Tag Archives: CIA torture

Scientific Torture

Comment from Donald Rumsfeld: "I stand for 8–10 hours a day. Why is standing [by prisoners] limited to four hours?" Image from wikipedia

Was the Central Intelligence Agency’s post-9/11 “enhanced interrogation” program an instance of human experimentation?

Recently declassified documents raise this explosive question. The documents were obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union in connection with a federal lawsuit scheduled for trial on September 2017. The case was brought on behalf of three former detainees against two psychologists who developed the C.I.A.’s program..[T]he C.I.A. paid the psychologists to develop a research methodology and instructed physicians and other medical staff members at clandestine detention sites to monitor and chart the health conditions of detainees.

In response, the advocacy group Physicians for Human Rights has charged that the program was an unlawful experiment on human beings. It calls the program “one of the gravest breaches of medical ethics by United States health professionals since the Nuremberg Code,” the ethical principles written to protect people from human experimentation after World War II. In its lawsuit, the A.C.L.U. is pressing a similar claim….

To some degree, the documents suggest, the two psychologists resisted pressure within the C.I.A. for rigorous assessment of the program’s efficacy. They argued that interrogation strategies can’t be standardized and therefore can’t be compared, like medical treatments, in randomized, prospective fashion. But backers of more systematic assessment seem to have won out. In an undated document, the C.I.A.’s chief of medical services chided Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen for treating the torture program as an “art form” that “could not be objectively analyzed,” then pressed the “need to look more objectively for the least intrusive way to gain cooperation.”…

Given that, in the words of President Barack Obama, “we tortured some folks,” isn’t it better to have learned something about the toll on bodies and minds?… Here’s why it may be….Prohibiting data collection as an adjunct to torture makes it harder for perpetrators to hone their technique. It stands in the way of efforts to make torture, like some medical procedure, “safe and effective.” And it keeps apologists from rationalizing that abuse is acceptable since researchers are making improvements.  Observational studies of the torturer’s craft victimize people by legitimizing it. And they put future captives at greater risk for becoming victims.

Excerpts from  M. GREGG BLOCHE , When Torture Becomes Science, New York Times, Aug. 12, 2017 full article

Cargo Boxes as Torture Mechanisms: CIA

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A warehouse in a tiny Lithuanian village.. not far from the Lithuanian capital city of Vilnius, is thought to be where the alleged 9/11 mastermind Khaled Sheikh Mohamed was held, as well as other prisoners who were subjected to secret confinement by the CIA. It was established in 2004 at the height of the US-led “rendition, detention, interrogation” programme, which saw terror suspects clandestinely captured and transported around the world.

The documents obtained by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (pdf)  disclose inside details of assistance provided by the Lithuanian State Security Department (SSD) to the CIA.

They take the form of dozens of pages of interview summaries gathered during a 2010 investigation by the Lithuanian state prosecutor which looked at allegations state officials had helped US agents set up a secret prison. The cache, which has been secret up until now, forms part of several hundred pages of material disclosed by the Lithuanian government to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in 2015…

On several occasions, SSD officers describe helping the CIA transfer boxes – which they described as “cargo” – in and out of the facility. The dates of these transfers match those on which lawyers believe that al Qaeda suspects were brought in and out of Lithuania. The boxes were each more than a metre long and needed two people to carry them, the documents say.  Lithuanian officials told prosecutors they did not know what was in the boxes they helped transport, and that although they had access to the building, they did not see all of it.

In shutting down their investigation, Lithuanian prosecutors stated that they had “no data” concerning the “precise purpose of the cargo”. It “could have been communications equipment,” the office concluded.  The country has long denied that CIA prisoners were held on its territory,…But details in the interview summaries correspond closely with findings in a 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA secret prisons, which describes how two facilities were set up in the same country. One of them, known as “site Violet”, was used to hold prisoners in 2005 and 2006…

Abu Zubaydah is believed to have been held in Lithuania during 2005-6, and is suing the country for its alleged role in his detention at the ECHR.

Documents declassified by the CIA in June this year suggeLithuania cooperated with the CIA to secretly transfer prisoners and detain them on Lithuanian territory…

Excerpts from Crofton Black, “Site Violet”: How Lithuania helped run a secret CIA prison, Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Oct. 10, 2016

The Torture Sites

This box (length 40 inches, width 30 inches and height 30 inches) is bigger than one of  the confinement  boxes  used for CIA torture which had length 30 inches, width 21 inches and height 30 inches based on the released by the US Senate CIA torture report.

The existence of the approximately 14,000 photographs will probably cause yet another delay in the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as attorneys for the defendants demand all of the images be turned over to them and the government wades through the material to decide what it thinks is relevant to the proceedings.  Defence attorneys said they have not yet been informed about the photographs and said it is unacceptable that they should come to light only now, more than three years after the arraignment of Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four other defendants accused of planing the September 11 attacks.

The electronic images depict external and internal shots of facilities where the CIA held al-Qaeda suspects after 9/11…They do include images of naked detainees during transport, …The pictures also show CIA personnel and members of foreign intelligence services, as well as psychologists Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell, among the architects of the interrogation program. …Among the images are those of cells and bathrooms at the detention sites, including a facility in Afghanistan known as “Salt Pit“, where the waterboard was photographed.

A US official described the photographs of the Salt Pit as looking like a dungeon. The official added that many of the pictures appear to have been taken for budgetary reasons to document how money was being spent.  The bulk of the photographs depict black sites in Thailand, Afghanistan and Poland. There are fewer shots of prisons in Romania and Lithuania, which were among the last to be used before they were closed in 2006.  A US official said there are also photographs of confinement boxes where detainees such as Abu Zubaydah, who is now at Guantanamo, were forced into for hours.

Also among the photographs are images of Zubaydah shortly after he was captured in 2002; he was wounded in the leg during a shootout with Pakistani security forces. The pictures show his injury. Later shots show him wearing an eye patch. A former CIA official said Zubaydah had a pre-existing eye injury that was infected when the agency captured him. The eye was later removed.

Excerpts from Adam Goldman ,Photos of CIA ‘black sites’ come to light, Washington Post, June 28, 2015

Torture Island: Diego Garcia

The United States military facilities on Diego Garcia have been known informally as Camp Justice.  Image from Wikipedia

The UK government is facing renewed pressure to make a full disclosure of its involvement in the CIA’s post-9/11 kidnap and torture programme after another leading Bush-era US official said suspects were held and interrogated on the British territory of Diego Garcia. Lawrence Wilkerson, who was chief of staff to Colin Powell at the US state department, said the Indian Ocean atoll was used by the CIA as “a transit site where people were temporarily housed, let us say, and interrogated from time to time”.  In an interview with Vice News, Wilkerson said three US intelligence sources had informed him that the CIA used Diego Garcia for what he described as “nefarious activities”, with prisoners being held for weeks at a time…

Diego Garcia’s population was removed during the late 1960s and early 70s and forced to settle on the Seychelles and Mauritius. Since then the atoll has been leased by the UK to the US for use as a military base.

Wilkerson is the latest of a number of well-placed officials who have said that after 9/11 the atoll was also used in the CIA rendition programme.Barry McCaffrey, a retired four-star American general, has twice spoken publicly about the use of Diego Garcia to detain suspects. Manfred Nowak, a former United Nations special rapporteur on torture, has said he has heard from reliable sources that the US held prisoners on ships in the Indian Ocean. Dick Marty, a Swiss senator who led a Council of Europe investigation into the CIA’s use of European territory and air space, said he received confirmation of the use of the atoll. He later said he received the assistance of some CIA officers during his investigation….There also is a wealth of circumstantial evidence to suggest that Diego Garcia was used in the so-called rendition programme…

Excerpt from  Ian Cobain, CIA interrogated suspects on Diego Garcia, says Colin Powell aide,  Guardian, Jan. 30, 2015

The CIA Plan to Destroy Emails

recover-deleted-email

A CIA plan to erase tens of thousands of its internal emails — including those sent by virtually all covert and counterterrorism officers after they leave the agency — is drawing fire from Senate Intelligence Committee members concerned that it would wipe out key records of some of the agency’s most controversial operations.  The agency proposal, which has been tentatively approved by the National Archives, “could allow for the destruction of crucial documentary evidence regarding the CIA’s activities,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein and ranking minority member Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., wrote in a letter to Margaret Hawkins,  (pdf) the director of records and management services at the archives.

But agency officials quickly shot back, calling the committee’s concerns grossly overblown and ill informed. They insist their proposal is completely in keeping with — and in some cases goes beyond — the email retention policies of other government agencies. “What we’ve proposed is a totally normal process,” one agency official told Yahoo News.

The source of the controversy may be that the CIA, given its secret mission and rich history of clandestine operations, is not a normal agency. And its proposal to destroy internal emails comes amid mounting tensions between the CIA and its Senate oversight panel, stoked by continued bickering over an upcoming committee report — relying heavily on years-old internal CIA emails — that is sharply critical of the agency’s use of waterboarding and other aggressive interrogation techniques against al-Qaida suspects in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks.

In this case, however, Chambliss — a conservative Republican who has sided with the CIA on the interrogation issue — joined with Feinstein in questioning the agency’s proposed new email policy, which would allow for the destruction of email messages sent by all but a relatively small number of senior agency officials.  “In our experience, email messages are essential to finding CIA records that may not exist in other so-called permanent records,” the two senators wrote in their letter, a copy of which was also sent this week to CIA Director John Brennan and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. …

Under the new proposal, only the emails of 22 senior agency officials would be permanently retained; all others, including all covert officers except the director of the National Clandestine Service, could be deleted three years after the employees leave the CIA “or when no longer needed, whichever is sooner,” according to a copy of the agency’s plan….

But the plan has sparked criticism from watchdog groups and historians who note the agency’s track record of destroying potentially embarrassing material: In 2007, it was disclosed that agency officials had destroyed hundreds of hours of videotapes documenting the waterboarding of two high-value detainees. The disclosure prompted a criminal investigation by the Justice Department as well as a separate National Archives probe into whether the agency had violated the Federal Records Act. Neither inquiry led to any federal charges.

The CIA has a history of destroying records “that are embarrassing” and “disclose mistakes” or “reflect poorly on the conduct of the CIA,” said Tim Weiner, the author of “Legacy of Ashes, a history of the CIA,” in comments filed with the National Archives by Open the Government, a watchdog group that is seeking to block the CIA proposal. He noted that during the Iran-Contra Affair, for example, those involved “fed so many records into the shredder that they jammed the shredder.” “It cannot be left to the CIA to determine what is a record of historical significance,” Weiner said.

Excerpts from Michael Isikoff,The CIA wants to destroy thousands of internal emails covering spy operations and other activities, Yahoo News, Nov. 20, 2014

The CIA Black Sites at the European Court of Human Rights

CIA black sites. image amnesty USA

The CIA ran a secret jail on Polish soil, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on July 24, 2014, piling pressure on Poland, one of Washington’s closest allies, to break its long silence about the global programme for detaining al Qaeda suspects.  The court said it had been established that the CIA used a facility in a northern Polish forest, code named “Quartz”, as a hub in its network for interrogating suspected al Qaeda operatives rounded up after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Poland has always denied that the CIA had a jail on its territory, even as leaks from former U.S. intelligence officials, and a Senate investigation, brought more and more details of the programme into the open.  The July 24, 2014 ruling was the first time that a court in Europe had said that the CIA operated one of the secret jails – often referred to as “black sites” -on the continent.

Amrit Singh, a lawyer with the Open Society Justice Initiative who acted for one of the men who brought the case, told Reuters both Poland and the United States would have to take note of what she called an historic ruling…The court case was brought by lawyers for two men, Saudi-born Abu Zubaydah, and Saudi national Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who are now both inmates at Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. military’s prison on Cuba.

They alleged they were flown in secret to a remote Polish airfield, then transferred to the CIA-facility near the village of Stare Kiejkuty where they were subject to treatment they said amounted to torture.  Lawyers for Nashiri said one on occasion he was forced to stand naked and hooded in his cell while his interrogator operated a power drill, making the detainee believe he would be harmed. In another incident, the lawyers said, an interrogator cocked a pistol next to Nashiri’s head.

The court ruled that, despite the wall of secrecy around the U.S.-led “extraordinary rendition” programme, there was enough circumstantial evidence to say beyond reasonable doubt that both men were held at a CIA-run facility in Poland. It said Poland knew about their detention and should have known they were at risk of ill-treatment.

The court found Poland violated its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights to prevent torture, ensure the right to liberty, and properly investigate allegations a crime had been committed on its territory.  It ordered Poland to pay al-Nashiri 100,000 euros in damages and 130,000 euros to Zubaydah….

The ruling from Strasbourg may have implications for other European states alleged to have hosted CIA prisons: similar cases have been lodged with the court in Strasbourg against Romania and Lithuania. The court ruling did not directly cover the United States, which is outside its jurisdiction.

Excerpt from CHRISTIAN LOWE European court says CIA ran secret jail in a Polish forest, Reuters, July 24, 2014

How to Write History: CIA Deletes Scenes from Zero Dark Thirty film

ZeroDarkThirty2012Poster

In January (2013) the US Senate intelligence committee launched an investigation into whether Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal were granted “inappropriate access” to classified CIA material following concern from high-profile members over the film’s depiction of torture in the search for the al-Qaida chief. The probe was dropped in February….

However according to Gawker it has now emerged that the CIA did successfully pressure Boal to remove certain scenes from the Zero Dark Thirty script, some of which might have cast the agency in a negative light. Details emerged in a memo released under a US Freedom of Information Act request. It summarises five conference calls held in late 2011 for staff in the agency’s Office of Public Affairs (OPA) “to help promote an appropriate portrayal of the agency and the Bin Laden operation”.

Several elements of the draft screenplay for Zero Dark Thirty were changed for the final film upon agency request, according to the memo. Jessica Chastain’s Maya, the film’s main protagonist, was originally seen participating in an early water-boarding torture scene, but in the final film she is only an observer. A scene in which a dog is used to interrogate a suspect was also excised from the shooting script. Finally a segue in which agents party on a rooftop in Islamabad, drinking and shooting off an AK47 in celebration, was also removed upon CIA insistence. This was agreed to despite the documented use of aggressive dogs in US interrogations of terror suspects at Guantánamo Bay in the early days of George W Bush’s war on terror, and despite some of the photographs from the later Abu Ghraib scandal featuring dogs menacing naked prisoners.

The memo appears to confirm suspicions of a cosy relationship between the CIA and Boal, with the agency confident it would be portrayed positively due to the level of help it had provided to the film-makers. “As an agency, we’ve been pretty forward-leaning with Boal,” a CIA staff member wrote to colleagues in documents released last year. “He’s agreed to share scripts and details about the movie with us so we’re absolutely comfortable with what he will be showing.”

Excerpts, Ben Child, CIA requested Zero Dark Thirty rewrites, memo reveals, Guardian, May 7, 2013

CIA Memo

CIA Torture Program: the case of El-Masri

torture instruments 1729

Nearly a decade after a German man claimed he was snatched off the street, held in secret and tortured as part of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program — all due to a case of mistaken identity — a panel of international judges said today what Khaled El-Masri has been waiting to hear since 2004: We believe you.  The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) handed down a unanimous verdict siding with El-Masri (pdf of verdict) in his case against the government of Macedonia, which he claimed first played an integral role in his illegal detention and then ignored his pleas to investigate the traumatic ordeal. For his troubles, the ECHR ordered the government of Macedonia to pay El-Masri 60,000 Euros in damages, about $80,000.

“There’s no question 60,000 Euros does not begin to provide compensation for the harm he has suffered,” James Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative, which is representing El-Masri, told ABC News today. “That said… for Mr. El-Masri, the most important thing that he was hoping for was to have the European court officially acknowledge what he did and say that what he’s been claiming is in fact true and it was in fact a breach of the law… It’s an extraordinary ruling.”

El-Masri’s dramatic story, as detailed in various court and government documents, began in late 2003 when he was snatched off a bus at a border crossing in Macedonia. Plainclothes Macedonian police officers brought him to a hotel in the capital city of Skopje and held him there under guard for 23 days. In the hotel he was interrogated repeatedly and told to admit he was a member of al Qaeda, according to an account provided by the Open Society Justice Initiative.

The German was then blindfolded and taken to an airport where he said he was met by men he believed to be a secret CIA rendition team. In its ruling today, the EHRC recounted how the CIA men allegedly beat and sodomized El-Masri in an airport facility, treatment that the court said “amounted to torture.” The CIA declined to comment for this report.  El-Masri was then put on a plane and claims that the next thing he knew, he was in Afghanistan, where he would stay for four months under what his lawyers called “inhuman and degrading” conditions.  According to the Initiative, it wasn’t until May 28, 2004 that El-Masri was suddenly removed from his cell, put on another plane and flown to a military base in Albania. “On arrival he was driven in a car for several hours and then let out and told not to look back,” the group says on its website. Albanian authorities soon picked El-Masri up and took him to an airport where he flew back to Frankfurt, Germany.  According to El-Masri’s lawyers, the CIA had finally realized they accidentally picked up the wrong man.

In their decision today, the ECHR said El-Masri’s account was established “beyond reasonable doubt,” in part based on the findings of previous investigations into flight logs and forensic evidence.  Before the EHRC, El-Masri and his supporters had tried to bring his case to trial in several courts, including in the U.S. in 2005. There, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a suit on behalf of El-Masri against George Tenet, then director of the CIA, but the case was dismissed in 2006 after the U.S. government claimed hearing it would jeopardize “state secrets.” The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case in 2007.The same year, a German prosecutor issued an arrest warrant for 13 CIA agents for their alleged role, according to the New York Times, but the agents were never arrested.

In addition to the money Macedonia has been ordered to pay El-Masri, the Open Society Justice Initiative is calling on Macedonia, the U.S. and Germany to offer official apologies to El-Masri and for Germany to ask the U.S. to hand over the officers allegedly involved in the kidnapping so they may see trial.  Goldston said he hoped the ECHR’s ruling could open the door to further investigations into the CIA’s controversial rendition program and “all these kinds of cases where allegations of abuse arise from counter-terrorism practices.”

LEE FERRAN. Court: CIA Tortured German During Botched Rendition, ABC News, Dec. 13, 2012