Thursday, November 11, 2010

Layer 376 . . . Human Rights, Truth, Torture, Bush, China, Waterboarding, and Lessons to be Learned

"Truth is the first casualty of war."  -  Aeschylus


There are another 100 million people throughout the world living in poverty since the great banking crisis took place. Western-style so-called democracy and capitalism do not, and have never, guaranteed prosperity. Various countries in Scandinavia, South America and Asia have long ago woken up to the fact that capitalism needs regulation, that societies benefit from greater fairness and equality, that poverty is intolerable where it is avoidable, and that a free press in itself is no guarantee of better public information, understanding and enlightenment.


Cameron in China: What does Beijing think of us? Let's start with hypocrisy

Alleged British war crimes in Iraq and George Bush's comments on waterboarding have weakened David Cameron's hand

As David Cameron vowed to raise human rights as a topic of discussion in Beijing, it became the subject of two other international news stories.

One was a report that British troops may face trials for war crimes in Iraq. The other was the insistence by George Bush – who enjoyed British support throughout his "war on terror" – that waterboarding is not torture.

Despite Downing Street's dismissal of the former president's claim, the conjunction is likely to feed the perceptions of some in China that western concern about human rights is at best selective and at worst downright hypocritical.

Beijing has embraced such ideas. In its annual riposte to the US state department's country reports on human rights, official news agency Xinhua wrote this spring: "The reports are full of accusations of the human rights situation in more than 190 countries and regions including China, but turn a blind eye to, or dodge and even cover up rampant human rights abuses on its own territory."

"There is no better example than Guantánamo Bay of abuses committed by governments that say they uphold rights both at home and abroad," said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director of Human Rights Watch. "But if we sat around and waited for a government that had a pristine record to raise other governments' rights records, we would be standing by watching gross abuses take place on a significant scale."

Campaigners also point to Beijing's deliberate elision of foreign governments and other foreign entities – portraying activists or critical media as part of a coalition of hostile forces intent not on reforming China, but containing or even destroying it. In this view, expression of concern for human rights is not just hypocritical but a ruse.

"The Nobel peace prize … is part of a concerto supplemented by various NGOs, economic identities and international organisations orchestrated by the developed countries. They hope to harass China's growth, and press China to surrender more economic interests. They even hope that China will one day collapse under the west's ideological crusade," the People's Daily article said.


Waterboarding is no basis for truth

George Bush's defence of torture relies on a belief in information that our intelligence agencies treat with deep scepticism

by Richard Norton-Taylor

Bush cannot be allowed to get away with making these kind of claims about information based on torture, information that Britain's security and intelligence agencies treat with deep scepticism and – as far as the supposed links between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein's Iraq are concerned – incredulity.


George Bush's torture admission is a dismal moment for democracy

When again will the US be able to direct others to meet their human rights standards?

by Philippe Sands

Although it comes as no surprise, George Bush's straight admission that he personally authorised waterboarding – an act of torture and a crime under US and international law – marks a dismal moment for western democracies and the rule of law. When again will the US be able to direct others to meet their human rights standards? Certainly not before it takes steps to bring its own house in order.

Unlike the UK's coalition government, which has announced a judicial inquiry on allegations of British involvement in torture, Barack Obama's administration has apparently ended the practice – but has done nothing to investigate the circumstances in which it was used by the Bush administration.

Bush claims that the use of waterboarding on Abu Zubaydah "saved lives", including British ones. There is not a shred of evidence to support that claim, one that falls into the same category as the bogus intelligence relied on to justify war in Iraq.

Indeed, waterboarding and Iraq appear to be interconnected, as torture-induced information was relied upon to justify the invasion. Torture may produce information, but it doesn't produce reliable information, as every experienced interrogator I have spoken with repeatedly tells me – on both sides of the Atlantic. It produces the information that the subject believes the interrogator wants to hear.

What is accurate – up to a point – is Bush's claim to have acted on legal advice.

Bush fails to mention that the advice prepared by Yoo and Bybee – which did not go through the normal inter-departmental consultations – has been subject to devastating criticism. The DOJ's own office of professional responsibility concluded that Yoo "put his desire to accommodate the client above his obligation to provide thorough, objective and candid legal advice and … therefore committed intentional professional misconduct".

It found that Bybee had acted in "reckless disregard" of his professional obligations. Both men escaped sanctions only because an associate deputy general counsel, David Margolis, later concluded that both men had exercised "poor judgment" but did not knowingly provide false advice. Margolis nevertheless concluded that Yoo's "loyalty to his own ideology and convictions clouded his view of his obligation to his client".

This is the dismal, bogus legal advice on which Bush relied, and the fact that he continues to invoke it today says much about his judgment. He would do better to take on board those with first-hand experience of what the embrace of torture might mean for Americans abroad, who recognise that its use by the US will justify its use against the US.

When Bush first authorised waterboarding, says former US Centcom commander General Joseph Hoar, "he sent America down the wrong road, battering our alliances, damaging counterinsurgency efforts, and increasing threats to our soldiers". So much for saving lives.


No charges over destruction of CIA interrogation tapes

Videos showed harsh interrogation techniques used on two al-Qaida suspects at secret CIA detention centre after 9/11 attacks

by Ewen MacAskill

The US justice department announced today that there is to be no prosecution of CIA officers who destroyed videotapes of the interrogation of two alleged terrorists, both subjected to waterboarding.

The 92 tapes covered the interrogations of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who was accused of being the al-Qaida mastermind behind the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000, and Abu Zubaydah, who the US claimed was a senior al-Qaida operative involved in the bombing of two US embassies in East Africa in 1998.

The interrogations took place at one of the CIA's "black sites", a secret detention centre, in Thailand. The tapes were ordered to be destroyed in 2005 during the Bush administration by the head of CIA clandestine operations, José Rodriguez, but it is not known if he was acting on his own initiative or on orders from higher up. The tapes had been held in a safe at the CIA station in Thailand.

The justice department offered no explanation today why no prosecution case would be forthcoming or why the tapes were destroyed.


Servicemen at 'UK's Abu Ghraib' may be guilty of war crimes, court hears

Evidence of alleged systematic mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners at JFIT facility near Basra submitted to court

by Ian Cobain


British military interrogators may be charged as war criminals

Videos produced in court appear to show Iraqi detainees being abused at secret prison

by Ian Cobain and Richard Norton-Taylor

The Ministry of Defence is at the centre of a new crisis over the abuse of prisoners after it was disclosed yesterday that a number of British military interrogators may be charged as war criminals.

The development comes after videos submitted as evidence to a high court case appeared to show members of a military intelligence unit threatening, abusing and humiliating Iraqi detainees at a secret prison near Basra.


British troops may face Iraq war crimes trial

Interrogators at secret jail dubbed 'UK's Abu Ghraib' referred to chief military prosecutor

by Ian Cobain


War crimes charges against military interrogators would put MoD on trial

Human rights lawyer in high court action that aims to force an inquiry into 'systematic abuse' of detainees in Iraq

by Ian Cobain

The revelation that a number of members of a secretive British military intelligence unit could face war crimes charges threatens to put the Ministry of Defence's entire interrogation regime on trial.

The high court heard today that the cases of three men have been referred to the Director of Service Prosecutions, who has been asked to consider war crimes charges under the 2001 International Criminal Court Act. Possible charges, the court heard, included "committing outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment" – a war crime under article 8 of the act.

But as the Guardian reported last month, men and women who undergo training as interrogators at the Intelligence Corps headquarters in Chicksands, Bedfordshire, are instructed to do just this. Among the training material upon which last month's report was based are PowerPoint slides and training manuals telling trainee interrogators that they should aim to provoke humiliation, insecurity, disorientation, exhaustion, anxiety and fear. The material also suggests how this can be achieved.

One aid, created in September 2005, tells trainees that prisoners should be stripped before they are questioned. "Get them naked," it says. "Keep them naked if they do not follow commands." Another manual, prepared around the same time, advises the use of blindfolds to put prisoners under pressure.

A manual prepared in April 2008 suggests that "Cpers" – captured personnel – be kept in conditions of physical discomfort and intimidated. Sensory deprivation is lawful, it adds, if there are "valid operational reasons". It also urges enforced nakedness. Prisoners should be "conditioned" before questioning, the material says, with conditioning defined as the combined effects of self-induced pressure and "system-induced pressure". Harsh questioning – or "harshing" – in which an interrogator puts his face close to the prisoner, screaming, swearing and making threats, is recommended as a means to provoke "anxiety/fear". Other useful methods include "insecurity", "disorientation" and "humiliation".

This material was created for the instruction of "tactical questioners", who conduct initial interrogations of prisoners of war, as well as for the instruction of servicemen and women from all three branches of the armed forces who conduct "interrogation in depth".

The material suggests not only that British military interrogators have employed techniques that may be in breach of the International Criminal Court Act, but that the MoD has spent a considerable amount of time and money training them to do just that.

Subsequently, hundreds of men who were prisoners of JFIT between 2003 and the end of 2008 alleged that they were subjected to mistreatment, including sleep deprivation, starvation, beatings, sensory deprivation, threats and humiliation.

Phil Shiner, a Birmingham human rights lawyer, has brought proceedings at the high court aimed at forcing the MoD to concede a public inquiry into the men's allegations.

Many of the former inmates complain that they were severely beaten when arrested, usually at their homes. Many allege they were again beaten in transit, in the backs of trucks or aboard helicopters.

On arrival at a British base, most of the former inmates say they were photographed and examined by a military doctor who would take no interest in their injuries. Many say they were forced to kneel upright for long periods on arrival. Many also say they were hooded or blindfolded and forced to run in zig-zags before interrogation.

For reasons that remain unclear, the interrogators filmed themselves while conducting these interrogations, and 1,253 of their recordings have now been seized by military police investigators. Those recording are expected to be central to any prosecutions.

The former inmates say the most severe mistreatment was meted out while they were not being filmed, however. In all, Shiner's team has documented 59 allegations of detainees being hooded, 11 of electric shocks, 122 of sound deprivation through the use of earmuffs, 52 of sleep deprivation, 160 of sight deprivation, including 117 using blackened goggles, 132 of the use of stress positions, 39 of enforced nakedness, and 18 allegations that detainees were kept awake by pornographic DVDs played on laptops.

In bringing proceedings on behalf of 222 former prisoners, Shiner's team argued that a public inquiry was needed to examine the systemic issues and the lessons to be learned. Anything less, they said, would fail to meet the UK's obligations under the European convention on human rights.

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