Daily archives: November 9, 2005

Don’t be duped by yet another dodgy dossier

MPs should resist the stampede to allow 90-day detentions and look at what police did or did not do to stop the 7/7 attacks

By Gareth Peirce in The Guardian

Any MPs who hold misgivings about supporting an invasion on the basis of a dossier later discovered to have been utterly misleading ought now to be demanding a proper, transparent investigation into what the police did and did not do that might have prevented the bombings in London of July 7; and they ought to treat with extreme caution the “dossiers” prepared to support 90-day detentions.

The leader of the opposition, in the immediate aftermath of the bombings, asked for just such an inquiry. Were that to have been conducted, the present stampede, with justifications for numbers of days of detention plucked out of the air, could not possibly be happening. While some reports have hinted at police incompetence and failure to arrest those involved in advance of the bombings, these are likely to be only the tip of the iceberg. A far-reaching inquiry might well show that not one second of additional time for interrogations would have been needed to redress a complete failure to use any of the powers already in police hands. All that is needed is for MPs to say: “Pause for a moment, let us have a proper, truthful explanation.”

As a starting point for its justification, the police dossier revisits the ricin case, in which a number of innocent men were acquitted – an outcome intensely disliked by the police. Now they claim that had they had 90 days, or perhaps 29, or maybe 19, the outcome would have been very different, and that “the suspect who fled the country while on bail and who eventually proved to have been a prime conspirator would have stood trial in this country”. The police held that suspect for two days. It was their decision to release him. Where does the need for 90 days come from?

In contradiction of the police claim that they needed more time to liaise with foreign jurisdictions, the head of MI5 is on record as saying that this country could not make inquiries of a regime such as Algeria (to discover if the originator of information had been tortured) lest it stop the free flow of information.

So far as 90 days might have been advantageous “to understand the complexities of the conspiracy before the decision was required to charge or release”, the police appear to forget that from day one they (and the prime minister) were trumpeting a plot involving chemical weapons. Two years later it was left to a hapless witness from Porton Down to suggest that it was his fault that the instantaneous discovery that there had been no ricin had not been communicated to Scotland Yard or the government. Memories are short. The rush to judgment came not from any 14-day restriction (most of those charged were held for considerably less than seven days); it came from an urgent political desire to seize upon a pot of Nivea cream that in the end was discovered to contain no poisonous material.

Further justifications are just as shoddy. Time is needed to “establish the identity of subjects”. What is not explained is that at Paddington Green police station, suspects often wait for 48 hours or considerably longer for a first interview confined to name, address and elementary background details. Look at any custody record of any detainee under terrorism legislation, and you will see that for 90% of the time or more no interviews take place. Solicitors often beg for some movement; demands after as much as a week for a reason to be given for the arrest fall on deaf ears. Solicitors waiting to be present at interviews that never take place can be seen patrolling Edgware Road, since the rebuilding of the security section, at a cost of millions, failed to leave room for them – and did not provide more than two interview rooms. So when the turn comes for detainees to be interrogated, they are told there is “no interview room at the moment”.

Where is the detainee meanwhile? I find it impossible to believe that the grim unpleasantness of the cells can be anything other than intended, especially given the costly revamp. It has left 365 hideous white tiles on the walls of each cell (as an Irishman counted some years ago). There is a hard plastic mattress on a wooden plank, with an open toilet at one end. A bare light in the high ceiling is difficult enough to read by, but the life-saving distraction of reading matter is more often than not forbidden. There is no natural light; the 14 days of detention are spent in an underworld without fresh air or proper ventilation – an inescapable part of the anticipated experience. In warm weather, heat comes from pipes under the bunk. In cold weather, unpleasant-smelling oil heaters are pushed uselessly into the corridors.

At the end of a 14-day period of interviews, lawyers themselves are often ill and exhausted. Effects on detainees are far more drastic: in a number of cases, police have had to pay compensation to innocent detainees who suffered permanent trauma after their release; one woman’s menstrual cycle was drastically altered after a seven-day detention, and her partner suffered alopecia; many students have never resumed their studies; one man succeeded in committing suicide, and many others have tried.

MPs would do well to remember the legislative stampede in December 2001 to detain foreign nationals indefinitely without trial. Parliamentarians were reassured that detention would be a last resort; that reassurance was entirely false. Men who it was claimed were the most serious terrorism suspects in this country at the time were not questioned for 14 minutes, let alone 14 days.

Parliamentarians have been duped twice into supporting steps necessary for a “war on terror”. To allow this to happen a third time would be a wholesale dereliction of their duty.

‘ Gareth Peirce is a partner at Birnberg Peirce solicitors who has represented numerous detainees under the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001

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White House Briefing: McClellan Deflects Questions on Torture Exemption A Couple Dozen Times

From Editor and Publisher (Nov 8th)

NEW YORK At today’s White House press briefing, Scott McClellan was hit with a number of questions about the “ethics classes” the president’s staffers are now attending. But much of the briefing featured efforts by Helen Thomas, at the start, and then other reporters to get McClellan to explain the apparent contradiction between his claims that the U.S. does not torture anyone and Vice President Cheney’s request for an exemption in this matter.

Here are the exchanges from the transcript:

Q I’d like you to clear up, once and for all, the ambiguity about torture. Can we get a straight answer? The President says we don’t do torture, but Cheney —

MR. McCLELLAN: That’s about as straight as it can be.

Q Yes, but Cheney has gone to the Senate and asked for an exemption on —

MR. McCLELLAN: No, he has not. Are you claiming he’s asked for an exemption on torture? No, that’s —

Q He did not ask for that?

MR. McCLELLAN: — that is inaccurate.

Q Are you denying everything that came from the Hill, in terms of torture?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, you’re mischaracterizing things. And I’m not going to get into discussions we have —

Q Can you give me a straight answer for once?

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me give it to you, just like the President has. We do not torture. He does not condone torture and he would never —

Q I’m asking about exemptions.

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me respond. And he would never authorize the use of torture. We have an obligation to do all that we can to protect the American people. We are engaged —

Q That’s not the answer I’m asking for —

MR. McCLELLAN: It is an answer — because the American people want to know that we are doing all within our power to prevent terrorist attacks from happening. There are people in this world who want to spread a hateful ideology that is based on killing innocent men, women and children. We saw what they can do on September 11th —

Q He didn’t ask for an exemption —

MR. McCLELLAN: — and we are going to —

Q — answer that one question. I’m asking, is the administration asking for an exemption?

MR. McCLELLAN: I am answering your question. The President has made it very clear that we are going to do —

Q You’re not answering — yes or no?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, you don’t want the American people to hear what the facts are, Helen, and I’m going to tell them the facts.

Q — the American people every day. I’m asking you, yes or no, did we ask for an exemption?

MR. McCLELLAN: And let me respond. You’ve had your opportunity to ask the question. Now I’m going to respond to it.

Q If you could answer in a straight way.

MR. McCLELLAN: And I’m going to answer it, just like the President — I just did, and the President has answered it numerous times.

Q — yes or no —

MR. McCLELLAN: Our most important responsibility is to protect the American people. We are engaged in a global war against Islamic radicals who are intent on spreading a hateful ideology, and intent on killing innocent men, women and children.

Q Did we ask for an exemption?

MR. McCLELLAN: We are going to do what is necessary to protect the American people.

Q Is that the answer?

MR. McCLELLAN: We are also going to do so in a way that adheres to our laws and to our values. We have made that very clear. The President directed everybody within this government that we do not engage in torture. We will not torture. He made that very clear.

Q Are you denying we asked for an exemption?

MR. McCLELLAN: Helen, we will continue to work with the Congress on the issue that you brought up. The way you characterize it, that we’re asking for exemption from torture, is just flat-out false, because there are laws that are on the books that prohibit the use of torture. And we adhere to those laws.

Q We did ask for an exemption; is that right? I mean, be simple — this is a very simple question.

MR. McCLELLAN: I just answered your question. The President answered it last week.

Q What are we asking for?

Q Would you characterize what we’re asking for?

MR. McCLELLAN: We’re asking to do what is necessary to protect the American people in a way that is consistent with our laws and our treaty obligations. And that’s what we —

Q Why does the CIA need an exemption from the military?

MR. McCLELLAN: David, let’s talk about people that you’re talking about who have been brought to justice and captured. You’re talking about people like Khalid Shaykh Muhammad; people like Abu Zubaydah.

Q I’m asking you —

MR. McCLELLAN: No, this is facts about what you’re talking about.

Q Why does the CIA need an exemption from rules that would govern the conduct of our military in interrogation practices?

MR. McCLELLAN: There are already laws and rules that are on the books, and we follow those laws and rules. What we need to make sure is that we are able to carry out the war on terrorism as effectively as possible, not only —

Q What does that mean —

MR. McCLELLAN: What I’m telling you right now — not only to protect Americans from an attack, but to prevent an attack from happening in the first place. And, you bet, when we capture terrorist leaders, we are going to seek to find out information that will protect — that prevent attacks from happening in the first place. But we have an obligation to do so. Our military knows this; all people within the United States government know this. We have an obligation to do so in a way that is consistent with our laws and values.

Now, the people that you are bringing up — you’re talking about in the context, and I think it’s important for the American people to know, are people like Khalid Shaykh Muhammad, Abu Zubaydah, Ramzi Binalshibh — these are — these are dangerous killers.

Q So they’re all killers —

Q Did you ask for an exemption on torture? That’s a simple question, yes or no.

MR. McCLELLAN: No. And we have not. That’s what I told you at the beginning.

Q You want to reserve the ability to use tougher tactics with those individuals who you mentioned.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, obviously, you have a different view from the American people. I think the American people understand the importance of doing everything within our power and within our laws to protect the American people.

Q Scott, are you saying that Cheney did not ask —

Q What is it that you want the — what is it that you want the CIA to be able to do that the U.S. Armed Forces are not allowed to do?

MR. McCLELLAN: I’m not going to get into talking about national security matters, Bill. I don’t do that, because this involves —

Q This would be the exemption, in other words.

MR. McCLELLAN: This involves information that relates to doing all we can to protect the American people. And if you have a different view — obviously, some of you on this room — in this room have a different view, some of you on the front row have a different view.

Q We simply are asking a question.

Q What is the Vice President — what is the Vice President asking for?

MR. McCLELLAN: It’s spelled out in our statement of administration policy in terms of what our views are. That’s very public information. In terms of our discussions with members of Congress —

Q — no, it’s not —

MR. McCLELLAN: In terms of our members — like I said, there are already laws on the books that we have to adhere to and abide by, and we do. And we believe that those laws and those obligations address these issues.

Q So then why is the Vice President continuing to lobby on this issue? If you’re very happy with the laws on the books, what needs change?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, you asked me — you want to ask questions of the Vice President’s office, feel free to do that. We’ve made our position very clear, and it’s spelled out on our website for everybody to see.

Q We don’t need a website, we need you from the podium.

MR. McCLELLAN: And what I just told you is what our view is.

Q But Scott, do you see the contradiction —

MR. McCLELLAN: Jessica, go ahead.

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No Question: Congress must pass a categorical ban on torture

From The Crimson

A dramatist could not have hoped to conjure a better contrast. On one hand, Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War, publicly champions a categorical ban on the torture of prisoners. On the other hand, Vice President Dick Cheney, who did not serve in Vietnam, makes closed-door appeals to senators for an exception clause to torture in circumstances of eminent danger.

In one of the best-supported congressional revolts in President George W Bush’s five years in office, the Senate voted 90-9 last month in favor of McCain’s ban. But the bill’s fate still depends on negotiations in the Conference Committee of the Senate as well as the House of Representatives. And not only is the House more loyal to the administration, but three of the nine senators who voted against the measure are on the Conference Committee.

However, McCain’s absolute ban on torture ought to be adopted by the House and signed by the president if the Congress and administration are to maintain any semblance of an ethical position on this matter.

According to the November 2005 New Yorker, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) can be implicated in four deaths of detainees in United States’ detention facilities abroad’among them Abu Ghraib in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, in Cuba, and Bagram Air Base, in Afghanistan. Yet, due to Justice Department memos that argued that Iraqi insurgents were not protected by international law and that lesser forms of torture were legal, these CIA officers will not be facing charges. McCain’s ban would close such loopholes, returning the U.S. to the ethical position it had taken for five decades. According to human rights groups, the bill would give protection to some ten thousand foreign suspects.

Supporters of torture often point to the ‘ticking bomb’ scenario’in which torturing one suspect could potentially save thousands of lives’as a justifiable reason to consider torture as a last resort. But to think primarily in terms of such TV scenarios is unrealistic given that we never have all the important pieces of information to make such judgments. In the experience of Army Col. Stuart Herrington, a military intelligence specialist who conducted interrogations in Vietnam, Panama, and Iraq during Desert Storm, torture is ‘simply not a good way to get information.’ According to Herrington, nine out of 10 people can be persuaded to talk with no ‘stress methods’ at all. And even if the remaining person is the correct suspect, he will ‘just tell you anything to get you to stop.’

In 1999, the Supreme Court of Israel’arguably the most experienced democratic court in dealing with such ‘imminent danger’ scenarios’outlawed any use of torture. Were the U.S. to make such a decision, it would reflect preexisting domestic laws, such as the Army Field Manual and bring the country in accordance with international law, Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

Moreover, the use of torture undermines the morale of U.S. troops due to the prospect of reciprocation of such methods by their enemies. It is also likely to outrage any international actor, who cannot understand why the U.S. refuses to treat others by the same standards of humane treatment required at home by the U.S. Constitution.

No better are U.S. practices of ‘extraordinary rendition,’ the outsourcing of torture practices to Syria, Morocco, Jordan and Egypt’all of which have been cited for human-rights violations by the State Department. A corollary to this practice is CIA operated secret prisons in Thailand and Eastern Europe, as recently reported by Dana Priest in The Washington Post. Such forays into ethically murky territory’to say the least’do no small harm to U.S. credibility abroad.

On Jan. 27, President Bush assured us that ‘torture is never acceptable, nor do we hand over people to countries that do torture.’ Yesterday in Panama, he repeated those categorical words, yet he continues to support the Vice President in his opposition to 90 senators, Colin Powell, the advice of the 9/11 Commission Report, domestic law, and international law. It is such inconsistencies that have led more than half of Americans to doubt Bush’s integrity for the first time ever according to an ABC News and Washington Post poll. Rarely does a case divide itself on such clear moral lines. A moral president would not disagree.

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Secret Detention in CIA “Black Sites”

From Amnesty International

“They came to take our father at night, like thieves'”

Fatima al-Assad, age 12, daughter of Muhammad al-Assad,

who “disappeared” after his arrest in 2003

“Brother, what is your name, what village are you from?” It was distinctive Yemeni Arabic that greeted Muhammad al-Assad as he stumbled, still hooded and shackled, from the plane at Sana’a. For the first time in nearly 18 months he knew what country he was in. He heard the question repeated twice more, as Salah Nasser Salim ‘Ali and Muhammad Faraj Ahmed Bashmilah emerged onto the hot tarmac. He still could not see them, and had not known they were on the plane with him, but he could hear one of them shouting over and over again: “I am Bashmilah, I am Bashmilah, I am from Aden”.

The three, all Yemeni nationals, had “disappeared” in 2003, and had been kept in complete isolation ‘ even from each other ‘ in a series of secret detention centres apparently run by US agents. Senior Yemeni officials have told Amnesty International that they first heard of the men in May 2005, when the US Embassy in Yemen informed them that the three would be flown to Sana’a and transferred to Yemeni custody the following day. No further information or evidence against the men was provided, but the Yemenis say they were instructed by the US to keep them in custody. All three continue to be held in a kind of extralegal limbo; they have not been charged with any offence, given any sentence, or brought before any court or judge. The only improvement in their situation, they say, is that their families now know that they are alive.

Muhammad al-Assad’s odyssey began on the night of 26 December 2003, in Dar-es Salaam, Tanzania, where he had lived since 1985. As he told Amnesty International, he had just sat down to dinner with his Tanzanian wife, Zahra Salloum, and her brother and uncle. An immigration officer and two men from the state security forces came to the door, and ordered Muhammad al-Assad to surrender his passport and mobile phone. As he crossed over to his office to get the passport, he was grabbed from behind, a hood was forced over his head, and his hands were cuffed behind his back. He was thrown into the back of a car, which sped away. “I was very frightened,” he said, “very frightened, and kept asking what was happening to me.”

His captors did not reply. They took him to a flat, and questioned him for some four hours about his passport. He was then taken directly to a waiting airplane. Still hooded, he could see nothing, but heard the roar of the engines. As he was pushed up the stairs he asked where he was going. The guard told him: “we don’t know, we are just following orders, there are high-ranking ones who are responsible”.

Muhammad al-Assad thought it was probably a small plane, his head was pushed down as he went through the door. He told Amnesty International he was too frightened to ask any further questions, instead he prayed to have patience, until the authorities discovered their mistake and let him go home. He is still waiting.


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