rejoicing. Yes, 14 “high value detainees” held in black sites were moved to Guantanamo -- the centerpiece of the administration’s system of offshore injustice -- but only because, according to the president, they held “little or no additional intelligence value.”

In reality, the program hadn’t come to an end and some of the black sites continued to be used; nor had the president actually recanted anything. In fact, he embraced the program, stepping even further into the nightmarish realm of state-sponsored torture. Without the slightest indication of remorse, he assured Americans that it had been a splendid success. “I can say that questioning the detainees in this program has given us information that has saved innocent lives by helping us stop new attacks -- here in the United States and across the world.”

To this day, evidence that this statement was true has failed to prove convincing, which is undoubtedly why the claim is always made through a veil of national security secrecy. In his speech, the president insisted that information obtained from two of the three waterboarded subjects -- 9/11 planner Khalid Sheik Mohammed and alleged top operative Abu Zubaydah -- had been crucial to identifying and preventing terrorist attacks. “This program,” he added, “has been and remains one of the most vital tools in our war against the terrorists. It is invaluable to America and to our allies. Were it not for this program, our intelligence community believes that al-Qaeda and its allies would have succeeded in launching another attack against the American homeland. By giving us information about terrorist plans we could not get anywhere else, this program has saved innocent lives.”

Chapter Five: Impunity and Immunity

The proof that George Bush had not fully ended the torture program came the moment Barack Obama entered the Oval Office. On that day the new president, as his first act in office, issued an executive order officially ending the illegal treatment of detainees for interrogation or other purposes. Henceforth, the Geneva Conventions, suspended by Bush for detainees in the war on terror, were to be restored. Torture was once again to be considered illegal. The president even released several previously unseen Bush-era memos on torture that were more detailed when it came to enumerating abusive practices than those already on the record.

Once again, however, the revelations came to naught. In the Obama years, the truth has become a substitute for accountability, a subject that the Obama Justice Department refused to tackle in any meaningful way. As the president said upon release of the new memos, he was not seeking prosecution. It was to be a “time for reflection not retribution.” We were to “look forward, not backward.”

While the Justice Department did officially investigate 101 cases of alleged CIA torture violations, including two deaths, it found no reason to charge anyone -- not those who devised the policy, not those who created the legal rationale for it, not those who lied about it, not those who carried it out, not even the CIA official who brazenly destroyed 92 videotapes of torture interrogations. In August 2012, Attorney General Eric Holder formally dismissed the last two cases, investigations of the deaths of two prisoners while in CIA hands. He announced the end of all investigations, and that was that. There was to be no accountability, no reckoning at all.

[-] 3 points by LeoYo (5909) 7 years ago

Chapter Six: The Elusive Finale

Despite President Obama’s aversion to addressing the legacy of torture, in 2009 the bipartisan Senate Select Committee on Intelligence went to work on a review of what had happened. After years of effort and a reported six million pages of documents read, it has now completed a 6,300-page report. After heated debate, Congress has decided that the report’s executive summary and conclusion should be released, though only after their subject, the CIA, has vetted them.

Stories about wrongdoing and injustice usually feature villains and heroes. The villains in this tale of torture -- from Vice President Dick Cheney and his legal counsel David Addington to the CIA agents who, as recent leaks from the Senate report indicate, went beyond even the techniques okayed in the torture memos -- are clear enough by now. The question is: Where are the heroes?

To date, no individual has taken charge of the anti-torture movement -- not Senator John McCain, who was himself tortured during the Vietnam War and who has spoken out repeatedly against torture at American hands, or Jimmy Carter who dedicated his post-presidency to human rights, and certainly not President Obama who refused to “look back” and so protect us from a possible future with torture in it. There are, to be sure, some honorable figures who left the government with little fanfare and much remorse, taking what they knew and their shame with them. They are useless as heroes, however, for they continue to refuse to speak out.

The Bush administration’s warrantless surveillance policy had such a hero in then-acting Attorney General (now FBI director) James Comey, who famously faced down the Bush White House and refused to reauthorize that illegal surveillance policy. In contrast, torture has been an all-villain, all-shame event.

Arguably, however, a rare hero of the unlikeliest sort has emerged in these last months, someone who has refused to back down when attacked and even maligned by the CIA and other defenders of the torture policy. Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has been willing to sacrifice civil liberties in deference to the wishes of the national security state when it comes to surveillance, but it seems that she has drawn the line at torture and gone very public about it. She even took to the Senate floor to denounce the CIA for its recent actions and older policies.

But what will happen when some redacted version of the summary of the report she has shepherded through is finally released? Will it be the beginning of the last chapter in America’s era of torture? Will there be enough of the report left to matter after it’s been vetted by the White House, the CIA, and others? Will Americans actually learn much more about the extremity of the CIA’s torture regime -- about, that is, what was done in their name? Or will most of that material be left on the cutting room floor? And will it matter anyway? Will Americans even care that the torture policy was carried out knowingly in a state of utter illegality, contrary to constitutional principle, and in a way meant to evade both the American people and parts of the government?

Given the story so far, the odds are that “chapter six” will be no ending at all, perhaps not even the beginning of the end. The book of torture may prove to be the Game of Thrones of real world fantasies of blood and pain, a multi-volume epic and a waking nightmare extending far into the future. Despite all evidence to the contrary, many Americans are likely to continue to believe that brutality, torture, and rank illegality is the road to national safety. One thing is certain: as long as those who perpetrated the torture policies are considered beyond the law, there will be no safe landing for this national fall from grace that began with the revelations at Abu Ghraib.

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[-] 3 points by LeoYo (5909) 7 years ago

Abu Ghraib 10 Years Later: Challenging Corporate Impunity for Torture

Monday, 28 April 2014 13:47
By Vincent Warren, Truthout | Op-Ed


Ten years ago, the world got its first glimpse of images that would forever tarnish the United States' reputation for how it conducts its wars. On April 28, 2004, a "60 Minutes" broadcast leaked photos of US soldiers humiliating, tormenting, beating and sexually assaulting detainees at the US-run Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. A decade later, survivors of these acts of torture are still waiting for justice.

Private corporate contractors, hired by the US government to interrogate detainees, played a key role in directing and encouraging the acts of the low-level soldiers in those photos. Tasked with collecting intelligence, civilian interrogators exploited a vacuum of military leadership at the prison to direct soldiers to "soften up" detainees and "set the conditions" for interrogation - euphemisms for instructions to torture. Yet, despite universal outrage and demands for justice when the photos were released, 10 years after the scandal came to light and many years after low-level soldiers were court-martialed for their role, the contractors have not faced any form of punishment. Instead, they continue to operate, continue to receive multi-million-dollar government contracts and continue to profit off of US taxpayers.

United States Army photo from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq showing Pvt. Lynndie England holding a leash attached to a prisoner collapsed on the floor. United States Army photo from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq showing Pvt. Lynndie England holding a leash attached to a prisoner collapsed on the floor. (Photo: Wikipedia) The government could still prosecute the contractors for these human rights abuses, though it has shown no intention of doing so. No one is holding their breath - least of all survivors from Abu Ghraib. Instead, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit against private contractor CACI Premier Technology Inc. for its role in the torture - enabling it, failing to put an end to it, and covering it up. Our case, Al Shimari v. CACI, is one of the few avenues left for holding CACI accountable for what it did.

Yet last year a federal judge dismissed the case; it is now on appeal.

In his opinion, the judge said that CACI cannot be held accountable in a US court because the torture occurred in Iraq - regardless of the US-headquartered corporation's role in orchestrating it. If allowed to stand, the ruling leaves a US corporation free to conspire with US soldiers to torture detainees in a prison (and a country) under US control without facing any consequences or being held accountable anywhere. It leaves people like Suhail Al Shimari - who was beaten, starved, threatened with death, electrically shocked, and subjected to other torment and torture - with nowhere to turn for justice. And it leaves contractors like CACI, who already profit heavily from the US' wars, to continue to earn millions without carrying any legal risks for their actions outside of the United States - even when they lead to torture.

If we are to prevent corporations from profiting off of the torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of people like Mr. Al Shimari, government contractors must know that they will face consequences for their actions. CACI's liability should turn on whether it conspired to commit torture - not where the company conspired to commit it. Our courts must remain an avenue for holding torturers accountable, especially when they reside in the United States. Mr. Al Shimari and his fellow plaintiffs have waited long enough.

Copyright, Truthout.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 7 years ago

American Abu Ghraib Prisoner "Disappears"

Monday, 28 April 2014 13:54
By Aisha Maniar, Truthout | Op-Ed


When the author and other activists held a silent protest outside the Iraq Embassy in London last Thursday, the embassy sent the police to see what the activists were up to, instead of crossing the road to talk to them. Police talk to Shawki Ahmed Omar's family outside the Iraqi Embassy during a recent silent protest.

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Citing security concerns, on April 15, the Iraqi government reported the closure of the notorious torture prison, Abu Ghraib. In the week prior to closure, 2,400 inmates were reported to have been moved to other prisons in Baghdad or Jamjamal Prison in the Kurdistan Region, where conditions are reported to be better, if not compliant with human rights standards.

Shawki Ahmed Omar, an American-Jordanian prisoner, held without due process in Iraq for almost 10 years, "disappeared" around the time the others were transferred. Repeat requests for information on his whereabouts by his family have fallen on the deaf ears of the Iraqi authorities; the US authorities claim to know nothing as well.

Omar was arrested by the US military in Baghdad with his Iraqi wife in 2004 as part of counterinsurgency operations. Held and tortured at a number of US torture prisons across the country, including Abu Ghraib at the height of the prisoner abuse scandal there, his wife was also tortured into making false confessions. The US accused him of terrorism-related offenses and recruiting for al Qaeda, but it took many years for his case to be referred for trial. Brought before an Iraqi court in 2010, in a trial for which no charges were listed, and without legal representation, due to miscommunication between the court and his counsel, he was instead convicted of illegal entry to the country. He maintains he entered the country lawfully, but could not contest the claims as his passport had been confiscated when he was arrested by the US military. He was sentenced to 15 years in jail, mitigated to 7 years upon appeal in 2011 by the Iraqi Supreme Court.

In February 2013, days before Guantánamo Bay prisoners commenced similar mass action, Omar went on hunger strike, an action he maintained until August 2013 to the detriment of his own medical and physical condition. He was protesting his ongoing incarceration in spite of having served his sentence; having been held for 9 years by that point; and the harsh conditions of detention, such as torture, overcrowding and lack of due process in Iraq's jails.

His family was told by the Iraqi authorities that they had not taken the years he spent in US custody into account and that he still has 3 years of his sentence left to serve. They were also informed that the authorities do not intend to release him after that, as he will then face fresh prosecution for the terrorism-related claims made in 2005.

The hunger strike has had a considerable impact on the health of the 54-year-old and left him weakened and suffering new illnesses. He was not seen by a doctor throughout and has never been seen by an independent doctor to check or verify his claims of torture.

Held at the maximum-security Al-Karkh Prison in Baghdad (formerly Camp Cropper), he "disappeared" weeks after ending his hunger strike in September 2013. In November, the family were contacted by the Red Cross to inform them that he was in Baghdad Central Prison, as Abu Ghraib had been renamed by the Iraqi government. Used as a torture facility for dissidents under Saddam Hussein and insurgents under US occupation, with a new name and cosmetic refit, the Iraqi government reportedly kept up the tradition of torturing prisoners there.

Omar was held in solitary confinement during his first two months at Abu Ghraib, where he was when the Red Cross visited him in November 2013. Inmates at Abu Ghraib were not allowed to see doctors or to have medication, even if they supplied their own. Omar had his taken away from him. Prisoners held at Abu Ghraib were also not allowed to have any family visits or make telephone calls. Previously, Omar was allowed at least one call a month to his family.

Following a raid last summer, in which gunmen freed over 500 prisoners and others were killed, conditions for prisoners became even harsher. Other prisoners' families have reported that their family members have been tortured without interrogation, denied medication, given food unfit for human consumption and forced to remain in their cells.

Omar was moved to a cell shared by 18 men with adequate room for seven only. Cells are reportedly windowless, and since last July, prisoners have not been allowed to leave them even to exercise for fear of further attacks from outside. Cell inspections were also carried out, on average, 7 to 8 times each day during both the day and night, and more frequently in some cases.

In addition to notice by the Red Cross in November 2013 that Shawki Ahmed Omar was still alive, the only other correspondence the family has had is a letter he wrote in October 2013, which was delivered by the Red Cross in February 2014. In it, he tells his family that he is unwell: "My health is really bad, [been] throwing [up] blood for the last 3 months; my blood pressure is very high, and they took all the medication from me."

Throughout his 8 months at Abu Ghraib, the Iraqi authorities have refused to comment on his situation, and the US authorities have failed to adequately monitor it. In November 2013, Amnesty International launched an urgent action for Shawki Ahmed Omar, stating, "He should be released immediately, as he has served his sentence." The group also demanded his legal status be clarified by the Iraqi authorities.

Desperate for any information about his situation, earlier this year his family launched a petition to the Iraqi ambassador to the United Kingdom asking for information about his well-being and demanding his release. With reports of other Abu Ghraib prisoners having been transferred and seen at other prisons, including another American-Jordanian national detained in similar circumstances, but no news - official or otherwise - on Omar's whereabouts, that desperation has gone one step beyond.

Rather than admit to its mistakes and those of its US predecessor, the Iraqi authorities are instead punishing prisoners, like Omar, for an arbitrary situation they have allowed to spiral out of control. In the ever-precarious and volatile situation in Iraq, his family fears the worst. The Iraqi authorities must at a minimum disclose his whereabouts to his family and the US authorities, and the US authorities must step up their half-hearted quest for answers.

Copyright, Truthout.