David Hicks deserves justice, an apology and compensation

My weekly Guardian column is published today:

It’s hard to think of an Australian individual since 9/11 who has experienced more humiliation and abandonment by the federal government than David Hicks. Julian Assange, who declared he felt abandoned by the Australian government, perhaps comes close. As they both found out, an Australian passport is no guarantee of protection against a superpower determined to aggressively impose its will.

Hicks is currently launching legal proceedings in the US to overturn his 2007 conviction for providing material support for terrorism – a crime he and his legal team say does not exist. A 2012 ruling in a US appeals court found that a similar conviction against Osama bin Laden’s former driver, Salim Hamdan, was invalid because US law did not recognise material support for terrorism as a war crime at the time Hamdan engaged in the activity for which he was charged. Both Hicks and Hamdan were prosecuted under a 2006 law, and the US appeals court ruled that its retroactive application was illegal. Hicks is now trying to follow Hamdan in having his conviction quashed.

Here’s what we know about Hicks. He was born in Adelaide in 1975 and worked various jobs across Australia. He converted to Islam in the 1990s, stating he wanted to be around people who “shared his desire for belonging”. Drawn to what he saw as the oppression of Muslims in foreign lands, he left for Albania to join the Kosovo Liberation Army. By late 1999, he visited Pakistan to study Islam. In early 2000, Hicks joined the radical militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET), and received training to fight Indian forces in Kashmir. He wrote in a letter that “there are not many countries in the world where a tourist, according to his visa, can go to stay with the army and shoot across the border at its enemy, legally”. He was in Afghanistan in September 2001 and, though he had no knowledge or involvement in the 9/11 terror attacks, he was captured and sold to the US for $1,000 and subsequently flown to Guantánamo, where he remained without valid charge.

Hicks maintains he was interrogated, tortured and held in isolation for nearly six years in Guantánamo – including 244 days in solitary confinement in a closet-sized cell without sunlight. He says he was also experimented on by US military doctors during his incarceration (a new study by The Task Force on Preserving Medical Professionalism found that doctors tortured suspected terrorists at Guantánamo Bay). Amnesty International maintains that Hicks was illegally detained without fair trial for years, and that when he did have one, the military commission he appeared before never met international standards for fair trials.

This didn’t stop Australian commentators from baying for blood, however. In 2011, News Limited’s Miranda Devine dismissed any critics of Guantánamo’s detention practices as whingers. Those thinking that “suspected terrorists” being “smacked around a bit” constituted overly harsh treatment were naive, she wrote. In other words, Hicks deserved what he got. When Hicks was still in Guantánamo Bay in 2007, Devine also referred to him as “a well-trained terrorist, an al-Qaida ‘golden boy’… and the enemy traitor when Australian troops were on the ground [in Afghanistan].” For years Hicks was primarily referred to in the corporate press as a “terrorism supporter” by Murdoch columnists such as Tim Blair – fair trial be damned.

Repeat government smears against individuals deemed suspect is nothing new. During the Cold War, many reporters were happy to be spies and display their deluded patriotic duty. Australian citizen and journalist Wilfred Burchett, who dared investigate the “other side”, was denied his passport for years because he refused to play the insider game of praising the capitalist west. In the “war on terror”, we see a new generation of journalists who blindly re-hash propaganda dressed up as fact about war, illegal detention and intelligence.

There is documentary evidence suggesting that in 2007, former prime minister John Howard asked the US to manage the Hicks issue. Colonel Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor of military commissions, told US journalist Jason Leopold in 2011 that he had concerns about the Bush administration charging Hicks. There was “no doubt in my mind”, Davis added, that “this was an accommodation to help Howard by making the David Hicks case go away [in an election year].” The alleged political fix, which was always denied by Howard, bothered the vast bulk of the Australian population.

It’s perfectly legitimate, indeed crucial, to ask Hicks tough questions about his background, his belief in the Taliban and his nauseating old letters denigrating Jews and praising bin Laden. But none of this justifies long-term jailing, torture and psychological abuse. Colonel Morris Davis told the Australian in early November this year that the treatment meted out to Hicks at Guantánamo was “at least as good, if not better” than towards other detainees. It was an absurd statement – suggesting that Hicks may have been tortured, but it could have been worse.

Hicks tells me that his lack of both education and friends caused him to “make some unfortunate decisions” before 9/11. He says he now far better understands the world and reads widely. “I always wanted to help people”, he says, “but today it’s not through resistance, though the Australian government uses violence and sends troops to fight in various wars.” He condemns the vast bulk of the media for following the lies told about him for all these years. “Nobody is calling for accountability or a royal commission [about my case]. I would support this or a full judicial review.”

Although he has no contact with the other former Australian Guantánamo captive Mamdouh Habib, he rightly believes that he deserves monetary compensation, like Habib received, for his years of suffering. He’s not currently pursuing a compensation claim, but it’s something he hopes will happen one day soon.

Today, Hicks works as a panel-beater in Sydney and fears leaving the country. “I have a passport”, he says, “but with the targeting of individuals who supported Edward Snowden, including Glenn Greenwald’s partner David Miranda in London, I’m scared of traveling. If the US can go after them, and they’re big names, they could get me in spite.”

Justice for Hicks – through a formal apology and legal readdress – is vital to restore a modicum of Australian credibility. Heads should roll. Careers should end. Dignity can only be restored if apologies and compensation are offered.

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David Hicks in his own words about Guantanamo and search for justice

After years of smears and lies told about Australian citizen David Hicks (along with the legal, physical and moral abuses), former Guantanamo Bay prisoner David Hicks speaks to the Sunrise program and explains why he needs and deserves justice for years of assault:

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Why Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four is my favourite work of fiction

I was asked to write a short column on Australian novelist Annabel’s Smith’s website:

…in which I invite someone bookish to share one of their all-time favourite works of fiction and what it means to them. This week’s Friday Fave comes from journalist and political writer Antony Loewenstein.

I remember first reading Orwell’s masterpiece many years ago before the rise of the internet and the mass surveillance state that is now ubiquitous. The Ministry of Truth and Big Brother have rightly entered our daily language as a way to describe the power of PR as news and spin as reality. The lead character Winston Smith is a classic hero, principled and torn, looking for love and fighting a system that both resembles a totalitarian nightmare (surely what Orwell imagined at the time of writing in 1949) but also increasingly the post 9/11 state in the West.

The book affected me the first time because it didn’t offer easy answers to existential problems. Orwell had seen war first hand, and lived through the rise and fall of Nazism, so a state using torture, threats and forced persuasion wasn’t an abstraction but a disturbing fear of what could happen without democratic resistance.

I believe 1984 is even more relevant today. Language has been bastardised by the corporate media and politicians. Torture has become “enhanced interrogation.” War has become “Operation Iraqi Freedom”. Orwell would be appalled at how little opposition exists to these changes.

What continues to resonate with me is how prescient Orwell could be just after World War II. He could never have dreamt of the internet, satellite technology or mobile phones, all devices that both liberate their users but also provide the most comprehensive way to track and monitor citizens in the history of humanity.

Would Orwell be able to write a sequel to 1984 and imagine a time in the 21st or 22nd century where privacy had completely died and personal time, with a lover, friend or family, must be conducted in secret, away from the prying eyes of the state? 1984 painted a nightmare, in moving and passionate prose, that’s well on the way to becoming today’s truth. And very few people are actively resisting the surveillance state so aptly described by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

We need Orwell alive again today to paint us a way forward. Most of our journalists and non-fiction writers are failing miserably.

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The daily inhumanity of Guantanamo Bay

Devastating article by writer John Grisham in the New York Times:

About two months ago I learned that some of my books had been banned at Guantánamo Bay. Apparently detainees were requesting them, and their lawyers were delivering them to the prison, but they were not being allowed in because of “impermissible content.”

I became curious and tracked down a detainee who enjoys my books. His name is Nabil Hadjarab, and he is a 34-year-old Algerian who grew up in France. He learned to speak French before he learned to speak Arabic. He has close family and friends in France, but not in Algeria. As a kid growing up near Lyon, he was a gifted soccer player and dreamed of playing for Paris St.-Germain, or another top French club.

Tragically for Nabil, he has spent the past 11 years as a prisoner at Guantánamo, much of the time in solitary confinement. Starting in February, he participated in a hunger strike, which led to his being force-fed.

For reasons that had nothing to do with terror, war or criminal behavior, Nabil was living peacefully in an Algerian guesthouse in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sept. 11, 2001. Following the United States invasion, word spread among the Arab communities that the Afghan Northern Alliance was rounding up and killing foreign Arabs. Nabil and many others headed for Pakistan in a desperate effort to escape the danger. En route, he said, he was wounded in a bombing raid and woke up in a hospital in Jalalabad.

At that time, the United States was throwing money at anyone who could deliver an out-of-town Arab found in the region. Nabil was sold to the United States for a bounty of $5,000 and taken to an underground prison in Kabul. There he experienced torture for the first time. To house the prisoners of its war on terror, the United States military put up a makeshift prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Bagram would quickly become notorious, and make Guantánamo look like a church camp. When Nabil arrived there in January 2002, as one of the first prisoners, there were no walls, only razor-wire cages. In the bitter cold, Nabil was forced to sleep on concrete floors without cover. Food and water were scarce. To and from his frequent interrogations, Nabil was beaten by United States soldiers and dragged up and down concrete stairs. Other prisoners died. After a month in Bagram, Nabil was transferred to a prison at Kandahar, where the abuse continued.

Throughout his incarceration in Afghanistan, Nabil strenuously denied any connection to Al Qaeda, the Taliban or anyone or any organization remotely linked to the 9/11 attacks. And the Americans had no proof of his involvement, save for bogus claims implicating him from other prisoners extracted in a Kabul torture chamber. Several United States interrogators told him his was a case of mistaken identity. Nonetheless, the United States had adopted strict rules for Arabs in custody — all were to be sent to Guantánamo. On Feb. 15, 2002, Nabil was flown to Cuba; shackled, bound and hooded.

Since then, Nabil has been subjected to all the horrors of the Gitmo handbook: sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, temperature extremes, prolonged isolation, lack of access to sunlight, almost no recreation and limited medical care. In 11 years, he has never been permitted a visit from a family member. For reasons known only to the men who run the prison, Nabil has never been waterboarded. His lawyer believes this is because he knows nothing and has nothing to give.

The United States government says otherwise. In documents, military prosecutors say that Nabil was staying at a guesthouse run by people with ties to Al Qaeda and that he was named by others as someone affiliated with terrorists. But Nabil has never been charged with a crime. Indeed, on two occasions he has been cleared for a “transfer,” or release. In 2007, a review board established by President George W. Bush recommended his release. Nothing happened. In 2009, another review board established by President Obama recommended his transfer. Nothing happened.

According to his guards, Nabil is a model prisoner. He keeps his head down and avoids trouble. He has perfected his English and insists on speaking the language with his British lawyers. He writes in flawless English. As much as possible, under rather dire circumstances, he has fought to preserve his physical health and mental stability.

In the past seven years, I have met a number of innocent men who were sent to death row, as part of my work with the Innocence Project, which works to free wrongly convicted people. Without exception they have told me that the harshness of isolated confinement is brutal for a coldblooded murderer who freely admits to his crimes. For an innocent man, though, death row will shove him dangerously close to insanity. You reach a point where it feels impossible to survive another day.

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The naked love affair between the CIA and #ZeroDarkThirty

The pro-torture, pro-US and pro-war on terror film is given deeper meaning with the release, via Gawker, of a document that confirms what many of us suspected; the CIA wanted a propaganda film and the film-makers were apparently happy to comply:

Kathryn Bigelow’s Osama bin Laden revenge-porn flick Zero Dark Thirty was the biggest publicity coup for the CIA this century outside of the actual killing of Osama bin Laden. But the extent to which the CIA shaped the film has remained unclear. Now, a memo obtained by Gawker shows that the CIA actively, and apparently successfully, pressured Mark Boal to remove scenes that made them look bad from the Zero Dark Thirty script.

The CIA’s whitewashing effort is revealed in a cache of documents newly released under a Freedom of Information Act request about the CIA’s cooperation with Bigelow and Boal. The documents include a 2012 memo—initially classified “SECRET”—summarizing five conference calls between Boal and the CIA’s Office of Public Affairs in late 2011. “The purpose for these discussions was for OPA officers to help promote an appropriate portrayal of the Agency and the Bin Ladin operation,” according to the memo. (Hundreds of pages of CIA documents about the film were released last year; the memo obtained by Gawker was approved for release late last month.)

During these calls, Boal “verbally shared the screenplay” for Zero Dark Thirty in order to get the CIA’s feedback, and the CIA’s public affairs department verbally asked Boal to take out parts that they objected to. According to the memo, he did.

Here are the key changes:

The much-discussed opening scene of Zero Dark Thirty features the main character Maya, played by Jessica Chastain, observing a detainee at a CIA black site as he is water-boarded and shoved into a tiny box during an interrogation. It appears that an early version had Maya participating in the torture. But during their conference calls, the CIA told Boal that this was not true to life. The memo reads: “For this scene we emphasized that substantive debriefers [i.e. Maya] did not administer [Enhanced Interrogation Techniques] because in this scene he had a non-interrogator, substantive debriefer assisting in a dosing technique.”

According to the memo, “Boal said he would fix this.” Indeed, in the final film Maya doesn’t touch the prisoner during this scene. The decision to have Maya abstain from the torture was as significant artistically as it was factually. Her ambivalence was a key part of her character, and critics picked over every detail of the torture scenes, including Maya’s status as an observer rather than a participant, for meaning in the debate over torture that the movie sparked.

Wired’s Spencer Ackerman, for example, interpreted Maya’s complex relationship to on-screen torture as a sign of a complex inner life: “Maya is… a cipher: she is shown coming close to puking when observing the torture. But she also doesn’t object to it.” Of course, the scene reads a bit differently if the choice was dictated by a CIA propaganda officer.

The CIA also took issue with an interrogation scene that featured a dog intimidating a detainee. Boal took it out: “We raised an objection that such tactics would not be used by the Agency,” the memo reads. “Boal confirmed in January that the use of dogs was taken out of the screenplay.”

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What torture at Guantanamo Bay feels like

Powerful statement by the campaigning British group Reprieve:

Younous Chekkouri, a detainee who has been cleared for release but remains held in Guantanamo, has given the first inside account of the raid carried out by prison authorities on Saturday 13 April.

Speaking to a lawyer from human rights charity Reprieve via an unclassified phone call, Mr Chekkouri has described how guards used tear gas and “shot guns…with small [rubber] bullets” to subdue a peaceful protest after detainees covered cameras inside their cells. Only cameras inside the detainees’ cells were covered – this was not a new development but has been the case since the beginning of the hunger strike around twelve weeks ago.

He describes how “nobody thought to fight,” asking “what do we have to fight with?” and adding that life in the camp is “like it was seven years ago.”

Commenting, Clive Stafford Smith, Director of Reprieve and one of Mr Chekkouri’s US lawyers said: “We all should have learned the danger of a secret prison from the Soviets. Unfortunately the US military has been dissembling again. The prisoners did not start this. The US military went in there with guns literally blazing at 5.10am in the morning, as detainees prepared for morning prayer, immediately after the Red Cross left the base, so there would be no independent observers. Sad to say, torture and abuse continue in Guantánamo Bay and the US is throwing away yet more of its dwindling moral authority.”

The following are extracts from Mr Chekkouri’s call:

“What has happened here now is real nightmare. Nobody dreamed that what has happened would happen. After our peaceful demonstration, on [Saturday] morning the guards came in with guns…they used shot guns and three people were injured…used guns with small bullets.”

“The guards came in, closed all of our cells…[removed us from our cells and] told us to get on the ground.”

“We lay there on our belly for 3 hours or more.”

“They took everything…cells empty, nothing left.”

“They moved us into another empty block and after a while they give us blanket and that is all.”

“They said it’s punishment.”

“History repeats itself…like it was seven years ago.”

“Punishment because we hide cameras in cell and so this is what happened. They took everything, left cell empty.”

“I was sleeping on [Saturday]…at almost 5am guards came in with shot guns…there was no confrontation that prompted it…”

“When I woke up I heard them using guns on the detainees in block next door…the detainees didn’t have anything…”

“The guards used force to control some of the detainees…to force them out of the cells.”

“Used tear gas [as well]”

“More than 50 [guards] came in on my block and there were only 13 detainees on my block. Nobody [no detainees] thought to fight…what do we have to fight with…[plus] we were out numbered…”

“Guards were scary, they were ready to use guns, use force…it was very scary.”

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When will the NYT call torture by its rightful name, torture?

Cracking writing by Andrew Sullivan on the gutlessness of the supposed paper of record:

There was something almost poignant about a post yesterday by former NYT executive editor Bill Keller. It’s his way of explaining why he decided the Times could not use the plain word ‘torture’ to describe torture – when it was conducted by the Bush administration. He conflates the issue with the other t-word, terrorism, as if there were some kind of analogy. There isn’t. What happened in Benghazi was an act of terror, as Obama said the following day. What happened in Boston was an act of terror. The only circumspection about the word should be in the immediate aftermath of explosions when it seems to me prudent not to jump to conclusions. So the fire at the JFK Library Monday was not an act of terror.

The most it can take to reach the conclusion about terror is a few days. Yet the New York Times has refused to use the word ‘torture’ for years in its news pages and is still avoiding it. Keller was behind that decision. Future historians of the press will note how the most powerful single journalistic institution in the country simply caved to government and partisan pressure – even on the use of the English language.

So why Keller’s bizarre refusal to call it by its proper name? The reason is simple. Keller knew that publishing the word torture with respect to president Bush and his administration was a factual allegation of war crimes. Such an accusation would have caused all the usual suspects to deride the NYT as a left-liberal rag, with a partisan agenda. There would have been huge partisan political blowback. It might also have prevented NYT reporters from getting access to anyone in the Bush administration.

Let me just say that I have a different view of the Fourth Estate than Keller does. I believe that a newspaper should report what it can in plain English, without regard to anyone else’s views on the matter, and whatever the positions of the political parties. It should publish what it deems to be true by its own methods and conclusions.

Keller, in contrast, believes a newspaper should not publish the truth if one political party has decided – arbitrarily and in accord with its own legal self-interests – that there is a “debate” about it. It’s an almost classic Fallowsian “false equivalence” moment. There is, for example, a debate about evolution. Does the NYT use a euphemism because the theory of natural selection is fiercely opposed by a large number of Americans? Does it routinely refer to “the theory of natural selection which many Americans dispute”. Of course not. They can report on polarizing issues in plain English in most cases. But not when something as profound as a president committing war crimes is concerned. Not, in other words, when you really need an independent and free press.

To take another specific example of the US government taking this approach to torture, look at the asylum cases decided by the Justice Department and the immigration services under the Department of Homeland Security. You can examine the rules here.There is simply no doubt that an asylum-seeker who had evidence of being waterboarded by a foreign government would be granted asylum by the US. Because he had been tortured. Or imagine if an American soldier were captured by Iran and water-boarded. Would the New York Times refuse to say he was tortured? Seriously?

Keller knew the truth and his newspaper did sterling work in uncovering it. But he refused to tell the legal truth in plain English because he couldn’t take the political whirlwind that would ensue. He’s now searching for an excuse to decide that the issue was once vague but now clear and so we can all move along quietly please.

I’m sorry, but no. Keller needs to take responsibility for a key failure of nerve at a vital moment in the history of basic human rights. In this he is sadly like the president: against torture, except when it might mean serious political headwinds. History will condemn them both – but nothing is more damaging to the reputation of a newspaper than cowardice and equivocation in the face of such glaringly obvious facts.

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It’s beyond official: America was a torturing nation post 9/11

Comprehensive report that offers yet more evidence that the US instituted a comprehensive program of violence, torture and pain after 9/11. None of the key advocates have faced justice, thanks to Barack Obama (via New York Times):

A nonpartisan, independent review of interrogation and detention programs in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks concludes that “it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture” and that the nation’s highest officials bore ultimate responsibility for it.

The sweeping, 577-page report says that while brutality has occurred in every American war, there never before had been “the kind of considered and detailed discussions that occurred after 9/11 directly involving a president and his top advisers on the wisdom, propriety and legality of inflicting pain and torment on some detainees in our custody.” The study, by an 11-member panel convened by the Constitution Project, a legal research and advocacy group, is to be released on Tuesday morning.

Debate over the coercive interrogation methods used by the administration of President George W. Bush has often broken down on largely partisan lines. The Constitution Project’s task force on detainee treatment, led by two former members of Congress with experience in the executive branch — a Republican, Asa Hutchinson, and a Democrat, James R. Jones — seeks to produce a stronger national consensus on the torture question.

While the task force did not have access to classified records, it is the most ambitious independent attempt to date to assess the detention and interrogation programs. A separate 6,000-page report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s record by the Senate Intelligence Committee, based exclusively on agency records, rather than interviews, remains classified.

“As long as the debate continues, so too does the possibility that the United States could again engage in torture,” the report says.

The use of torture, the report concludes, has “no justification” and “damaged the standing of our nation, reduced our capacity to convey moral censure when necessary and potentially increased the danger to U.S. military personnel taken captive.” The task force found “no firm or persuasive evidence” that these interrogation methods produced valuable information that could not have been obtained by other means. While “a person subjected to torture might well divulge useful information,” much of the information obtained by force was not reliable, the report says.

Interrogation and abuse at the C.I.A.’s so-called black sites, the Guantánamo Bay prison in Cuba and war-zone detention centers, have been described in considerable detail by the news media and in declassified documents, though the Constitution Project report adds many new details.

It confirms a report by Human Rights Watch that one or more Libyan militants were waterboarded by the C.I.A., challenging the agency’s longtime assertion that only three Al Qaeda prisoners were subjected to the near-drowning technique. It includes a detailed account by Albert J. Shimkus Jr., then a Navy captain who ran a hospital for detainees at the Guantánamo Bay prison, of his own disillusionment when he discovered what he considered to be the unethical mistreatment of prisoners.

But the report’s main significance may be its attempt to assess what the United States government did in the years after 2001 and how it should be judged. The C.I.A. not only waterboarded prisoners, but slammed them into walls, chained them in uncomfortable positions for hours, stripped them of clothing and kept them awake for days on end.

The question of whether those methods amounted to torture is a historically and legally momentous issue that has been debated for more than a decade inside and outside the government. The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel wrote a series of legal opinions from 2002 to 2005 concluding that the methods were not torture if used under strict rules; all the memos were later withdrawn. News organizations have wrestled with whether to label the brutal methods unequivocally as torture in the face of some government officials’ claims that they were not.

In addition, the United States is a signatory to the international Convention Against Torture, which requires the prompt investigation of allegations of torture and the compensation of its victims.

Like the still-secret Senate interrogation report, the Constitution Project study was initiated after President Obama decided in 2009 not to support a national commission to investigate the post-9/11 counterterrorism programs, as proposed by Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, and others. Mr. Obama said then that he wanted to “look forward, not backward.” Aides have said he feared that his own policy agenda might get sidetracked in a battle over his predecessor’s programs.

The panel studied the treatment of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, in Afghanistan and Iraq, and at the C.I.A’s secret prisons. Staff members, including the executive director, Neil A. Lewis, a former reporter for The New York Times, traveled to multiple detention sites and interviewed dozens of former American and foreign officials, as well as former detainees.

Mr. Hutchinson, who served in the Bush administration as chief of the Drug Enforcement Administration and under secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said he “took convincing” on the torture issue. But after the panel’s nearly two years of research, he said he had no doubts about what the United States did.

“This has not been an easy inquiry for me, because I know many of the players,” Mr. Hutchinson said in an interview. He said he thought everyone involved in decisions, from Mr. Bush down, had acted in good faith, in a desperate effort to try to prevent more attacks.

“But I just think we learn from history,” Mr. Hutchinson said. “It’s incredibly important to have an accurate account not just of what happened but of how decisions were made.”

He added, “The United States has a historic and unique character, and part of that character is that we do not torture.”

The panel found that the United States violated its international legal obligations by engineering “enforced disappearances” and secret detentions. It questions recidivism figures published by the Defense Intelligence Agency for Guantánamo detainees who have been released, saying they conflict with independent reviews.

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Life of an uncharged Yemeni prisoner at Guantanamo Bay

Devastating piece in the New York Times that needs no explanation:

GUANTÁNAMO BAY, Cuba

One man here weighs just 77 pounds. Another, 98. Last thing I knew, I weighed 132, but that was a month ago.

I’ve been on a hunger strike since Feb. 10 and have lost well over 30 pounds. I will not eat until they restore my dignity.

I’ve been detained at Guantánamo for 11 years and three months. I have never been charged with any crime. I have never received a trial.

I could have been home years ago — no one seriously thinks I am a threat — but still I am here. Years ago the military said I was a “guard” for Osama bin Laden, but this was nonsense, like something out of the American movies I used to watch. They don’t even seem to believe it anymore. But they don’t seem to care how long I sit here, either.

When I was at home in Yemen, in 2000, a childhood friend told me that in Afghanistan I could do better than the $50 a month I earned in a factory, and support my family. I’d never really traveled, and knew nothing about Afghanistan, but I gave it a try.

I was wrong to trust him. There was no work. I wanted to leave, but had no money to fly home. After the American invasion in 2001, I fled to Pakistan like everyone else. The Pakistanis arrested me when I asked to see someone from the Yemeni Embassy. I was then sent to Kandahar, and put on the first plane to Gitmo.

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.

I am still being force-fed. Two times a day they tie me to a chair in my cell. My arms, legs and head are strapped down. I never know when they will come. Sometimes they come during the night, as late as 11 p.m., when I’m sleeping.

There are so many of us on hunger strike now that there aren’t enough qualified medical staff members to carry out the force-feedings; nothing is happening at regular intervals. They are feeding people around the clock just to keep up.

During one force-feeding the nurse pushed the tube about 18 inches into my stomach, hurting me more than usual, because she was doing things so hastily. I called the interpreter to ask the doctor if the procedure was being done correctly or not.

It was so painful that I begged them to stop feeding me. The nurse refused to stop feeding me. As they were finishing, some of the “food” spilled on my clothes. I asked them to change my clothes, but the guard refused to allow me to hold on to this last shred of my dignity.

When they come to force me into the chair, if I refuse to be tied up, they call the E.R.F. team. So I have a choice. Either I can exercise my right to protest my detention, and be beaten up, or I can submit to painful force-feeding.

The only reason I am still here is that President Obama refuses to send any detainees back to Yemen. This makes no sense. I am a human being, not a passport, and I deserve to be treated like one.

I do not want to die here, but until President Obama and Yemen’s president do something, that is what I risk every day.

Where is my government? I will submit to any “security measures” they want in order to go home, even though they are totally unnecessary.

I will agree to whatever it takes in order to be free. I am now 35. All I want is to see my family again and to start a family of my own.

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.

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Jean-Luc Godard teaches #ZeroDarkThirty 200 things about torture

The recently released US film about the capture and killing Osama Bin Laden, Zero Dark Thirty, was rightly condemned, including by me, as a fanciful examination of the “war on terror” with a dodgy moral centre.

Richard Brody, writing in the New Yorker, responds:

In 1960, France was embroiled in the Algerian war, in which some of its soldiers tortured prisoners (mainly Muslims) suspected of involvement in the pro-independence militancy, while agents waged a dirty war against Algeria’s advocates in Europe. Against this backdrop, Jean-Luc Godard made his second feature film, “Le Petit Soldat” (“The Little Soldier”), whose story centers on a planned extrajudicial assassination and depicts the practice of torture, at length and in detail.

Like “Zero Dark Thirty,” the film’s protagonist is a secret agent on the hunt for terrorists and their sympathizers. Like “Zero Dark Thirty,” many incidents in the film were based on real-life events (though there’s no title card stating as much). Like “Zero Dark Thirty,” the movie proved controversial—not least with the French government, which banned the movie outright both in France and internationally (the latter accomplished by threatening to bar Godard, a Swiss citizen, from France and the film’s producer, Georges de Beauregard, from the movie industry altogether if it were shown outside the country). “Le Petit Soldat” (which arrives this Friday at Film Forum, in a crisp new print, for a weeklong run—I’ll be introducing the screening on Tuesday, March 12th, at 8:30 P.M.), however, stands apart from “Zero Dark Thirty” in other significant ways. Godard’s harsh and direct, yet complex and intimate approach to the subject contrasts with Bigelow’s relatively careless, aesthetically mediocre, and entertainingly grandiose and unsophisticated way with it, and the crucial differences that result are ultimately not just aesthetic but moral.

 

The place to start with is the point of view; the thing to start with is the sound. The protagonist is Bruno Forestier (Michel Subor), a twenty-six-year-old French man who arrives in Geneva and makes contact with his handlers, who order him to assassinate a radio commentator whose political broadcasts are in support of Algerian independence. But in the meantime he has met and fallen in love with Veronika Dreyer (Anna Karina), a young Danish woman of Russian descent and an aspiring actress, and doesn’t want to carry out the mission. His handlers pressure him into it; in the course of their conflict, activists with the Algerian independence movement recognize him, kidnap him, and, in order to get him to reveal his handlers’ phone number, torture him. I won’t go into detail on the dénouement but will stick with the torture scene itself.

Where the images appear to be faithful representations, the soundtrack is wildly, but subtly, distorted. The movie is almost entirely dubbed, as Godard’s first feature, “Breathless,” had been. (Godard even started work on “Le Petit Soldat” before “Breathless” had been released—he feared that if the first film did poorly he might not get to make a second film at all.) But, unlike the soundtrack of “Breathless”—for which Godard collected a vast number of location sounds and put them together in an elaborate sound edit, resulting in a mix so dense and so precisely matched to the image that many critics mistook it for sync sound—that of “Le Petit Soldat” is obviously dubbed. For instance, many scenes feature no ambient sound at all, which is especially noticeable when they take place in a convertible that’s moving in traffic: there’s no sound of motors or wind, a car door closes soundlessly as characters speak clearly to each other, the snap of a cigarette-lighter cover is the only sound that’s heard. It’s as if the image is the realm of the objective reality that Bruno experienced but the soundtrack as a whole blends with his interior monologue to convey the realm of subjectivity, of experience from within.

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CIA criminality rewarded not punished

A classic case of America’s establishment protecting its own (via the Washington Post). It’s why the United State’s constant claims of “spreading democracy” around the world hasn’t even started at home:

As John Brennan moved into the CIA director’s office this month, another high-level transition was taking place down the hall.

A week earlier, a woman had been placed in charge of the CIA’s clandestine service for the first time in the agency’s history. She is a veteran officer with broad support inside the agency. But she also helped run the CIA’s detention and interrogation program after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and signed off on the 2005 decision to destroy videotapes of prisoners being subjected to treatment critics have called torture.

The woman, who remains undercover and cannot be named, was put in the top position on an acting basis when the previous chief retired last month. The question of whether to give her the job permanently poses an early quandary for Brennan, who is already struggling to distance the agency from the decade-old controversies.

Brennan endured a bruising confirmation battle in part over his own role as a senior CIA official when the agency began using water-boarding and other harsh interrogation methods. As director, he is faced with assembling the CIA’s response to a report by the Senate Intelligence Committee that documents ­abuses in the interrogation program and ­accuses the agency of misleading the White House and Congress over its effectiveness.

To help navigate the sensitive decision on the clandestine service chief, Brennan has taken the unusual step of assembling a group of three former CIA officials to evaluate the candidates. Brennan announced the move in a previously undisclosed notice sent to CIA employees last week, officials said.

“The director of the clandestine service has never been picked that way,” said a former senior U.S. intelligence official.

The move has led to speculation that Brennan is seeking political cover for a decision made more difficult by the re-emergence of the interrogation controversy and the acting chief’s ties to that program.

She “is highly experienced, smart and capable,” and giving her the job permanently “would be a home run from a diversity standpoint,” the former senior U.S. intelligence official said. “But she was also heavily involved in the interrogation program at the beginning and for the first couple of years.”

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US-trained death squads in Iraq are our legacy

A remarkable documentary, by the Guardian and BBC Arabic, on the role of US-funded death squads in Iraq via torture skills honed in Latin America during the “dirty wars“. Powerful, explicit and brutal (though there are critics), such films are essential to challenge the spurious argument that the war was anything to do with freedom (as Australia’s former Foreign Minister Alexander Downer shamefully claims today) and all about installing a US-friendly puppet in Baghdad, whatever the cost. One of the key journalists on the story, the Guardian’s Maggie O’Kane, talks to Democracy Now! about the investigation and the complete lack of accountability by the US government.

Wikileaks documents were vital in leading this story:

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