Dissent Is Patriotic
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee's email newsletter
August 2009, Vol. 8, No. 8
In this issue:
- Detainee Deaths: Definitive Proof of Torture?
- BORDC News: Jennifer Harbury Joins Advisory Board
- PCC News: Get Involved in the People’s Campaign for the Constitution; Organizing Opportunities: Constitution Day on September 17; Event for College Students in the Chicago Area
- Law & Policy: Rep. Steve Cohen Introduces Bill to Repeal REAL ID; Judge Orders Release of Mohamed Jawad But Government Delays
- New Resources: PCC Blog; Book Review: Torture and Democracy by Darius Rejali
- In Brief: Peace Group Infiltrated by Army Civilian Contractor
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Publicly available evidence indicates that an investigation into U.S. torture policies is long overdue. According to a report released by Human Rights First, as of 2006, roughly 100 detainees had died while in U.S. custody since the start of the “war on terror”—and there have likely been more deaths since. Of those 100 deaths, the military itself classified 34 as homicides. And of those 34 homicides, at least 8, and perhaps as many as 12, were the direct result of torture inflicted by U.S. officials and contractors.
In some cases, this torture included exposure to extreme temperatures, strangulation, and suffocation. In other cases, the torture included stress positions and restraint techniques that bear a striking and horrifying similarity to crucifixion. In almost every case, detainees were severely beaten, often to the point where they were unable to stand or speak, or where they simply died from their injuries.
The Bush administration’s definition of torture was exceedingly narrow: in order to constitute torture, physical treatment "must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death," and psychological treatment must cause harm lasting “months or even years.”
Even under this definition, however, the United States appears to have committed torture. Detainee deaths offer disappointing proof:
- Over a period of several days, Abdul Jameel was beaten and subjected to various “stress positions.” Army officers admitted that Jameel had been “lifted to his feet by a baton held to his throat.” Five minutes after being tied by his hands to the top of his cell door and gagged, Abdul died. Despite army investigators’ recommendations for charges against 11 officers, no charges were ever filed.
- A U.S. interrogator in Iraq shot Obeed Hethere Radad, who was restrained in a cell at the time, for “fiddling” with his restraints. No criminal charges were ever filed in Radad’s death.
- Detainees named Habibullah and Dilawar both died after officials at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan beat them repeatedly and chained them to the ceiling. Only when the cases became public—two years after the deaths—did the military recommend charges against those involved. Though 27 officers were charged in Habibullah’s death, and 15 of those officers were also charged in Dilawar’s death, only 12 officers ever faced prosecution. Of those, only four received jail time. The longest sentence was five months.
Just this month, reports indicate that Attorney General Eric Holder is close to appointing a prosecutor to investigate torture.
Unfortunately, it appears that Holder’s investigation will be extremely limited: the prosecutor is likely to investigate only CIA officers who exceeded the Bush administration’s approved torture techniques. According to reports, the investigation will not extend to senior officials responsible for torture policies, such as Justice Department lawyers and high-ranking administration officials.
While we are pleased that Attorney General Holder has heeded our calls for an investigation of torture policies, a limited inquiry that includes only scapegoats—effectively providing immunity for senior officials who bear the greatest responsibility—is simply not enough. In fact, by conferring false legitimacy on the approved techniques, a limited investigation could be worse than none at all. America’s reputation abroad; the safety and human rights of our soldiers, civilian contractors and others; our credibility as an international human rights leader; and the legitimacy of our own criminal justice system all depend on keeping our commitments to the Geneva Conventions and United Nations Convention Against Torture, which require prosecution of all those responsible for torture as a matter of law.
Jennifer Harbury Joins BORDC Advisory Board
Jennifer Harbury is a human rights lawyer and one of the founders of Torture Abolition and Survivor Support Coalition International (TASSC). She is the author of several books, including Truth, Torture, and the American Way and Searching for Everardo: A Story of Love, War, and the CIA in Guatemala. We are pleased to welcome her to BORDC’s advisory board.
Get Involved in the People's Campaign for the Constitution!
The first of the PCC’s affinity networks are now up and running! Nationwide teams of educators and legal professionals have been meeting via phone and email to set priorities and coordinate work on several important projects, many of which could use your help. Are you interested in:
- a campaign to disbar torture lawyers through ethics complaints in state bar associations?
- a decentralized investigation seeking transparency into the opaque domestic spying activities of fusion centers?
- an effort to develop civil liberties curricula for K-12 students and their teachers?
- writing part of a report about counterterrorism methods in public schools and their implications for constitutional culture?
We’d be thrilled to connect you to the relevant team and offer specific, concrete projects for you to independently pursue. Email Emma to connect with the project(s) in which you’re most interested.
We’re still looking for people to help lead groups for health professionals, religious leaders, and students. And if you’d be interested in starting a group not listed here, please let us know.
Start a Local Coalition
There’s plenty of work to be done in your local community, and all you need is a few friends to get things started! Check out our toolkit for tips on starting a local coalition, and email Emma to let us know about your activities and how we can help.
Share Your News
Do you have experience forming an affinity group or local coalition to share? Organizing an upcoming event you’d like to promote? Please send information about your actions and events to Emma, our grassroots campaign coordinator, to help inform and inspire others.
Not Yet a PCC Member?
Constitution Day is September 17
Each September 17, schools across the country receiving federal funds are required to observe Constitution Day. This is a great time to organize an event in your community. Here are some ideas:
- Visit a local school. Teachers are required to include Constitution Day in their curriculum on September 17, and you can help them do so. Visit a class and talk about the Constitution and what it means to us today. See our Constitution Day resources and our resources for K-12 teachers and students for ideas.
- Host a documentary screening. Pick a documentary that touches on the importance of the Constitution and host a screening at your home or a local venue. Some documentaries we recommend:
- Link TV's Torture on Trial
- The Road to Guantánamo
- Outlawed: Extraordinary Rendition, Torture and Disappearances in the War on Terror
- Taxi to the Dark Side
- Ghosts of Abu Ghraib
- Write letters to the editor. Gather some friends to write letters together and send them to every local newspaper. See our advice on getting published.
For more advice on organizing a local event or doing a Constitution Day presentation at a local school, contact our grassroots campaign coordinator, Emma Roderick.
Event for College Students in the Chicago Area
Are you a college student in the Chicago area interested in bringing civil liberties issues to your campus? PCC activist Kali Cohn will be hosting a general interest meeting at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, August 22, in the Evanston Public Library. Contact Kali for more information.
Rep. Steve Cohen Introduces Bill to Repeal REAL ID
On July 31, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) introduced the REAL ID Repeal and Identification Security Enhancement Act of 2009 (H.R. 3471), a bill aimed to repeal the REAL ID Act of 2005.
The REAL ID program has been widely criticized, with 25 states having passed either resolutions opposing it or binding legislation prohibiting that state’s participation. REAL ID requires states to issue federally approved driver’s licenses and IDs. These IDs would be required for air travel and would be entered into a national database. State governments and organizations across the country have long opposed REAL ID, which not is not only overly intrusive, but also exceedingly expensive.
Rep. Cohen’s bill would replace the REAL ID requirements with greater privacy protections and a negotiated rule-making process originally developed in response to the 9/11 Commission recommendations. For more information, see the ACLU’s press release on the bill.
Judge Orders Release of Mohamed Jawad But Government Delays
No one knows how old Mohammed Jawad was when he was taken into custody by Afghani security forces in 2002. The U.S. military has claimed he was 15 years old, though other sources say Jawad may have been as young as 12 when he was captured and detained for allegedly throwing a grenade into a U.S. military Jeep, wounding several soldiers. Subjected to brutal interrogations at the hands of his Afghani captors, and later at the hands of U.S. interrogators at Guantánamo Bay, Jawad wrote out and signed a confession soon after being taken into custody.
The confession was written in a language Jawad did not speak or understand. He was also illiterate.
For the last seven years, Jawad’s fate has been that of many inmates at Guantánamo Bay: held without trial, or even formal charges, and subjected to brutal interrogations and torture In 2003, Jawad attempted to kill himself by repeatedly slamming his own head into a wall.
In 2007, the U.S. attempted to put Jawad on trial in a military commission. The case was flimsy, at best. Evidence against Jawad consisted of almost nothing but his own impossibly offered confession; attempts by military lawyers to mount a substantive defense for Jawad were met by stonewalling and obstruction by commanders; and Jawad had clearly been tortured, over years, by interrogators. The military’s attempt to try Jawad was so outrageous that the prosecutor in charge of the case, Lt. Col. Darryl Vandevald, eventually resigned in disgust. He has since become an outspoken critic against the use of military commissions to try terrorism suspects.
When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Guantánamo detainees were entitled to habeas corpus petitions, Jawad’s defenders saw an opportunity to win his freedom. Of the 31 habeas cases on which federal judges have ruled, 26 have been granted, including Jawad’s this past July.
Federal court judge Ellen Huvelle blasted the military’s case against Jawad. In a rare display of judicial outrage, Judge Huvelle chastised DOJ lawyers, at times vehemently, for the shoddiness of the case against Jawad, and ordered the government to release him by August 22. Further, the judge warned the justice department lawyers against attempting legal maneuvering to move Jawad’s case to another jurisdiction, saying, “I’m not going to have people running around trying to figure out a way to get this case out of the Court’s jurisdiction for some other reason. You have to come to grips with your cases.”
Authorities in Afghanistan have said they are ready and willing to accept Jawad home once the Justice Department complies with Judge Huvelle’s ruling. And while the justice department has indicated they may attempt to move Jawad’s case to a federal district court, on August 6 they notified Congress of their intent to release Jawad to Afghanistan, starting the clock on a 15-day notification period required under recent legislation.
The 7-year long imprisonment and torture of a child is a grievous injustice, one only compounded by each day of Jawad’s continuing detention.
The People’s Campaign for the Constitution’s blog has recently transitioned to a more active platform to share information. In addition to posting daily news clips distributed through the BORDC Daily News Digest, the PCC blog also includes original analysis, including a compilation of peaceful activist groups infiltrated by counterterrorism authorities and a post collecting reports of detainee deaths in custody.
The PCC blog is currently seeking volunteer guest editors to post just twice a week, on a specific day of your choice. Volunteer bloggers will post content on designated days concerning the core rule of law issues currently facing our nation: surveillance, detention, torture, and secrecy. Posts can be as simple as a short summary of existing material, linking to the original source—or potentially more involved, featuring your original writing for review and editing by BORDC’s staff.
Contact us if you are interested in becoming a volunteer blog editor.
Book Review: Torture and Democracy by Darius Rejali
Darius Rejali’s Torture and Democracy, winner of the American Political Science Association’s 2007 award for Best Human Rights Book, is now available in paperback. Rejali, professor of political science at Reed College and internationally recognized expert on modern torture, details the evolution of global torture techniques from the 19th century, through the Battle of Algiers, to contemporary abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay. He also examines myths and realities regarding pain; the reliability of information obtained by torture; the impact of torture on the psychology of professional interrogators; and the profoundly destructive consequences that historically befell democracies permitting torture as a means of interrogation.
Most disturbing is Rejali’s finding that while dictatorships have tortured with impunity, it is the democracies—with righteously declared commitments to human rights—that have pioneered and perfected the stealthy, “clean” methods of torture that leave no marks: by electricity, ice, water, noise, drugs, and stress positions. Rejali’s horrific conclusion is that:
Stealth torture appears to be a perverse effect of the growing robustness of international monitoring. By creating conditions in which observers could monitor specific behaviors, the observers changed the behavior they sought to document. When monitors exposed torture to public censure through careful documentation, torturers responded by investing in less visible and harder to document techniques.
Rejali devotes an entire chapter to “Why Governments Don’t Learn,” offering the insight that the undocumented nature of stealth torture prevents the sort of study and reflection on outcomes that other military and police actions routinely receive. Finally, Rejali declares:
Leaders of dictatorships sign on to the Geneva Conventions only out of prudential fear of what other states might do to their state. Leaders of democracies sign on to them not simply to restrain other states from torture, but to restrain themselves as well. They know that all human beings are capable of authorizing and performing torture. Respecting the rights of others is not coded into our DNA, but must constantly be reinforced by institutional checks and balances. As America’s founders would have told us, we are our own worst enemies, and corruption arose in our democracy not because we failed to defeat others, but because we failed to restrain ourselves.
Peace Group Infiltrated by Army Civilian Contractor
For more than two years, a peaceful protest group based in Olympia, Washington, was infiltrated by a civilian Army employee at nearby Fort Lewis. John Towery, or John Jacob as he was known to activists, first infiltrated the Port Militarization Resistance group in 2007 while employed as a criminal intelligence analyst at Fort Lewis.
His identity was discovered by accident when group leaders requested a batch of documents from Olympia city officials. Contained in these documents was an email from Towery to an unidentified person with a military address. The email contained information about the group’s activities.
The Army has said it is investigating the matter, and that it remains unclear to what extent Towery may have acted on orders or on his own. For his own part, Towery claimed to genuinely wish to join the peace movement, but was pressured by his Army superiors to disclose information about the group’s activities.
Whatever details eventually come to light in Olympia, the incident highlights two disturbing trends during the “war on terror”: the use of military personnel for law enforcement, and the infiltration of activist groups by government agents. Both threaten the constitutional rights and civil liberties of every American, and should be opposed at every opportunity.
Editor: Amy Ferrer, Associate Director
Managing Editor: Barbara Haugen, Administrator
Contributing Writers: Emma Roderick, Grassroots Campaign Coordinator; Max Solie, Summer Intern