Six Claims on Detainee Torture, Skewered

Guantanamo Military Prison Stays Open As Future Status Remains Uncertainby Christie Thompson ProPublica, April 22, 2013, 4:04 p.m.
Among the news that ended up being buried in the events last week: A nonpartisan think tank, the Constitution Project, released a scathing, 577-page report on the U.S.’s treatment, and torture, of detainees in the aftermath of 9/11. The investigation began in 2009, after Obama opposed creating a “truth commission.”

With a Senate investigation of detainee treatment still classified, the report from the bipartisan task force is the most comprehensive public review to date. The 11-member panel interviewed more than 100 former military officials, detainees and policymakers.

Among their findings: There is no compelling security reason to keep classified details about the CIA’s now-shuttered black prisons. The task force hopes their report will spur more government transparency on the treatment of detainees, starting with the release of the Senate investigation.

Here’s a rundown of previous claims skewered by the report:

Claim No. 1: The U.S. didn’t use torture.

“Perhaps the most important or notable finding of this panel is that it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture,” the report concludes. The task force says that despite overwhelming evidence of torture, both government officials and many in the media have continued to present the issue as a two-sided debate.

The task force measured confirmed reports on detainee treatment against several international and domestic legal definitions of torture. The U.S.’s tactics unequivocally amount to torture, they found, under definitions the U.S. itself has used to accuse other countries of the same crime.

Former UN ambassador John Bolton rejected the task force’s findings, telling the Associated Press the report is “completely divorced from reality.” Bolton said a team of lawyers scrutinized the policies to ensure interrogation never crossed the line.

Claim No. 2: When torture happened, it was because of a few low-level “bad apples.”

The report details how the decisions to use “enhanced interrogation” techniques were not rogue entry-level soldiers, but rather came from decisions made at the top of the administration. As a former Marine general told the task force, “Any degree of ‘flexibility’ about torture at the top drops down the chain of command like a stone 2014the rare exception fast becoming the rule.”

Claim No. 3: Only three terror suspects were waterboarded by the CIA.

The task force’s findings support and elaborate on a Human Rights Watch report, which detailed how the CIA tortured at least two Libyans with water and abused several others to “win favor with el-Gaddafi’s regime,” the task force found.

The testimonies of the two Libyans undermine the Bush administration’s repeated claims that the CIA only waterboarded against three people.

Claim No. 4: Torture definitely worked.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney and others have claimed that abusive treatment saved “thousands of American lives.” But the report found no evidence that torture itself was actually useful. As Obama’s former National Director of Intelligence Admiral Dennis Blair wrote, as quoted in the report, “There is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means.”

The movie Zero Dark Thirty, which gets a shout out in the report, has fueled the debate about whether torture ultimately helped the U.S. find Osama bin Laden. Officials have pointed to the tips provided by one detainee, Hassan Ghul, who was beaten and deprived of sleep while held in a secret CIA prison.

But the report is skeptical of the connection. As the report notes, Senator Dianne Feinstein and other officials said key information Ghul provided was “acquired before the CIA used their enhanced interrogation techniques against the detainee.”

Claim No. 5: A third of released Gitmo detainees have returned to terrorism.

Many lawmakers have used the supposedly high rate of detainee recidivism to justify keeping detainees at Gitmo. The government has claimed that nearly a third of released detainees returned to terrorism. But the report noted that Gitmo prisoner shouldn’t be counted as “returning to the battlefield” if they were never there in the first place. A former Guantanamo commander told the panel that up to half of detainees “were mistakes.”

Government stats also include both confirmed and suspected reports of “re-engagement.”  Nor, the report notes, does the government have “firm guidelines” on what counts as a return to terrorism.

Claim No. 6: It’s all behind us.

“We need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards,” Obama said in 2009. But the report details how the ongoing lack of transparency and oversight leaves the door open for abuse. The CIA’s prisons have been closed, but the report notes that the current Army Field Manual on Interrogation contains amendments made in 2006 allow for sleep deprivation, separation and stress positions to be used in interrogation.

The bipartisan task force also concluded that current treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo, such as force-feeding hunger striking inmates and keeping them in indefinite detention, could qualify as torture under international law. The committee couldn’t come to a consensus on whether the prison at Guantanamo should be closed.

Photo: Detainee escorted by guards at US military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba by Getty Images

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“The Terror Courts”: An Inside Look at Rough Justice, Torture at Guantánamo Bay. Part 2 of 2

Wall Street Journal journalist Jess Bravin reports on the controversial military commissions at Guantanamo. Describing it as “the most important legal story in decades,” Bravin uncovers how the Bush administration quickly drew up an alternative legal system to try men captured abroad after the Sept. 11 attacks. Soon evidence obtained by torture was being used to prosecute prisoners, but some military officers refused to take part. We speak to Jess Bravin, author of “The Terror Courts: Rough Justice at Guantánamo Bay,” and to Lt. Col. Stuart Couch, a former Guantánamo prosecutor featured in the book.

“The Terror Courts”: An Inside Look at Rough Justice, Torture at Guantánamo Bay. Part 1 of 2

Wall Street Journal journalist Jess Bravin reports on the controversial military commissions at Guantanamo. Describing it as “the most important legal story in decades,” Bravin uncovers how the Bush administration quickly drew up an alternative legal system to try men captured abroad after the Sept. 11 attacks. Soon evidence obtained by torture was being used to prosecute prisoners, but some military officers refused to take part. We speak to Jess Bravin, author of “The Terror Courts: Rough Justice at Guantánamo Bay,” and to Lt. Col. Stuart Couch, a former Guantánamo prosecutor featured in the book.

At Least 20 CIA Prisoners Still Missing

Prison Hallwayby Cora Currier ProPublica, Feb. 13, 2013, 7 a.m.

In one of President Barack Obama first acts in the White House, he ordered the closure of the CIA’s so-called “black-site” prisons, where terror suspects had been held and, sometimes, tortured.  The CIA says it is “out of the detention business,” as John Brennan, Obama’s pick to head the agency, recently put it.

But the CIA’s prisons left some unfinished business.  In 2009, ProPublica’s Dafna Linzer listed more than thirty people who had been held in CIA prisons and were still missing.

Some of those prisoners have since resurfaced, but at least twenty are still unaccounted for.

Last week the Open Society Foundations’ Justice Initiative released a report pulling together the most current information available on the fates of the prisoners. A few emerged from foreign prisons after the turmoil of the Arab Spring. One has died. (The report relied exclusively on media accounts and information previously gathered by human rights groups. The Open Society Foundations also donate to ProPublica.)

The report counts 136 prisoners who were either held in a CIA black site or subject to so-called extraordinary rendition, in which detainees were secretly shipped to other countries for interrogation.

Many of the prisoners were tortured, either under the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” program or by other countries after their transfer. The report also lists 54 countries that assisted in some way with detention and rendition. The U.S. has not disclosed the countries it worked with, and few have acknowledged their participation.

The CIA declined our request to comment.

Here are the fates of a few of the prisoners we listed as missing back in 2009:

Ayoub al-Libi, also known as Mustafa Jawda al-Mahdi, is a Libyan who was allegedly interrogated and detained by US personnel in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2004. The next year he was returned to Libya, where he was sentenced to death as member of LIFG, an Islamist anti-Gaddafi group (designated a terrorist organization by the U.S.) He was released when uprisings began against Gaddafi in February 2011. Human Rights Watch interviewed him in 2012.

Hassan Rabai, also known as Mohamed Ahmad Mohamed Al Shoroieya, is a Libyan who was captured in Pakistan in 2003 and later transferred to Afghanistan – where he alleges that he was waterboarded by U.S. personnel. Bush administration officials have repeatedly said that only three terror suspects were ever subjected to waterboarding; Rabai would be the fourth. He was eventually transferred to prison in Libya, where he remained until February 2011. Human Rights Watch interviewed him last year.

Khaled al-Sharif, also known as Abu Hazam, was picked up with fellow Libyan and LIFG member Hassan Rabai and also held in Afghanistan. He remained in Libyan prison until March 2010, according to interviews he gave to Human Rights Watch.

Mohammed Omar Abdel-Rahman is an Egyptian who was captured in Pakistan in 2003 and considered a “senior Al-Qaeda operative.” He was transferred to prison in Egypt and was released in late 2010. He gave an interview in 2011 in which he admitted to running training camps in Afghanistan prior to 2001 but saying he had renounced violence.

Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, also known as Abu Musab al-Suri, was tied to the bombings in Madrid and London in 2004 and 2005. Picked up by the CIA in 2005, he was transferred to prison in his native Syria. According to Syrian media, he was released by Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad in February 2012.

Ali Abdul-Hamid al-Fakhiri, also known as Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, was a Libyan detained shortly after the 9/11 attacks. He was reportedly held in CIA as well as Egyptian custody over the next several years. According to a Senate Intelligence Committee report, he provided information about links between Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction and Al Qaeda – information he later said he had fabricated. He was transferred to Libyan prison in 2005 or 2006, and was found dead in his cell in May 2009.
The whereabouts (and in some cases identities) of many more remain unknown or uncertain.

In 2007, then-CIA director Michael Hayden said that “fewer than 100 people had beenC detained at CIA’s facilities.” But only 16 have been officially identified by the U.S. government. President George W. Bush acknowledged the CIA’s detention program in September 2006 and announced the transfer of 14 “high-value” detainees to Guantanamo Bay prison. Two other high-value detainees were subsequently acknowledged.

Much else about the CIA program is still unknown. President Barack Obama closed the black-site prisons on entering office, but preserved the ability to render and to hold people for the “short-term.”

Obama banned torture, but announced that no one would be prosecuted for previously sanctioned harsh interrogations. A Justice Department investigation into deaths of detainees in CIA custody ended without charges.

The Senate Intelligence Committee recently completed a 6,000-page report on the CIA’s detention program. At Brenan’s confirmation hearings, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.), said the report shows the interrogation program was run by people “ignorant of the topic, executed by personnel without relevant experience, managed incompetently by senior officials who did not pay attention to detail, and corrupted by personnel with pecuniary conflicts of interest.” Rockefeller is one of the few to have read the report, which remains classified.

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Photo: Service members board a C-17 Globemaster III at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. The airfield management office coordinated snow removal and clearing to keep operations flowing after an overnight snowfall covered the flightline with more than three inches of snow. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Chris Willis)