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Profile: Amrit Singh
Amrit Singh was a participant or observer in the following events:
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), in partnership with the Center for Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, Veterans for Common Sense, and Veterans for Peace, file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records concerning the treatment of prisoners and detainees in US custody abroad, most specifically Iraq and Afghanistan. The request is the first spark in a firestorm of legal controversies, FOIA requests, government denials, and lawsuits, as the ACLU and its partners continue to attempt to squeeze documentation out of an uncooperative administration. Although the government will continue to withhold key records, ongoing litigation results in the eventual release of over 100,000 documents, which will be used by ACLU lawyers Jameel Jaffer and Amrit Singh to compile the book Administration of Torture (see October 22, 2007), which will show that detainees have been (and will be) systematically tortured and abused under the orders of senior government officials. [Union, 10/7/2003; American Civil Liberties Union, 10/22/2007]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases a report that documents the death of 44 detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan while in US custody. Most died during interrogation. The report, based on government reports (including autopsy reports, death reports, and other documents turned over to the ACLU through a Freedom of Information Act request), finds that “detainees were hooded, gagged, strangled, beaten with blunt objects, subjected to sleep deprivation, and to hot and cold environmental conditions.” ACLU director Anthony Romero says: “There is no question that US interrogations have resulted in deaths. High-ranking officials who knew about the torture and sat on their hands and those who created and endorsed these policies must be held accountable. America must stop putting its head in the sand and deal with the torture scandal that has rocked our military.” The detainees died during or after interrogations by Navy SEALs, military intelligence officials, and “OGA” (Other Governmental Agency) personnel, a designation the ACLU says is usually used to refer to the CIA. Twenty-one of the 44 deaths were homicides, the ACLU says. Eight died from abusive techniques; autopsy reports show the causes of death were “strangulation,” “asphyxiation,” and “blunt force injuries.” Most of the “natural deaths” were attributed to what government doctors termed “Arteriosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease.” The ACLU notes that the report proves that detainees died not only at the hands of CIA personnel, but from abuse and maltreatment by Navy SEALs and military intelligence officials as well. The report cites, among other deaths, an Iraqi prisoner who died from hypothermia (see April 5, 2004), an Iraqi prisoner who was strangled and beaten to death (see January 9, 2004), an Iraqi general who died from smothering and “chest compressions” (see November 26, 2003), an Iraqi prisoner beaten and smothered to death (see Between 4:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. November 4, 2003), two Afghani civilians beaten to death by US soldiers (see November 6, 2003 and December 10, 2002), and an older Iraqi man strangled to death while in US custody (see June 5, 2003). ACLU lawyer Amrit Singh says: “These documents present irrefutable evidence that US operatives tortured detainees to death during interrogations. The public has a right to know who authorized the use of torture techniques and why these deaths have been covered up.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 10/24/2005]
The American Civil Liberties Union releases documents detailing prisoner abuse at US facilities in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo. The documents prove the existence of a “Special Access Program,” involving a special operations unit, Task Force 6-26, that has been implicated in numerous abuse incidents in Iraq, and whose operatives used fake names to thwart an Army investigation. ACLU lawyer Amrit Singh says: “These documents confirm that the torture of detainees and its subsequent cover-up was part of a larger clandestine operation, in all likelihood, authorized by senior government officials. Despite mounting evidence of systemic abuse authorized or endorsed from above, however, not a single high-level official has thus far been brought to justice.”
Fake Names, Computer Malfunctions Avoid Accountability - An Army memorandum shows that a prisoner was captured by Task Force 6-26 in Tikrit, Iraq, and subsequently beaten into unconsciousness. The task force members used “fake names,” according to the Army memo, and the claim of a computer malfunction to avoid accountability.
SERE Techniques Used - A heavily redacted memo refers to the use of “Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape” procedures at Guantanamo (see December 10, 2002). Sworn statements from military interrogators and a written “Chronology of Guard/Detainee Issues” show that the Army began receiving reports of prisoner abuse from Afghanistan as early as January 2002. The abuse continued, the documents show, through 2004 and perhaps beyond (see February 12-16, 2004, March 28, 2004, and May 6, 2004). Documents detail incidents where US soldiers poured peroxide and water over an Iraqi prisoner’s open wounds, and fired slingshot missiles at Iraqi children attempting to steal food from the base. [American Civil Liberties Union, 1/12/2006]
Army documents released by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reveal that Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the former commander of US forces in Iraq, ordered military interrogators to “go to the outer limits” to get information from detainees (see May 19, 2004). The documents also show that senior government officials were aware of abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan before the Abu Ghraib scandal broke. ACLU executive director Anthony Romero says: “When our leaders allow and even encourage abuse at the ‘outer limits,’ America suffers. A nation that works to bring freedom and liberty to other parts of the world shouldn’t stomach brutality and inhumanity within its ranks. This abuse of power was engineered and accepted at the highest levels of our government.” The ACLU also releases an April 2004 information paper entitled “Allegations of Detainee Abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan” that outlined the status of 62 investigations of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib (see April 2, 2004). According to the ACLU, the documents show that, far from being the work of “a few bad apples” as alleged by President Bush and other White House officials (see Mid-May 2004, August 2004, September 10, 2004, and October 1, 2004), the torture and abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib was systematic and authorized by high-level officials, including Sanchez. “These documents are further proof that the abuse of detainees was widespread and systemic, and not aberrational,” says ACLU attorney Amrit Singh. “We know that senior officials endorsed this abuse, but these officials have yet to be held accountable.” Other documents show that US soldiers escaped prosecution after killing a detainee in their custody (see March 3, 2005), several reports of detainee abuse are considered “true/valid” (see May 25, 2004), and a military doctor cleared a detainee for further interrogations even after documenting injuries inflicted by beatings and electric shocks (see June 1, 2004). [American Civil Liberties Union, 5/2/2006]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases Defense Department documents that include reports of suicide attempts by Guantanamo detainees. ACLU executive director Anthony Romero says: “These documents are the latest evidence of the desperate and immoral conditions that exist at Guantanamo Bay. The injustices at Guantanamo need to be remedied before other lives are lost. We must uphold our American values and end indefinite detentions and widespread abuse.” One report documents an attempted suicide by hanging that ended up with the detainee in a persistent “vegetative state” (see April 29, 2003). The ACLU notes that the Defense Department documents support other reports of attempted suicide at Guantanamo (see Summer 2002 and After, Mid-October 2002, October 9, 2003, and December 2003). Pentagon officials called the suicides an “act of asymmetrical warfare” and “a good PR move to draw attention.” The ACLU’s Amrit Singh says: “It is astounding that the government continues to paint the suicides as acts of warfare instead of taking responsibility for having driven individuals in its custody to such acts of desperation. The government may wish to hide Guantanamo Bay behind a shroud of secrecy, but its own documents reveal the hopelessness and despair faced by the detainees who are being held without charge and with no end in sight.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 6/19/2006]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) accuses the Defense Department of releasing a “whitewash” report on prisoner abuse in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay. The “Church report,” compiled in 2004 (see May 11, 2004), has just been released to the public in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the ACLU. The report’s executive summary was released in 2005, but the entirety of the report has now been made available. “Despite its best efforts to absolve high-ranking officials of any blame, the Church report cannot hide the fact that abusive and unlawful interrogation techniques authorized by Secretary [of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld were used in Guantanamo Bay, Iraq, and Afghanistan,” says ACLU lawyer Amrit Singh. “The facts speak for themselves, and only underscore the need for an independent investigation into command responsibility for the widespread and systemic abuse of detainees held in US custody abroad.” The report only focused on cases closed before September 30, 2004, did not attempt to determine the culpability of senior officials, and used abuse statistics that the Church investigation itself admitted were incomplete and out of date. The ACLU writes that the Church report “skirts the question of command responsibility for detainee abuse, euphemistically labeling official failure to issue interrogation guidelines for Iraq and Afghanistan as a ‘missed opportunity.’ In addition, it references a ‘failure to react to early warning signs of abuse… that should have prompted… commanders to put in place more specific procedures and direct guidance to prevent further abuse.’ The report provides details of how techniques such as ‘stress positions’—authorized by Secretary Rumsfeld for Guantanamo Bay in December 2002—came to be used in Afghanistan and Iraq. It specifically notes, moreover, that the ‘migration’ of interrogation techniques intended for Guantanamo Bay to Iraq was ‘neither accidental nor uncontrolled.’ Yet, the report concludes that there is ‘no link between approved interrogation techniques and detainee abuse.’” [American Civil Liberties Union, 7/3/2006]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases documents that show the Defense Department ignored requests from senior military commanders for clarification regarding interrogation tactics. In January 2003, military commanders in Afghanistan requested clarification from Pentagon officials as to what interrogation methods could be used against prisoners in US custody. Those officials ignored the request (see January 2003). “It is the Defense Department’s responsibility to ensure that prisoners are treated humanely, as the Geneva Conventions require,” says ACLU attorney Jameel Jaffer. “But as these documents show, the Defense Department allowed abusive interrogation practices to flourish.” The documents also show that at least one unit in Afghanistan operated for eight months under rules of interrogation that had been rescinded (see May 2004). In other instances, field and unit commanders came up with their own rules for interrogation. One commander at Guantanamo came up with his own definition of sleep deprivation, according to the documents: “I define ‘sleep deprivation’ as keeping a detainee awake continuously for five or six day’s [sic] straight.” Another unit determined that, if soldiers could be subjected to 20-hour days in training, it should be acceptable to subject prisoners to similar conditions: “If it was okay to subject our soldiers to twenty-hour days, then in our mind’s [sic] it was okay to subject the terrorists to twenty-hour interrogations.” In one instance, a detainee was interrogated for 20 hours every day for almost two months. “These documents further confirm that systemic command failures led to the widespread abuse of detainees held in US custody abroad,” says the ACLU’s Amrit Singh. “Only an independent investigation into detainee abuse can be trusted to hold relevant officials accountable for such failures.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 7/10/2006]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases FBI documents detailing 26 eyewitness accounts of prisoners abused by US personnel at Guantanamo. The FBI chose not to follow up 17 of the accounts. “These documents contain eyewitness FBI accounts of prisoner abuse which cannot be dismissed by the administration, and only underscore the need for a comprehensive investigation into the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and other US controlled detention facilities,” says the ACLU’s Amrit Singh. “The documents also call into question the FBI’s apparent decision to not follow up on prisoner abuses by Defense Department personnel. The fact that Defense Department policy allowed this treatment does not mean that it was legal, humane, or ethical.” The documents, compiled by FBI investigators after the Abu Ghraib scandal of 2004, contain eyewitness accounts by guards and interrogators of “aggressive mistreatment, interrogations, or interview techniques of GTMO detainees by representatives of any law enforcement, military, or bureau personnel which were not consistent with bureau guidelines.” Many of the eyewitness accounts focus on insulting the detainees’ religion:
Interrogators wrapped one detainee’s head in duct tape “because he would not stop quoting the Koran.”
An interrogator bragged about forcing a detainee to listen to “satanic black metal music for hours and hours.” That same interrogator later “dressed as a Catholic priest and baptized the detainee in order to save him.”
A Marine captain was observed enraging a detainee by squatting over a Koran in a fashion that the prisoner found extremely offensive.
After compiling these accounts, the FBI apparently chose not to pursue them further, citing the fact that what it observed was authorized by Defense Department policies. Only nine of the 26 accounts were slated for follow-up investigations. One incident marked “no further interview necessary” involved draping an Israeli flag around a detainee, shackling detainees to the floor, and subjecting them to excruciatingly loud music and strobe lights. ACLU attorney Jameel Jaffer says: “The FBI appears to have turned a blind eye to the very abuses that most need investigating—those abuses that were expressly authorized by Defense Department policy. The FBI documents only remind us that a thorough and independent investigation is long overdue.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 1/3/2007]
The CIA continues to fight an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit demanding that it turn over three key memos authorizing the detention and interrogation of suspected terrorists at secret overseas “black sites” (see November 10, 2006). Court documents filed by the agency cite national security concerns for keeping the documents hidden from public scrutiny. ACLU attorney Amrit Singh says: “The CIA’s declaration uses national security as a pretext for withholding evidence that high-level government officials in all likelihood authorized abusive techniques that amount to torture. This declaration is especially disturbing because it suggests that unlawful interrogation techniques cleared by the Justice Department for use by the CIA still remain in effect. The American public has a right to know how the government is treating its prisoners.” One document is a lengthy presidential order described by the CIA as a “14-page memorandum dated 17 September 2001 from President Bush to the director of the CIA pertaining to the CIA’s authorization to detain terrorists” (see September 17, 2001). Twelve of the 14 pages are “a notification memorandum” from the president to the National Security Council regarding a “clandestine intelligence activity.” ACLU officials say this statement “raises questions regarding the extent to which Condoleezza Rice was involved in establishing the CIA detention program as national security adviser.” The CIA declares in the brief that the presidential document is so “Top Secret” that NSC officials created a “special access program” governing access to it. The brief states that “the name of the special access program is itself classified SECRET,” meaning that the CIA believes that the disclosure of the program’s name “could be expected to result in serious danger to the nation’s security.” The other two documents are, respectively, an August 1, 2002 Justice Department memo “advising the CIA regarding interrogation methods it may use against al-Qaeda members” (see August 1, 2002), and an apparent “draft” version of the August 1 memo prepared for White House counsel Alberto Gonzales by Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee, the then-head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. The draft memo apparently contends that physical abuse only equates to torture under US law if it inflicts pain “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” The memo was later rescinded (see December 2003-June 2004). The ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer says: “Through these memos, the president and Office of Legal Counsel created a legal framework that was specifically intended to allow the CIA to violate both US and international law. While national security sometimes requires secrecy, it is increasingly clear that these documents are being kept secret not for national security reasons but for political ones.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 1/10/2007]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases documents that provide evidence of a possible cover-up of Iraqi prisoner abuse by American personnel in 2003. The documents detail US Army Office of Inspector General investigations by three high-ranking Army officials: Major General Barbara Fast, then the top intelligence officer in Iraq (see December 2003); Major General Walter Wojdakowski; and former CENTCOM head Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez. The documents suggest that these three flag officers failed to act promptly when informed of the abuses at Abu Ghraib. They also show that an Army investigator found that the conditions of prisoners held in isolation at the Iraqi prison qualified as torture. “These documents make clear that prisoners were abused in US custody not only at Abu Ghraib, but also in other locations in Iraq,” says ACLU official Amrit Singh. “Rather than putting a stop to these abuses, senior officials appear to have turned a blind eye to them.” The documents also show that Major General George Fay (see August 25, 2004) found the conditions of prisoners held in isolation at Abu Ghraib to be torture: “[W]hat was actually being done at Abu Ghraib was they were placing people in their cells naked and they were—those cells they were placing them in, in many instances were unlit. No light whatsoever. And they were like a refrigerator in the wintertime and an oven in the summertime because they had no outside form of ventilation. And you actually had to go outside the building to get to this place they called the ‘hole,’ and were literally placing people into it. So, what they thought was just isolation was actually abuse because it’s—actually in some instances, it was torturous. Because they were putting a naked person into an oven or a naked person into a refrigerator. That qualifies in my opinion as torture. Not just abuse.” Fay also noted in the document that a memo from then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld authorizing removal of clothing created a ‘mindset’ in which that kind of humiliation was considered an “acceptable technique.” He noted that even though Rumsfeld later rescinded the memo (see August 25, 2004), not everyone received notice that the interrogation of naked prisoners was no longer permissible. [American Civil Liberties Union, 8/15/2007]
Administration of Torture book cover. [Source: Public domain]American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawyers Jameel Jaffer and Amrit Singh publish the book Administration of Torture: A Documentary Record from Washington to Abu Ghraib and Beyond. In their book, Jaffer and Singh use over 100,000 pages of government documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act to detail the sometimes-horrific conditions under which suspected terrorists are detained by the US government. The book spans detention facilities in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay. The book’s central thesis is, according to the ACLU’s press release for the book, “that the torture and abuse of prisoners was systemic and resulted from decisions made by senior US officials, both military and civilian,” including President Bush himself. [American Civil Liberties Union, 10/22/2007] “[T]he documents show unambiguously that the administration has adopted some of the methods of the most tyrannical regimes,” write Jaffer and Singh. Some of the prisoners “abused, tortured, and killed” were not even terror suspects, the authors show. [Raw Story, 10/22/2007] The book grew out of a long, difficult battle by the ACLU and several other such organizations to secure records pertaining to detainees held by the US in other countries (see October 7, 2003). The book shows a starkly different reality than the picture painted by the Bush administration’s repeated disavowals of torture, a reality established by the government’s own documentation. The administration has repeatedly claimed, for instance, that the torture and abuse so well documented at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison was an isolated, unusual set of incidents that was not repeated at other US detention facilities. The documentation compiled by Jaffer and Singh prove that claim to be a lie: “This claim was completely false, and senior officials almost certainly knew it to be so.” Beatings, kickings, and all manner of abuses have routinely occurred at other detention facilities in Afghanistan and Iraq, the book states. Autopsy reports show that numerous prisoners in US custody have died due to strangulation, suffocation, or blunt-force trauma. Documents from Guantanamo, a facility where Bush officials have repeatedly claimed that the “excesses” of Abu Ghraib were never implemented, show that Guantanamo detainees were regularly “shackled in excruciating ‘stress positions,’ held in freezing-cold cells, forcibly stripped, hooded, terrorized with military dogs, and deprived of human contact for months.” And, perhaps most damningly for the administration, government documents show that top White House and Pentagon officials were not only well aware of the scope of the abuse months before the first pictures from Abu Ghraib were broadcast to the public, but that torture and abuse are part of the administration’s policy towards detainees. “[T]he maltreatment of prisoners resulted in large part from decisions made by senior officials, both military and civilian,” Jaffer and Singh write. “These decisions… were reaffirmed repeatedly, even in the face of complaints from law enforcement and military personnel that the policies were illegal and ineffective, and even after countless prisoners… were abused, tortured, or killed in custody.… The documents show that senior officials endorsed the abuse of prisoners as a matter of policy—sometimes by tolerating it, sometimes by encouraging it, and sometimes by expressly authorizing it.”
The book presents a number of damning claims, all backed by extensive documentation, including the following: [American Civil Liberties Union, 10/22/2007]
General Michael Dunlavey, who oversaw prisoner interrogations at Guantanamo and considered former camp commander Brigadier General Rick Baccus too soft on the detainees [BBC, 10/16/2002] , and who asked the Pentagon to approve more aggressive interrogation methods for the camp, claimed that he received his “marching orders” from Bush.
Then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was “personally involved” in overseeing the interrogation of a Guantanamo prisoner named Mohammed al-Khatani, the alleged would-be 20th 9/11 hijacker (see July 2002). Al-Khatani was “stripped naked, paraded in front of female interrogators, made to wear women’s underwear on his head, led around on a leash, and forced to perform dog tricks.” It is not clear just what being “personally involved” entails. Rumsfeld did not himself authorize such methods, but according to the investigator who documented the al-Khatani abuse session, Rumsfeld “failed to place a ‘throttle’ over abusive ‘applications’ of the ‘broad techniques’ that he did authorize….”
Interrogators who used abusive ‘SERE’ (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) methods at Guantanamo did so because the Pentagon had endorsed those methods and required interrogators to be trained in the use of those methods (see December 2001).
FBI personnel complained of abuses at Guantanamo; these instances of abuse were authorized by the chain of command within the Defense Department.
Some of the most disturbing interrogation methodologies displayed in photos from Abu Ghraib were used at Guantanamo, with the endorsement of Rumsfeld, and that Major General Geoffrey Miller’s aggressive plan to “Gitmoize” Abu Ghraib was endorsed by senior Defense officials.
Bush and his senior officials have always insisted that abuse and torture was limited to a few unauthorized soldiers at Abu Ghraib. Yet a Defense Department “Information Paper” shows that, three weeks before the Abu Ghraib photos appeared in the press, the US Army knew of at least 62 allegations of prisoner abuse in Afghanistan and Iraq, most of which had no relation to Abu Ghraib.
The Defense Department held prisoners as young as 12 years old.
The Defense Department approved holding prisoners in cells as small as 3 feet wide, 4 feet long, and 18 inches high. Special Forces units held prisoners in cells only slightly larger than that. [American Civil Liberties Union, 10/22/2007]
Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Rick Baccus, Mohamed al-Khatani, Michael E. Dunlavey, Geoffrey D. Miller, George W. Bush, American Civil Liberties Union, Jameel Jaffer, Amrit Singh, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43), Federal Bureau of Investigation
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) secures an 81-page memo from March 14, 2003 that gave Pentagon officials legal justification to ignore laws banning torture (see March 14, 2003). The Justice Department memo was written by John Yoo, then a top official at the Office of Legal Counsel, on behalf of then-Pentagon General Counsel William J. Haynes. It guides Pentagon lawyers on how to handle the legal issues surrounding “military interrogations of alien unlawful combatants held outside the United States.” According to Yoo’s rationale, if a US interrogator injured “an enemy combatant” in a way that might be illegal, “he would be doing so in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al-Qaeda terrorist network.” That motive, Yoo opines, justifies extreme actions as national self-defense. While the existence of the memo has been known for some time, this is the first time the public has actually seen the document. This memo is similar to other Justice Department memos that define torture as treatment that “shock[s] the conscience” and risks organ failure or death for the victim. Legal scholars call the memo evidence of “the imperial presidency,” but Yoo, now a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, says the memo is unremarkable, and is “far from inventing some novel interpretation of the Constitution.” The ACLU receives the document as the result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from itself, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and other organizations filed in June 2004 to obtain documents concerning the treatment of prisoners kept abroad. The Yoo memo is one of the documents requested. [John C. Yoo, 3/14/2003 ; United Press International, 4/2/2008; American Civil Liberties Union, 4/2/2008] According to the ACLU, the memo not only allows military officials to ignore torture prohibitions, but allows the president, as commander in chief, to bypass both the Fourth and Fifth Amendments (see April 2, 2008). [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/2/2008] The Fourth Amendment grants the right for citizens “to be secure in their persons” and to have “probable cause” shown before they are subjected to “searches and seizures.” The Fifth Amendment mandates that citizens cannot be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” [Cornell University Law School, 8/19/2007] Amrit Singh, an ACLU attorney, says: “This memo makes a mockery of the Constitution and the rule of law. That it was issued by the Justice Department, whose job it is to uphold the law, makes it even more unconscionable.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/2/2008]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases Defense Department documents that confirm the military’s use of illegal interrogation methods on detainees held in US custody in Afghanistan. The documents, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, are from an Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) probe. The ACLU’s Amrit Singh says: “These documents make it clear that the military was using unlawful interrogation techniques in Afghanistan. Rather than putting a stop to these systemic abuses, senior officials appear to have turned a blind eye to them.” In the CID reports, Special Operations officers in Gardez, Afghanistan, admitted to using what are known as Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) techniques, which for decades American service members experienced as training to prepare for the brutal treatment they might face if captured (see December 2001, January 2002 and After, and July 2002). At least eight prisoners in custody at Gardez were beaten, burned, and doused with cold water before being placed into freezing weather conditions. One of the eight prisoners, Jamal Naseer, died in US custody (see March 16, 2003). Subsequent investigations ignored numerous witness statements describing torture; Naseer was eventually declared dead due to a “stomach ailment.” The documents also provide evidence showing that prisoners were sodomized. “These documents raise serious questions about the adequacy of the military’s investigations into prisoner abuse,” says Singh. [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/16/2008]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says that, according to newly released documents, the US military continued to use abusive and illegal interrogation methods on detainees well after an October 2003 directive meant to end such practices was issued. A number of Defense Department documents shows how military medical workers systematically failed to report abuses, and how psychologists took part in such interrogations—violations of both the law and medical oaths, the ACLU says.
Documents Part of Church Report - The documents, part of what is known as the Church report (see May 11, 2004), have been newly unredacted in connection with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed in 2004. The government has yet to release any details of interrogation methods used after the 2003 directive was issued. ACLU attorney Amrit Singh says the documents also show that “the use of some of the techniques… continued even until July 2004, despite the fact that many were retracted by the October 2003 memorandum, and some were subsequently prohibited by the May 2004 memorandum.” The report says, “The relatively widespread use of these techniques supports our finding that the policy documents were not always received or thoroughly understood.” The Church report, an internal review of prisoner interrogation policies conducted after the Abu Ghraib scandal, found that no military or civilian leaders either directed or encouraged the prisoner abuses committed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay. [Associated Press, 4/30/2008]
Medics Failed to Report Abuse - According to the documents, Army medics failed to report abuses even after witnessing them. The Church report found that “enlisted medics witnessed obvious episodes of detainee abuse apparently without reporting them to superiors.” One medic watched as guards deliberately struck a detainee in his wounded leg. Two separate incidents involved detainees handcuffed in painful positions for extended periods of time; one of the detainees suffered a dislocated shoulder and the other experienced what the ACLU terms “excruciating pain when eventually forced to stand.” Another medic witnessed pictures of naked detainees in a pyramid but did not report the episode to superiors. “The documents reveal that psychologists and medical personnel played a key role in sustaining prisoner abuse—a clear violation of their ethical and legal obligations,” says Singh. “The documents only underscore the need for an independent investigation into responsibility for the systemic abuse of detainees held in US custody abroad.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/30/2008]
Partial Disclosure - Some of the report was disclosed in 2005, and parts of it have been declassified. Other portions remained classified in the interest of national security, according to government officials. Singh says these documents prove again that such classifications further a pattern “of claiming national security as pretext for withholding information to cover up embarrassing information.” The ACLU has long been critical of the Church report, calling it incomplete and sanitized. Lawsuits to force further disclosure are still pending. [Associated Press, 4/30/2008; American Civil Liberties Union, 4/30/2008]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases Pentagon documents that include previously classified internal investigations into the abuse of detainees in US custody overseas. The documents provide new details about the deaths of detainees in Iraq, and internal dissent in the military over torture methods used at Guantanamo Bay. ACLU attorney Amrit Singh says: “These documents provide further evidence that the torture of prisoners in US custody abroad was not aberrational, but was widespread and systemic. They only underscore the need for an independent investigation into high-level responsibility for prisoner abuse.” The documents provide details of four investigations into prisoner deaths conducted by the Naval Criminal Investigation Service (NCIS):
March 2003: Iraqi prisoner Hemdan El Gashame was shot to death in Nasiriyah (see March 2003);
June 2003: A 53-year-old Iraqi man, Naem Sadoon Hatab, was strangled to death at the Whitehorse detainment camp in Nasiriyah (see June 2003);
November 2003: Manadel al-Jamadi was beaten to death, apparently with a stove, at Abu Ghraib (see Between 4:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. November 4, 2003 and November 5, 2003);
2004: Iraqi prisoner Farhad Mohamed died in Mosul (see 2004); later examination found contusions under his eyes and the bottom of his chin, a swollen nose, and cuts and large bumps on his forehead.
Another document shows that as far back as September 2002 Army officials were objecting to the methods used in interrogating Guantanamo prisoners (see September 2002). [American Civil Liberties Union, 5/14/2008]
In a letter to Judge Alvin Hellerstein regarding the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)‘s lawsuit against the US Defense Department, the Justice Department informs Hellerstein that the CIA destroyed 92 videotapes of prisoner interrogations. The CIA’s previous admissions of the number of destroyed videotapes were far smaller (see November 2005). [Re: ACLU et al v. Department of Defense et al, 3/2/2009 ] The CIA confirms that the tapes showed what it calls “enhanced interrogation techniques” used on a number of detainees. The Justice Department adds that it will provide a list of summaries, transcripts, and memoranda related to the destroyed tapes, though the American Civil Liberties Union notes that a previous list was almost entirely redacted. [TPM Muckraker, 3/6/2009; American Civil Liberties Union, 3/6/2009] The disclosure comes as part of a criminal inquiry into the tapes’ destruction. As the investigation comes to a close, observers expect that no charges will be filed against any CIA employees. The agency’s Directorate of Operations chief, Jose Rodriguez, ordered the recordings destroyed in November 2005 (see November 2005); former CIA Director Michael Hayden argued that the tapes posed “a serious security risk” because they contained the identities of CIA participants in al-Qaeda interrogations. Rodriguez has not yet been questioned. It is believed that the tapes show, among other interrogation sessions, the waterboarding of two detainees, Abu Zubaida (see Mid-May 2002 and After) and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see (November 2002)). Civil libertarians and human rights advocates are outraged at the destruction of the tapes. “The sheer number of tapes at issue demonstrates that this destruction was not an accident,” says Amrit Singh, a staff lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “It’s about time the CIA was held accountable for its flagrant violation of the law,” she adds. CIA spokesman George Little says the destruction of the tapes was not an attempt to break the law or evade accountability. “If anyone thinks it’s agency policy to impede the enforcement of American law, they simply don’t know the facts,” Little says. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, confirms that her panel intends to conduct a broader investigation of the CIA’s interrogation program. [Washington Post, 3/3/2009]
Entity Tags: Michael Hayden, Jose Rodriguez, Jr., US Department of Justice, Senate Intelligence Committee, Central Intelligence Agency, Amrit Singh, American Civil Liberties Union, George Little, US Department of Defense, Alvin K. Hellerstein, Dianne Feinstein
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
Court documents filed by the government show that the CIA destroyed 12 videotapes specifically depicting two detainees being tortured by interrogators. Though the CIA has previously admitted to destroying 92 videotapes (see March 2, 2009), this is the first time it has admitted that some of the tapes showed detainees being tortured. The agency does not use the word “torture,” but instead uses the phrase “enhanced interrogation techniques.” According to the heavily redacted classified document: “There are 92 videotapes, 12 of which include EIT [enhanced interrogation techniques] applications. An OGC [Office of General Counsel] attorney reviewed the videotapes” and the CIA’s “OIG [Office of Inspector General} reviewed the videotapes in May 2003.” The document, along with others, are filed pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit begun by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The ACLU has asked that the CIA be found in contempt for destroying the videotapes, a motion that is still pending. The videotapes were destroyed to prevent disclosure of evidence showing that CIA interrogators actively tortured detainees, using waterboarding and other methods. The destruction is under investigation by acting US Attorney John Durham (see January 2, 2008). The two detainees depicted in the videotapes are Abu Zubaida and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, both of whom were waterboarded by the CIA (see March 2002, April - June 2002, and (November 2002)). The document describing the destroyed videotapes says “interrogators administered the waterboard to Al-Nashiri.” The videotapes are believed to have been made at the CIA’s secret detention center in Thailand. The CIA has promised to release more information about the videotapes by March 20. However, according to acting US Attorney Lev Dassin, “to date, the CIA is not aware of any transcripts of the destroyed videotapes.” An unredacted version of the inventory of the destroyed videotapes will only be made available for the ACLU to view behind closed doors in court: “This inventory identifies the tapes and includes any descriptions that were written on the spine of the tapes.” Much of the information sought by the ACLU will remain classified, Dassin says. ACLU attorney Amrit Singh says the “government is needlessly withholding information about these tapes from the public, despite the fact that the CIA’s use of torture—including waterboarding—is no secret. This new information only underscores the need for full and immediate disclosure of the CIA’s illegal interrogation methods. The time has come for the CIA to be held accountable for flouting the rule of law.” Author and reporter Jane Mayer believes the tapes were destroyed at least in part because Democratic members of Congress briefed on the tapes began inquiring whether the interrogations of Zubaida and al-Nashiri were legal. [Public Record, 3/6/2009]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) welcomes the release of Bush-era Justice Department memos that detail the torture methods approved for use under that administration (see April 16, 2009), and calls for the prosecution of government officials responsible for the torture policies. ACLU executive director Anthony Romero says in a statement: “We have to look back before we can move forward as a nation. When crimes have been committed, the American legal system demands accountability. President Obama’s assertion that there should not be prosecutions of government officials who may have committed crimes before a thorough investigation has been carried out is simply untenable. Enforcing the nation’s laws should not be a political decision. These memos provide yet more incontrovertible evidence that Bush administration officials at the highest level of government authorized and gave legal blessings to acts of torture that violate domestic and international law. There can be no more excuses for putting off criminal investigations of officials who authorized torture, lawyers who justified it, and interrogators who broke the law. No one is above the law, and the law must be equally enforced. Accountability is necessary for any functioning democracy and for restoring America’s reputation at home and abroad.” ACLU official Jameel Jaffer adds: “Memos written by the Office of Legal Counsel, including the memos released today, provided the foundation for the Bush administration’s torture program. Through these memos, Justice Department lawyers authorized interrogators to use the most barbaric interrogation methods, including methods that the US once prosecuted as war crimes. The memos are based on legal reasoning that is spurious on its face, and in the end these aren’t legal memos at all—they are simply political documents that were meant to provide window dressing for war crimes. While the memos should never have been written, we welcome their release today. Transparency is a first step towards accountability.” And ACLU lawyer Amrit Singh concludes: “The documents released today provide further confirmation that lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel purposefully distorted the law to support the Bush administration’s torture program. Now that the memos have been made public, high-ranking officials in the Bush administration must be held accountable for authorizing torture. We are hopeful that by releasing these memos, the Obama administration has turned the page on an era in which the Justice Department became complicit in some of the most egregious crimes.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/16/2009]
The Obama administration says it intends to continue the Bush administration policy of extraordinary rendition. The announcement comes from President Obama’s Interrogation and Transfer Policy Task Force, and is apparently intended to help offset the impact of the release of a long-withheld report by the CIA inspector general that provides new details about the brutal tactics used by the CIA in interrogating terrorism detainees (see August 24, 2009). As a candidate for the presidency, Obama had signaled that he would discontinue the practice. In a 2007 article for the magazine Foreign Affairs, he said the US must end “the practices of shipping away prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far-off countries, of detaining thousands without charge or trial, of maintaining a network of secret prisons to jail people beyond the reach of the law.” One of Obama’s first actions as president was to order the closure of secret CIA prisons (see January 22, 2009). Senior Obama advisers say this administration’s rendition policy is different from the Bush administration’s because the State Department will have a larger role in assuring that transferred prisoners will not be abused. “The emphasis will be on ensuring that individuals will not face torture if they are sent overseas,” one administration official says, and adds that detainees will not be sent to countries known to conduct abusive interrogations. Nevertheless, the decision is sharply criticized by human rights advocacy groups, who say that the administration will continue to send prisoners to countries that torture, and so-called “diplomatic reassurances” from those countries are meaningless. “It is extremely disappointing that the Obama administration is continuing the Bush administration practice of relying on diplomatic assurances, which have been proven completely ineffective in preventing torture,” says the American Civil Liberties Union’s Amrit Singh. Singh cites the case of detainee Maher Arar (see October 7, 2002), who was renditioned to Syria and tortured even though Syrian officials assured Bush administration officials that they would not use such techniques against him. Singh also notes that the previously used method of ensuring compliance—monitoring via visits from Americans or allied consular officials—has proven entirely ineffective. For example, Arar was visited several times by a Canadian consular official, but was too frightened to tell the official that he was being abused. Some human rights advocates believe that Obama is continuing the rendition policy in order to avoid having to admit Guantanamo detainees to US prisons after that facility is closed. [New York Times, 8/25/2009; MSNBC, 8/25/2009]
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