Richard Colvin’s “Further Evidence”

You can read Colvin’s “Further Evidence to the Special Committee on Afghanistan” in pdf format here, via CBC.

And there’s a summary with commentary at Creekside.  For instance:

On the government claim that it took action as soon as it was informed of abuse :
They were informed repeatedly of the risk of torture, the deficiencies of Canada’s monitoring system, and delays in reports to the ICRC in 2006 in reports from the Provincial Reconstruction Team, the US State Department, and the US Secretary General. They finally sent someone in October 2007 who immediately confirmed torture.
The government also twice intervened to keep a torturer named by the PRT in place.

Lots more.

HarperCON response?  “We reject all assertions that Canadian troops have committed war crimes.

Are they trying to incite a coup by the military?  Heh.

Time & Elections

From the article US Torture: Voices from the Black Sites by Mark Danner at NYRB on the report of the International Committee of the Red Cross on the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay [pdf]:

We think time and elections will cleanse our fallen world but they will not. Since November, George W. Bush and his administration have seemed to be rushing away from us at accelerating speed, a dark comet hurtling toward the ends of the universe. The phrase “War on Terror”—the signal slogan of that administration, so cherished by the man who took pride in proclaiming that he was “a wartime president”—has acquired in its pronouncement a permanent pair of quotation marks, suggesting something questionable, something mildly embarrassing: something past. And yet the decisions that that president made, especially the monumental decisions taken after the attacks of September 11, 2001—decisions about rendition, surveillance, interrogation—lie strewn about us still, unclaimed and unburied, like corpses freshly dead.

How should we begin to talk about this? Perhaps with a story. Stories come to us newborn, announcing their intent: Once upon a time… In the beginning… From such signs we learn how to listen to what will come. Consider:

I woke up, naked, strapped to a bed, in a very white room. The room measured approximately 4m x 4m [13 feet by 13 feet]. The room had three solid walls, with the fourth wall consisting of metal bars separating it from a larger room. I am not sure how long I remained in the bed….

A man, unnamed, naked, strapped to a bed, and for the rest, the elemental facts of space and of time, nothing but whiteness.

How Many Americans Will Be Above the Law?

I dunno.  I just didn’t expect this stuff from Obama.  Maybe someone can tell me how the rule of law became so unimportant, so quickly:

The Obama administration is trying to protect top Bush administration military officials from lawsuits brought by prisoners who say they were tortured while being held at Guantanamo Bay.

The Justice Department argued in a filing Thursday with the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that holding military officials liable for their treatment of prisoners could cause them to make future decisions based on fear of litigation rather than appropriate military policy.

The Obama administration was expected to take another stand affecting Guantanamo detainees’ lawsuits Friday. A federal judge overseeing lawsuits of detainees challenging their detention has given the Justice Department until the close of business to give its definition of whom the United States may hold as an “enemy combatant.”

Obama has pledged to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within a year, and Justice Department lawyers are already trying to find courtrooms or foreign countries to place the 240 people still held there.

The new administration is seeking to craft new rules for when and how a terror suspect can be seized, and what interrogation methods may be used in trying to extract information from them. But while it works on those rules, the Obama administration appears to be sticking with Bush administration legal definitions in pending litigation.   [more]

As I’ve said before, I don’t expect much from Obama.  And I didn’t expect this.  Now not only the President of the US is above the law.  Military officials are as well.  Amazing.  It seems many of us have lost the capacity to be shocked.

US Turns From Truth

Glenn Greenwald on the Pentagon’s self-serving conclusion that conditions at Guantanamo Bay meet the standards of the Geneva Convention:

For reasons that human rights groups and detainees’ lawyers immediately pointed out, this self-exonerating Pentagon report, from the start, was suspect in the extreme.  But a sign of how broken our discourse is and how in love with ourselves we continue to be is that, on the question of current Guantanamo conditions, the conclusions of the United States Pentagon released this week were treated not only as credible, but authoritative. If the DOD — which has long overseen Guantanamo and continues to do so — says that everything is great there, well, that’s the end of that.  What else is there to know?

Well, according to his lawyer, US Army Lieutenant colonel Yvonne Bradley, Binyam Mohamed was beaten at Guantanamo, right up until his release today:

He has been severely beaten. Sometimes I don’t like to think about it because my country is behind all this.

According to The Guardian:

… doctors discovered injuries and ailments resulting from apparently brutal treatment in detention.

Mohamed was found to be suffering from bruising, organ damage, stomach complaints, malnutrition, sores to feet and hands, severe damage to ligaments as well as profound emotional and psychological problems which have been exacerbated by the refusal of Guantánamo’s guards to give him counselling.

Mohamed’s British lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, said his client had been beaten “dozens” of times inside the notorious US camp in Cuba with the most recent abuse occurring during recent weeks. He said: “He has a list of physical ailments that cover two sheets of A4 paper. What Binyam has been through should have been left behind in the middle ages.”

But it wasn’t.  It wasn’t left in the middle ages.  If those responsible for the torture are not held to account, it won’t be left in the 21st century either.

InConvenient Questions!

On Friday, the US Justice Department, Barack Obama’s Justice Department, told a federal court that it shouldn’t consider the legal challenges of prisoners held at Bagram Prison near Kabul and under US control:

In a short legal filing, Justice Department lawyers said they planned to maintain the Bush administration’s claim that the roughly 600 prisoners held in Afghaninstan have no right to contest their detention in the courts. “The Government adheres to its previously articulated position,” the attorneys said.

Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that war-on-terror prisoners at Guantanamo Bay have the right to file court petitions because the U.S. has “de facto sovereignty” over the base, located on land leased from Cuba.

However, the Justice Department has argued that prisoners in Afghanistan, held at the Bagram Airbase outside Kabul, lack recourse to the courts because the U.S. does not have similar control over that region.

“Bagram is in a theater of war where the United States is engaged in active hostilities,” so extending those legal rights to the prisoners would be “impracticable,” Justice Department lawyers argued in a brief filed last November. They also argued that the habeas petitions are barred by the Military Commissions Act of 2006, a law Obama vocally opposed.   [more]

How large does the area of de facto sovereignty have to be?  Big as Bagram?  Bigger?

How big is a “theater of war” that isn’t a war on a nation but on an activity, i.e. terrorism?  Very, very big?

How difficult would it be, or should I say “impracticable”, for the US to set up a system for holding hearings in or around Bagram?

How long can the US hold prisoners in places like Bagram without hearings?  Till the war on terror is over?

NB:  The US is now handing over thousands of its prisoners to Iraq according to a security agreement that took effect on January 1st.  Do they remember or care that Iraq is known to torture and mistreat its prisoners?

Articles 10 and 12 of  The Geneva Convention govern the “transferrability” of prisoners of Afghanistan and Iraq.  Prisoners can only be transferrred between countries that are both signatories of the Convention.  The Republic of Afghanistan is not a signatory.  Prisoners cannot be transferred by an occupying authority into the hands of the country it occupies.  Iraq is occupied.

Back to Afghanistan.  When Canadian forces take prisoners, should they turn them over to the US when it’s widely known the Americans torture their prisoners?

I remember watching a movie that began with an trip into an Morrocan prison where infidels had languished for so long the bony hands of skeletons were clamped to the mouldering walls.

Please write to me if you have answers.


The word “Guantanamo” serves as shorthand among some Afghans for all the reasons they hate foreign troops, but the impending closing of the notorious prison has gotten surprisingly little attention in this country.

Nothing changed with last month’s U.S. presidential order to close Guantanamo, many people here say, because another prison inspires even greater fear: Bagram.

Even a man who could be expected to feel the most joy about Guantanamo closing, a former detainee who spent more than six years in the camp, quickly turns the conversation to the detention facility north of Kabul, inside the U.S. military base at Bagram.  [more]

The Sorry Case of Binyam Mohamed

It is beyond my understanding how we know these things and do so little about them.  From an article by Glenn Greenwald that Barack Obama should read:

Mohamed is an Ethiopian citizen and British resident who was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 and then “rendered” by the U.S. to multiple countries (such as Morocco); held incommunicado (no access to lawyers, the International Red Cross or anyone else) and interrogated by U.S. agents until 2004; and then shipped off to Guantanamo, where he has remained ever since.  Mohamed alleges — and (as British courts have ruled) there is substantial evidence to confirm — that he was brutally tortured during this time period, including having his genitals sliced, being severely beaten, and having guns aimed at his head and threatened with death if he did not confess.  [more]

Surely Obama does not want these horrors to be his.  But if not, and I simply must assume not, he must do everything in his power to allow these stories to be told and justice to be done, in America, in Britain, in Canada [Omar Khadr] and wherever it is necessary to do so.  Nothing less than full disclosure is required.

UPDATE:  From Scott Horton at The Nation

Articles 4 and 5 of the Convention Against Torture require the United States to prohibit torture under domestic criminal law and to investigate and prosecute incidents in which it is practiced. The failure even to begin criminal investigations has placed the United States in breach of its obligations under the treaty, a point that even torture apologists like University of Chicago Law School professor Eric Posner freely concede.  [more]

Très Stupide

If Binyam Mohamed hadn’t been tortured in this scenario, it might be funny:

[UPDATED below]

A British ‘resident’ held at Guantanamo Bay was identified as a terrorist after confessing he had visited a ‘joke’ website on how to build a nuclear weapon, it was revealed last night.

Binyam Mohamed, a former UK asylum seeker, admitted to having read the ‘instructions’ after allegedly being beaten, hung up by his wrists for a week and having a gun held to his head in a Pakistani jail.

It was this confession that apparently convinced the CIA that they were holding a top Al Qaeda terrorist.

This is the British case that was in the news last week when the justices held that documents pertaining to Mohamed’s interrogation could not be made public because the US threatened to stop sharing intelligence with the British if they gave up its “state secrets”.  By the way, this was the policy of the Bush administration but Barack Obama has adopted it to the apparent dismay of the British court.

The “build a nuclear bomb” article in question was a satirical piece written by Barbara Ehrenreich, Rolling Stone journalist Peter Biskind and scientist Michio Kaku.  It claims that a nuclear weapon can be made ‘using a bicycle pump’ and with liquid uranium ‘poured into a bucket and swung round’.  It was published in the American magazine Seven Days and was later available on many websites.

 Don’t get me wrong, it wouldn’t be acceptable to torture someone for a better reason.  Still, this does add insult to injury.  If anyone thinks that the US has its hands tied because the real reasons for Mohamed’s detention and torture can’t be revealed in order to protect national security, think again.  The story is coming out anyway, as these stories so often do.  At this point, I can only think the US doesn’t want to acknowledge the sheer stupidity of its buffons-in-action,  post 9/11.  Better we should think they at least thought they had good reason to be freaked out, a lá that most serious and altruistic of torturers, Jack Bauer.

UPDATE:  The wonderfully lucid Glenn Greenwald provides an excellent synopsis of the way the Bush administration, and now the Obama adminisration, used the State Secrets Act –

What was abusive and dangerous about the Bush administration’s version of the States Secret privilege — just as the Obama/Biden campaign pointed out — was that it was used not (as originally intended) to argue that specific pieces of evidence or documents were secret and therefore shouldn’t be allowed in a court case, but instead, to compel dismissal of entire lawsuits in advance based on the claim that any judicial adjudication of even the most illegal secret government programs would harm national security.  That is the theory that caused the bulk of the controversy when used by the Bush DOJ — because it shields entire government programs from any judicial scrutiny — and it is that exact version of the privilege that the Obama DOJ yesterday expressly advocated (and, by implication, sought to preserve for all Presidents, including Obama).  


Obama & Civil Liberties – Fail

From Glenn Greenwald at Salon:

Two weeks ago, I interviewed the ACLU’s Ben Wizner, counsel to 5 individuals suing the subsidiary of Boeing (Jeppesen) which had arranged the Bush administration’s rendition program, under which those 5 plaintiffs had been abducted, sent to other countries and brutally tortured.  Today the Obama administration was required to file with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals its position in this case — i.e., whether it would continue the Bush administration’s abusive reliance on the “state secrets” privilege to prevent courts from ruling on such matters, or whether they would adhere to Obama’s previous claims about his beliefs on “state secrets” by withdrawing that position and allowing these victims their day in court. 

Yesterday, enthusiastic Obama supporter Andrew Sullivan wrote about this case:  “Tomorrow in a federal court hearing in San Francisco, we’ll find out if the Obama administration intends to keep the evidence as secret as the Bush administration did.”  As I wrote after interviewing Wizner two weeks ago:  “This is the first real test of the authenticity of Obama’s commitment to reverse the abuses of executive power over the last eight years.”  Today, the Obama administration failed that test — resoundingly and disgracefully …

Read the rest here

Less than a month in to Barack Obama’s presidency, I’m tired already.

UPDATE:  See poor old Obama enthusiast (ex?) Andrew Sullivan on this.

Love-Fifteen U.K.

I haven’t been a fan of any politician for a very long time.  I’m not a fan of Barack Obama’s though, yes, he is much better than George W. Bush, if that isn’t damning him with faint praise.  I haven’t posted much about Obama recently and I’ve been asking myself why.  The truth is, there’s not much going on that I find interesting.

Granted, Obama has made some good initial noises about closing Guantanamo and ending extraordinary rendition and torture.  I’m still in “wait and see” and “I’ll believe it when I see it” mode.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be happy if I see it.  But I’m not going to get ahead of myself.

There are some bad signs.  Obama’s expansion of Bush’s “faith-based” programs, for one.  I hate that.  Religion is quite powerful enough in the United States.  The administration doesn’t need its own religious instructors.

The President’s intentions with respect to Afghanistan gives me the heaves.

I’m glad Tom Daschle’s gone, not so much because I’m freaked out by his unpaid taxes – they all do that shit, they really do – but because there was never any reason to think that he was going to do what it’s gonna take to reform American health care and that led me to think, not unreasonably, that Obama isn’t really interested in doing a good job on that either.

Nor was I impressed at all by Obama’s attempt to get a bipartisan stimulus bill passed by selling out a part of the bill that would have provided free contraceptives to women in need – especially since it didn’t win him a damned thing from the Republicans – that’s smart politics?

All of that has seemed to obvious to be worthy of comment – apart from the Afghanistan situation.  But this really bugs me:  A British Court reluctantly decides not to publicize evidence of torture because of threats from the United States and the Obama administration thanks them.  WTF?

Here’s a bit of Glen Greenwald on that subject:

Andrew Sullivan notes this article from the BBC, reporting on threats made by the U.S. to punish Britain if British courts disclose what was done to one of its citizens, Binyam Mohamed, a former Guantanamo detainee who is suing the British Government for its complicity in his torture.  British judges “said they wanted the full details of the alleged torture to be published in the interests of safeguarding the rule of law, free speech and democratic accountability” — what are those strange things? — but decided not to do so because it was “persuaded that it was not in the public interest to publish those details as the US government could then inflict on the citizens of the United Kingdom a very considerable increase in the dangers they face at a time when a serious terrorist threat still pertains.”

So not only has our own Government erected an impenetrable wall of secrecy around what it has done, but is demanding that other countries do the same, upon threat of being punished.  As Sullivan said: “Torture is a cancer. It spreads through the legal system until it destroys the integrity of all of it. It will also destroy alliances if allowed to spread. The scale of that destruction has yet to be measured or understood. Obama has now drawn a line under it. But that is only the start of a process of recovery.”

 No kidding!  The rule of law has been under attack in the US for eight years and now Obama’s grateful that his country has applied the jackboot to the country of its birth? 

In a letter [pdf] to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, President of the ACLU Anthony Romero said, in part:

The claims made by the British justices that the United States continues to oppose publication of the judgment in the Binyam Mohamed case–to the point of threatening the future of U.S.-British intelligence cooperation–seems ompletely at odds with both the anti-torture and transparency executive orders signed by the President. We strongly urge you to clarify the position of the United States and remove any threat related to the publication of the court’s full judgment.

Indeed.  Clarify Madam Secretary of State and Mr. President.  As Mr. Romero says –

Hope is flickering. The Obama administration’s position is not change. It is more of the same. This represents a complete turn-around and undermining of the restoration of the rule of law. The new American administration shouldn’t be complicit in hiding the abuses of its predecessors.

So already, we’re left hoping for hope.

The judgment of the British High Court is here [pdf].  And here’s a bit of what the justices had to say:

Moreover, in the light of the long history of the common law and democracy which we share with the United States, it was, in our view difficult to conceive that a democratically elected and accountable government could possibly have any rational objection to placing into the public domain such a summary of what its own officials reported as to how a detainee was treated by them and which made no disclosure of sensitive intelligence matters. Indeed we did not consider that a democracy governed by the rule of law would expect a court in another democracy to suppress a summary of the evidence contained in reports by its own officials or officials of another State where the evidence was relevant to allegations of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, politically embarrassing though it might be.


No reason has emerged, particularly in the light of the statement made by Ms Crawford to which we have referred at paragraph 12, why the United States Government has not itself put the matters contained in the redacted passage into the public domain. There has been ample time for the United States Government to do so.

In the circumstances, it is still difficult to understand how objection can properly be made to a court in the United Kingdom doing so in all the circumstances we have set out.


It was submitted to us by Mr David Rose that the situation had changed significantly following the election of President Obama who was avowedly determined to eschew torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and to close Guantanamo Bay. We have, however, been informed by counsel for the Foreign Secretary that the position has not changed. Our current understanding is therefore that the position remains the same, even after the making of the Executive Orders by President Obama on 22 January 2009 to which we have referred at paragraph 9 above. The concern of the United States pertains not to disclosure of the treatment of detainees that might be levelled against the administration of President Bush, but to the disclosure of information obtained through intelligence sharing. However, as we have observed the United States Government will still not make the information public.

The ball’s in your court now Mr. Obama.

Yoo & Obama’s Justice

OMG I can’t believe I missed this!  John Yoo still can’t shut up about his huge desire to place people outside the reach of the rule of law.  You’d think he’d be trying to keep a low profile these days.  But no …

The CIA must now conduct interrogations according to the rules of the Army Field Manual, which prohibits coercive techniques, threats and promises, and the good-cop bad-cop routines used in police stations throughout America. Mr. Obama has also ordered that al Qaeda leaders are to be protected from “outrages on personal dignity” and “humiliating and degrading treatment” in accord with the Geneva Conventions. His new order amounts to requiring — on penalty of prosecution — that CIA interrogators be polite. Coercive measures are unwisely banned with no exceptions, regardless of the danger confronting the country.

Eliminating the Bush system will mean that we will get no more information from captured al Qaeda terrorists. Every prisoner will have the right to a lawyer (which they will surely demand), the right to remain silent, and the right to a speedy trial.

The first thing any lawyer will do is tell his clients to shut up. The KSMs or Abu Zubaydahs of the future will respond to no verbal questioning or trickery — which is precisely why the Bush administration felt compelled to use more coercive measures in the first place. Our soldiers and agents in the field will have to run more risks as they must secure physical evidence at the point of capture and maintain a chain of custody that will stand up to the standards of a civilian court.

Relying on the civilian justice system not only robs us of the most effective intelligence tool to avert future attacks, it provides an opportunity for our enemies to obtain intelligence on us. If terrorists are now to be treated as ordinary criminals, their defense lawyers will insist that the government produce in open court all U.S. intelligence on their client along with the methods used by the CIA and NSA to get it. A defendant’s constitutional right to demand the government’s files often forces prosecutors to offer plea bargains to spies rather than risk disclosure of intelligence secrets.  [oh no, more]

If there was ever any doubt that John Yoo thinks it’s a great idea to torture detainees, it should be laid forever to rest:  “Coercive measures are unwisely banned with no exceptions, regardless of the danger confronting the country.”

Shorter John Yoo:  Oh NO, we can’t torture people, no exceptions, whatever will we do …?  The right to a lawyer, the right to silence and the right to a speedy trial for all?  What the fuck?  Rule of law you say?  Never heard of it.  Same goes for the Geneva Conventions.  That’s only for other folks.  They don’t apply to us …  If we get attacked it will be because of Barack!