Posts Tagged ‘military commissions’

Letters to the president: Closing Guantanamo

Thursday, April 4, 2013 at 10:09 am by

EvidencePresident Obama’s 2009 promise to close down the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, infamous for its flagrant denial of human rights, was met with much support throughout the United States and the world.  Human rights advocates throughout the world felt justice would finally be served by transferring and releasing detainees from the Guantanamo detention facility.  Individuals within the U.S. hoped that Obama’s promise to close the facility would re-solidify the country’s position as the self-proclaimed exemplar of moral and ethical leadership.

Unfortunately, four years later, Guantanamo remains open, still imprisoning detainees who are held without charge, and without access to judge or lawyer.  In January of 2012, several retired generals and admirals drafted a letter to President Obama urging the transfer of Guantanamo detainees cleared by the Task Force, under the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) Security Waver.  They write:

We recognize the political opposition you have faced in attempting to honor your commitment. Congress has repeatedly restricted your ability to transfer detainees held there who have been cleared for release. Congress has also restricted your authority to bring criminal suspects held at Guantanamo to justice in our time-honored federal criminal courts. However, despite these restrictions, we are asking you to act within the discretion available to you to move our nation forward in closing Guantanamo once and for all.

Political opposition (particularly in the House of Representatives) has been one of the defining challenges of Obama’s presidency, and while it is a legitimate hurdle, it does not excuse Obama’s unfulfilled promise to close Guantanamo.  The President must be held accountable as well.


Is there hope for the rule of law?

Friday, March 22, 2013 at 7:14 am by

As we wrote about recently, the Supreme Court’s decision in Clapper vs Amnesty Int’l  has now made it nearly impossibly to review through civil lawsuits many of the government’s most egregious tactics in the war on terror. While the decision in Clapper is new, it reflects a continuing saga of a war not on terror, but on the rule of law. Another part of that saga has involved our government’s treatment of, and denial of due process to, those accused of terrorism.

Guantanamo captives in January 2002

The prison at Guantánamo Bay has been plagued both by the continued specter of mistreatment of prisoners and the major deficiencies in the legal process afforded prisoners, namely military commission proceedings. Only months after the prison’s November 13, 2001 creation, the government faced a habeas corpus legal challenge for failure to provide access to attorneys, or even charge detainees, in Rasul vs Bush.

Since then, legal justifications for torture have surfaced, public outrage has waxed and waned, and President Obama has failed to fulfill his campaign promise to close Guantánamo. In fact, he has made it clear that there will be no prosecution for those who justified and committed torture at the camp.

At the same time, prisoners have been subjected to military commissions rather than civilian trials, and many of the procedures related to those commissions have faced challenges.

Most recently, in filings submitted to the Court of Military Commissions Review, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins agreed that the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit had the right to hear the challenge to the military court’s practices. Yet Martins defended a security regime in military commission hearings at Guantánamo challenged by fourteen media organizations and the ACLU, who argue that military restrictions amount to censorship.

This comes after a major struggle among military lawyers last year over an order issued by the commanding officer at Guantánamo, Rear Admiral D. B. Woods, which created a regime for screening of confidential attorney-client communications.


Brown liars and the rise of ‘Warrior Academics’

Monday, February 25, 2013 at 10:12 am by

Two War Fronts (6)In just two months, in April, 2013, Yale University will officially open its doors to the United States Special Forces as the University debuts its first ever training center for military interrogators.  Yale and the U.S. Department of Defense see New Haven’s large immigrant community as a perfect test population for the lie detection and interrogation techniques they will be developing at the center.

In 2006, the New York Times called New Haven, Connecticut one of the poorest cities in the United States, where almost 25% of the population lives below the poverty line and the per capita income hovered at $16,393 in 2011.  The large majority of New Haven’s population is non-white; non-Hispanic whites made up 31.8% of the city’s population in 2010.  New Haven’s stark racial and economic divide is further emphasized by the presence of Yale University, a symbol of economic and racial privilege, which is now using these privileges to coerce its immigrant population into the role of guinea pig in the new center for “warrior academics.”

Charles Morgan III, a professor of psychiatry at Yale and head of the University’s new interrogation training program, euphemistically referred to “warrior academics” as fostering “people skills.”  He will specifically require the center’s test subjects to be brown-skinned immigrants, specifically naming “Moroccans, Colombians, Nepalese, Ecuadorians and others” as possible participants.  These individuals will be financially compensated for their participation, but far from being benevolent, this compensation stands as proof that the Military Industrial Complex (now inextricably linked with academic institutions) preys upon the economic vulnerability of marginalized populations to advance its own agenda.

The use of brown faces (which Professor Morgan hopes signifies “someone [soldiers] can’t necessarily identify with”) will only continue to disadvantage global and local non-white populations.  Here on  U.S. soil, New Haven’s non-white populations will be postured as unfamiliar racial “others.”  Abroad, it is likely that American soldiers will enter interrogation settings being predisposed to mistrust brown faces and with the supposition that all brown people “must belong to the same ‘category’ of liar” (which the center naturally assumes is a different category than white liars) as Guest Columnists for the Yale Daily News Nathalie Batraville and Alex Law argue.


Doctors of the Dark Side: “Where were the doctors? Why hadn’t they protested?”

Thursday, July 12, 2012 at 11:05 am by

Doctors of the Dark Side examines how doctors and psychologists helped the Bush administration torture detainees. Directed by Martha Davis, the film is bolstered by critically acclaimed talent. Mercedes Ruehl, best-known for her Oscar winning performance in The Fisher King, narrates, while Doctors of the Dark Side is written by Mark Jonathan Harris, a three-time Academy Award winner renowned for his documentaries about the Holocaust.File:Karl-Brandt.jpg

Fittingly, the movie opens with footage of the Nuremberg Trials. After World War II, the United States held medical professional accountable, unlike this past decade, which has seen shameful disrespect for the rule of law. In 1946, 23 leading German physicians and administrators were charged with abetting war crimes. 16 were found guilty. Of those, seven were executed.

In stark contrast lies the actions of the Bush administration. Jay Bybee and John Yoo drafted the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memos that justified so-called “enhanced interrogation” techniques. Yoo once even argued that the president had the authority to torture anyone, even if it involved crushing a young boy’s testicles. However, these interrogations could only be justified if medical professionals were on-site and their methods did not cause “severe pain.” A sign at a prison operated by the Joint Special Operations Command was even more blunt: “NO BLOOD, NO FOUL.”

Doctors and psychologists who were involved with torture at Guantanamo Bay and other American detention sites, legitimized physical assault and extreme physical and psychological stress on detainees. According to Kristine Huskey, “those dark days are not far behind us, and they will be in our future if no one speaks out or acts  against such policies.” But if medical professionals refused to cooperate, these “enhanced interrogations” could no longer be justified.

In the film, retired Brigadier General Stephen Xenakis, MD, elaborates on how this rejection could have led to a “curtailment” on torture:

Had the senior physicians come out forcefully and more or less unified that clinical practitioners were not going to participate in or condone any of these practices, that there could have very likely been at least a curtailment and a serious limitation of their happening.

Leonard Rubenstein, JD, former president of Physicians for Human Rights, is even more blunt: “Where were the doctors?…Why hadn’t they protested?”

Doctors uses standard documentary methods such as interview clips, but the film truly excels with its staged demonstrations of torture. Prisoners are waterboarded, slammed against walls, and locked in pitch-black cages. While these scenes don’t show any blood, they’re still agonizing to watch. Add in Ruehl reading the OLC’s detailed descriptions of how to torture someone, while doctors act as willing accomplices and Doctors of the Dark Side can seem like a Kafkaesque horror flick.

Yet the film never neglects the human element. Doctors of the Dark Side centers around the victims of torture, revealing distressing details about US foreign policy. For me, the most gripping narrative involved Daniel King. In 1999, Petty Officer and Navy cryptanalyst Daniel King was finishing a tour of duty on Guam when he took a polygraph test. Standard procedure.

But this time, the test found “inconclusive” results. On the basis of no other evidence, the Navy charged King with espionage. The man who proudly served his nation for more than two decades was now forced to endure interrogations that lasted up to 19 hours straight. Breaching medical ethics, King’s assigned psychologist, Dr. Michael Gelles, even acted in concert with the interrogation.

Ultimately, King was detained for 520 days. In the end, the Navy dropped all charges against King and he was honorably discharged. As for Dr. Gelles, he was assigned to Guantanamo Bay. But incredibly, Dr. Gelles even served on a task force by the American Psychological Association that found ”enhanced” interrogation could be “safe, legal, ethical and effective.”

While many of the worst practices at Guantanamo have ceased under the Obama administration, Doctors of the Dark Side notes that those who abetted torture have yet to face any accountability.Unfortunately, Doctors of the Dark Side has a very limited release. However, groups can request to host a screening. This is a poignant documentary about how the war on terror became a war of terror. Or as Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote in Beyond Good and Evil:

Whoever fights monsters should see to it that he does not become a monster. And when you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes into you.

Military tribunal in for the long haul

Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 2:19 pm by

Things didn’t quite turn out the way the government had planned at the military tribunal of Khalid Sheik Mohammed and company. What was supposed to be a two- or three-hour hearing turned into a more than 12-hour marathon. To wit:

Cuba Accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and his alleged co-conspirators put on a show of defiance during a marathon war court arraignment Saturday, sitting mute rather than answering their U.S. military judge’s questions ahead of their trial on charges of planning the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.


At no time did the five men enter pleas…

Not to mention:

Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, and other prosecutors reciting the 87-page charge sheet in English — and a translator echoing each paragraph in Arabic because the accused refused to don headphones for simultaneous translation.

The reason the 87 pages were read is that the defendants refused to waive the reading of the charges.This type of behavior went on for the entire day.

All day long, Mohammed refused to answer the judge’s questions. And, with one exception, his four alleged collaborators fell in
right behind him. Some appeared to be reading the Koran rather than responding to the judge’s questions.

At the end of all this, “the judge unilaterally appointed their Pentagon-paid attorneys to defend them.” The trial is tentatively scheduled about a year from now,

dashing hopes that they’d cut short a trial process potentially lasting years by admitting their guilt or confessing to the crime in a bid to get a fast-track to martyrdom.

News Digest 5/8/12

Tuesday, May 8, 2012 at 5:00 pm by

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