International Scofflaw Headed Back to US

“Former CIA Milan station chief Robert Seldon Lady, who was convicted in Italy of kidnapping an Egyptian Muslim cleric and detained in Panama this week, was headed back to the United States, a State Department spokeswoman said on Friday.”

Too bad.  For 12 hours or so there was Roman candle of hope that the convicted kidnapper would be sent back to Italy.  Not so.

Lady was quoted by Il Giornale newspaper in 2009 as saying: “I’m not guilty. I’m only responsible for carrying out orders that I received from my superiors.” [Again, this cowardly excuse…]

Also in that interview, he lamented that he had wanted to stay in Italy but his retirement villa with vineyards had been seized to cover court costs.

“I love Italy. I had decided to live my life in Italy,” the retired spy told the newspaper. “Instead I had to escape.”

Lady was bounced around between two Central American countries this week. He attempted to leave Panama for Costa Rica at around 9:30 a.m. local time on Thursday, Costa Rican immigration department spokeswoman Andrea Quezada said.

He arrived alone at a Costa Rican border checkpoint near the southwestern town of Paso Canoas but was sent back to Panama when a red alert, indicating an Interpol arrest warrant, appeared in the checkpoint’s database, she said.

Costa Rica does not treat red alerts as grounds for immediate arrest whereas Panama does, an Interpol official in Costa Rica said. As a result, Lady was denied entry to Costa Rica.

Due to confusion over the spelling of the ex-CIA official’s name, Panamanian officials did not initially detect him in their database and only discovered their error after Interpol discussions between the two countries, the official added.

After that he was detained in Panama.


As for what Abu Omar suffered as the result of the CIA orchestrated kidnapping. this is what he told Human Rights Watch in 2007

“You cannot imagine … I was hung up like a slaughtered sheep and given electric shocks,” he said. “I was brutally tortured and could hear the screams of others who were tortured too.”

A Call for Military Physicians to Refuse Orders

Three authors, two lawyers (one with a Masters in Public Health) and an MD, have a strongly worded piece in the New England Journal of Medicine about military doctors acting as enablers of the punitive force-feeding of the hunger strikers at Guantanamo Bay prison.


Physicians at Guantanamo cannot permit the military to use them and their medical skills for political purposes and still comply with their ethical obligations. Force-feeding a competent person is not the practice of medicine; it is aggravated assault. Using a physician to assault prisoners no more changes the nature of the act than using physicians to “monitor” torture makes torture a medical procedure. Military physicians are no more entitled to betray medical ethics than military lawyers are to betray the Constitution or military chaplains are to betray their religion.5

They call on non-involved physicians to lobby Congress and the Department of Defense to stop the current practice of force-feeding, and on those actively involved to stop; to disobey orders if need be, in the name of medical ethics.

We believe that individual physicians and professional groups should use their political power to stop the force-feeding, primarily for the prisoners’ sake but also for that of their colleagues. They should approach congressional leaders, petition the DOD to rescind its 2006 instruction permitting force-feeding, and state clearly that no military physician should ever be required to violate medical ethics. We further believe that military physicians should refuse to participate in any act that unambiguously violates medical ethics.

Military physicians who refuse to follow orders that violate medical ethics should be actively and strongly supported

Exit the Glories of Empire

The rumors of the glorious British Empire persist, the benevolence of the colonial rule, the improvement in the lives of the natives. History has a way of leaking out over time, or of being excavated by diligent workers, and is now erecting a counter-narrative to that of golden years nostalgia.

British Colonialism was bad.  Very bad, especially for those who were tortured, starved and killed as the Empire began to be chipped apart by small revolts that became big rebellions.

David Anderson, author of Histories of the Hanged: The Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire, has a few reminders in the NY Times today. 

  •  In a historic decision last week, the British government agreed to compensate 5,228 Kenyans who were tortured and abused while detained during the Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950s
  • In 2010, Britain formally apologized for its army’s conduct in the infamous “Bloody Sunday” killings in Northern Ireland in 1972, and earlier this year Prime Minister David Cameron visited Amritsar, India, the site of a 1919 massacre, and expressed “regret for the loss of life.”
  • The evidence of torture revealed in these [just released] documents was devastating. In the detention camps of colonial Kenya, a tough regime of physical and mental abuse of suspects was implemented from 1957 onward, as part of a government policy to induce detainees to obey orders or to make confessions.
  • The documents showed that responsibility for torture went right to the top — sanctioned by Kenya’s governor, Evelyn Baring, and authorized at cabinet level in London by Alan Lennox-Boyd, then secretary of state for the colonies in Harold Macmillan’s Conservative government.
  • A case already before the courts concerns the 1948 Batang Kali massacre in colonial Malaya, now Malaysia. There, the relatives of innocent villagers — who were murdered by young conscript soldiers ordered to shoot by an older, psychopathic sergeant major — have asked for compensation. For Americans, the case has eerie echoes of Vietnam.
  • In Cyprus, translators employed by the British during the 1950s told tales of electrocutions and pulled fingernails as British intelligence officers tried to elicit information about gunrunning.
  • The British historians Andrew RobertsNiall Ferguson and Max Hastings have all nailed their colors to the mast of the good ship Britannia as she sailed the ocean blue bringing civilization and prosperity to the world. This view seems unlikely to be credible for much longer.
  • Empire was built by conquest. It was violent. And decolonization was sometimes a bloody, brutal business.
  • Torture is torture, whoever the perpetrator, whoever the victim. Wrongs should be put right. Whatever wrongs were done in the name of Britain in Kenya in the 1950s, the British government has now delivered modest reparations to some victims. And maybe we in Britain have also finally begun to come to terms with our imperial past.
  • Would the United States be so accommodating to a similar claim? In the current political climate, probably not. But times change. Fifty years from now, will Americans face claims from Guantánamo survivors? You might, and perhaps you should.

Histories of the Hanged

[Nor have we heard anything about a fulsome apology for say, the Trail of Tears…]

Torture Continues at Gitmo

In an Op-Ed letter in today’s New York Times, Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, held by the United States military at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, since 2001 — uncharged and untried– asked the American people to read about his life:


Last month, on March 15, I was sick in the prison hospital and refused to be fed. A team from the E.R.F. (Extreme Reaction Force), a squad of eight military police officers in riot gear, burst in. They tied my hands and feet to the bed. They forcibly inserted an IV into my hand. I spent 26 hours in this state, tied to the bed. During this time I was not permitted to go to the toilet. They inserted a catheter, which was painful, degrading and unnecessary. I was not even permitted to pray.

I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up. I wanted to vomit, but I couldn’t. There was agony in my chest, throat and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before. I would not wish this cruel punishment upon anyone.

… The only reason I am still here is that President Obama refuses to send any detainees back to Yemen.

…The situation is desperate now. All of the detainees here are suffering deeply. At least 40 people here are on a hunger strike. People are fainting with exhaustion every day. I have vomited blood.

And there is no end in sight to our imprisonment. Denying ourselves food and risking death every day is the choice we have made.

I just hope that because of the pain we are suffering, the eyes of the world will once again look to Guantánamo before it is too late.

NY Times/Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel,

And, the prisoners there, are expressing Moqbel’s desperation by long, shared hunger strikes, and apparently, physical resistance to the way they are being treated.

Weeks of mounting tensions between the military and detainees at the wartime prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, escalated into violence on Saturday during a raid in which guards forced prisoners living in communal housing to move to individual cells.

NY Times

Torture in the Community of Nations



And for more at Juan Cole: Top Ten Surprises at the Brennan Hearing on CIA Torture and Drones

54 Countries Collaborate in US Rendition and Torture

“The U.S. counterterrorism practice known as extraordinary rendition, in which suspects were quietly moved to secret prisons abroad and often tortured, involved the participation of more than 50 nations, according to a new report released Tuesday by the Open Society Foundations.

The OSF report, which offers the first wholesale public accounting of the top-secret program, puts the number of governments that either hosted CIA “black sites,” interrogated or tortured prisoners sent by the U.S., or otherwise collaborated in the program at 54. The report also identifies by name 136 prisoners who were at some point subjected to extraordinary rendition.”

From the report:

Today, more than a decade after September 11, there is no doubt that highranking Bush administration officials bear responsibility for authorizing human rights violations associated with secret detention and extraordinary rendition, and the impunity that they have enjoyed to date remains a matter of significant concern. But responsibility for these violations does not end with the United States. Secret detention and extraordinary rendition operations, designed to be conducted outside the United States under cover of secrecy, could not have been implemented without the active participation of foreign governments. These governments too must be held accountable.

…  The report also shows that as many as 54 foreign governments reportedly participated in these operations in various ways, including by hosting CIA prisons on their territories; detaining, interrogating, torturing, and abusing individuals; assisting in the capture and transport of detainees; permitting the use of domestic airspace and airports for secret flights transporting detainees; providing intelligence leading to the secret detention and extraordinary rendition of individuals; and interrogating individuals who were secretly being held in the custody of other governments.

… The 54 governments identified in this report span the continents of Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and
North America, and include: Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Finland, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Iceland, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, Libya, Lithuania, Macedonia, Malawi, Malaysia, Mauritania, Morocco, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Uzbekistan, Yemen, and Zimbabwe. [Western countries proud of their rule of law in bold.]

… A telling example of the disastrous consequences of extraordinary rendition operations can be seen in the case of Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, documented in this report. After being extraordinarily rendered by the United States to Egypt in 2002, al-Libi, under threat of torture at the hands of Egyptian officials, fabricated information relating to Iraq’s provision of chemical and biological weapons training to Al Qaeda. In 2003, then Secretary of State Colin Powell relied on this fabricated information in his speech to the United Nations that made the case for war against Iraq

… Despite the scale of torture and other human rights violations associated with secret detention and extraordinary rendition operations, the United States and most of  its partner governments have failed to conduct effective investigations into secret detention and extraordinary rendition…

Read at least the first 10 pages –– executive summary and recommendations….


Zero Dark Thirty: Is It Pornography?

I’ve been wrestling with myself about whether or not to see Zero Dark Thirty, not only because the violence is up-close, personal and gruesome for some forty-five minutes, but because many reviewers who have seen it say that torture is linked directly to the success of finding and killing Osama bin-Laden.  A filmic argument is being made that torture was effective, without the smallest counter argument being shown, even though in the real world, which the movie aims to depict, there were arguments conducted at high volume and at the highest levels of government.

My mirror neurons are so tightly tuned that I had to walk out of Syriana a few years ago when fingernails started being pulled out.  I was sweating and breathing fast and shallow.  It took me fifteen minutes walking through a chill Marin night to get back to nada nausea, but not enough to want to go back in.  I nursed a beer until my friends came out.  That might have been a five minute scene.  Forty five minutes?  Of a man hanging by his wrists, being sexually humiliated, being shoved into a tiny box?

So I don’t think so.  Meanwhile, here are some reviews to help you make up your own mind; Read more of this post

Vote For Torture: Vote Romney

Charlie Savage, one of the must-follow reporters in the business has a short piece in the NY Times this morning clarifying Candidate Romney’s position on torture:  use it.

In one of his first acts, President Obama issued an executive order restricting interrogators to a list of nonabusive tactics approved in theArmy Field Manual. Even as he embraced a hawkish approach to other counterterrorism issues — like drone strikes, military commissions, indefinite detention and the Patriot Act — Mr. Obama has stuck to that strict no-torture policy.

By contrast, Mr. Romney’s advisers have privately urged him to “rescind and replace President Obama’s executive order” and permit secret “enhanced interrogation techniques against high-value detainees that are safe, legal and effective in generating intelligence to save American lives,” according to an internal Romney campaign memorandum.

Enhanced interrogation!  If that isn’t the finest piece of doublespeak ever invented I have one better.  It could be called designer questioning. 

Obama has shamed many of us with his use of indefinite detention, and particularly, as we’ve learned recently, with the notorious “double tap” drone strikes (like terrorists who set off one bomb, wait until rescuers arrive and set off another) but on the question of torture a bright line lies between the candidates.

Bill Moyers on US Torture

From PEN on their very good web site:

In Doug Liman’s documentary film Reckoning With Torture, ordinary Americans stand side-by-side with actors, writers, and former military interrogators and intelligence officers in a reading of official documents that reveals the scope and cost of America’s post-9/11 torture program.

This Sunday on Moyers & Company, Liman joins Larry Siems, PEN American’s Director of Freedom to Write and International Programsto discuss the film and the importance of hearing the voices of detainees.

To find out when the show airs in your area, click here.

Guantanamo: A Dagger In the Heart

The human cage complex at U.S. held Guantanamo Bay, Cuba has been in the news lately. Two high level detainees have been brought before the military Review Board there to “determine” whether they were “enemy combatants” or not. It is not clear a question was actually involved, however. Was a finding of “not enemy combatants” possible? And if not, then what are they?

Both hearings produced transcripts which, if even partially true, were chilling. As chilling were the means and methods by which those transcripts were arrived at: beatings, deprivation, forced sleeplessness, waterboarding. The two men in question, as well as others, were only at Guantanamo because an uproar in the U.S. and internationally over secret detentions, renditions, unknown prisons had forced some transparency into the Bush system. They were moved from secret locations to Guantanamo itself. They were moved from no rule and no law at all to Rule and Law teleported from the days of the Inquisition: confessions obtained under torture — ok; accusation by unidentified witnesses — ok; no legal representation — ok.

The Bush Administration seems to have decided that in order to save democracy it must destroy it. The focus of their interest is on the legal system with all the precious protections against arbitrary search and seizure, against imprisonment for indeterminate times, without warrants, without witnesses and without sworn testimony. Americans have sent their sons and daughters to war to protect these rights. And now we are being told that “in the case of terrorists none of this counts.” And we are being told that who is a terrorist and who is not is somehow “self-evident.” We have reverted to the trials of witches: if they confess under torture the case is proved; if they don’t confess it is clear they are fanatics and terrorists.

As Slavoj Zizek points out in an opinion piece in the NY Times the normalization of torture in discussion and consideration brings us back to the middle ages. No one argues anymore in favor of rape. How is it that some in the educated elite are arguing in favor of torture?

This Guantanamo syndrome is a dagger in the heart of America. Without the guarantees of due procedure and open an public justice for all we don’t have America. We have new terrain entirely, as yet without a name but with a future projected from the shadows of the past. Even the incoming Secretary of Defense Robert Gates argued for shutting down the camp.

Mr. Gates urged that trials of terrorism suspects be moved to the United States, both to make them more credible and because Guantánamo’s continued existence hampered the broader war effort, administration officials said.

Once Argued then Given Up

He seems to have given way to Bush and his abettors for now but at least one commentator suggests that if Gonzales goes, which seems close to likely, Gates will find new allies in re-making his argument. It is an argument we all need to join.

Amnesty International has a couple of campaigns to help.

You can join their effort to end the Military Commissions Act under which the prisoners are being held and tried.

* end the use of prolonged or indefinite detention without charge or trial,
* restore the right of detainees to have the lawfulness and conditions of their detention fully reviewed by a court;
* ensure that the treatment of and conditions of detention for all detainees in US custody fully complies with international law and standards;
* abandon military commission trials, and instead use the existing ordinary courts to try any foreign nationals charged with recognizably criminal offences;

Amnesty Military Commissions Campaign

You can join their “flotilla” and on-going campaign to close Guantanamo.

[thx Carol L.]