Thursday, January 11, 2018

Shut Down Guantanamo! Free Book on Detainee Deaths to Mark 16th Anniversary of US Torture Site

Originally posted at Medium.com

[Please note: the ebook giveaway mentioned in this article has expired.]
This Thursday, January 11, marks the 16th anniversary of the opening of Camp X-Ray at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo, Cuba. The base has held detainees in times past, particularly thousands of Haitians who fled political persecution in the 1990s, many of whom the U.S. ultimately sent back to uncertain fates in their homeland.

But the detention of “war on terror” prisoners that began in January 2002 was something different, as the U.S. was determined to imprison many of them for an indeterminate time. Even worse, the U.S. military experimented with implementation of a torture regime, in coordination (and sometimes rivalry) with the CIA’s own “enhanced interrogation” torture experiment.

While the torture of detainees became widely known with the publication of pictures from Abu Ghraib, and later from investigations by different Senate committees, less publicized were the deaths that occurred inside the razor-topped fences surrounding Guantanamo’s Camp Delta. All together, the U.S. government admits to nine detainee deaths at Guantanamo since January 11, 2002, seven by supposed suicide.

Even so, at least one government document exists that indicates there were more deaths at Guantanamo than have been otherwise reported. Minutes from a February 2002 meeting of the Armed Forces Epidemiological Board explain that some prisoners who were flown to Guantanamo directly from Afghanistan battlefields in very early 2002 “died of the wounds they arrived with.”

But these other deaths, and the facts surrounding the deaths of seven detainees via purported suicide, remain largely unreported. The exceptions to this blackout on coverage include the work of former Guantanamo guard, Joseph Hickman, and the continuing attention to all things Guantanamo by British journalist Andy Worthington.

Hickman famously reported on the strange doings he saw going on one June night in 2006, when he saw detainees being transported to what appeared to be a CIA black site at Guantanamo. They were later found dead in their cells. No one knew at the time — not even Hickman — that the head counts for the cellblocks where the three detainees had been held were falsified the night of their death.
This last revelation was among many I found in my FOIA-based research concerning the deaths of two detainees at Guantanamo. This research was necessitated because most of the mainstream media had failed in their task to investigate the real goings on at Guantanamo, even after it was clear that the U.S. was engaging in gruesome behaviors, including torture, at their military and CIA detainee facilities.

My research culminated in the 2016 publication of my book, Cover-up at Guantanamo: The NCIS Investigation into the “Suicides” of Mohammed Al Hanashi and Abdul Rahman Al Amri. An updated, expanded second edition was released last year, and I have also published some of the book’s findings at Medium.com (see here and here). All FOIA documents related to the book were also placed on line for public use.

While the book concentrated on records from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigation into the very suspicious deaths of Al Amri and Al Hanashi, it also included a chapter on the death of Adnan Al Latif, new information into the deaths of three detainees in 2006, and the aforementioned early unreported deaths at Guantanamo.

To commemorate this awful sixteenth anniversary of the detention of “war on terror” prisoners at Guantanamo, I am offering my ebook for free for one day: January 11, 2018. (After that, the book will return to its very reasonable regular price. The book is also available in paperback as well.)

I hope this release will aid in educating the public about the full, true nature of the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo, and arouse debate and protest over the failure of the U.S. to close this facility, and end its practice of abusive interrogations and torture, whether conducted by its own personnel, or by foreign state proxies.

For a capsule overview about U.S. policy on these matters, see the ACLU’s webpage, “Guantanamo by the Numbers.”

President Trump is threatening to open up Guantanamo to further prisoners and bring back the harsher forms of torture the U.S. was embarrassed into giving up some ten years ago. (The U.S. still uses interrogation techniques that amount to torture, however.) The first steps in opposing Trump and his military allies on this involve arming oneself with facts.

On January 11, download my ebook Cover-up at Guantanamo. It won’t cost you anything, and you will be downloading truth for use in the battle against barbarism, because barbarism is what Guantanamo represents.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Updated: The Suppressed Report on 1952 U.S. Korean War Anthrax Attack



[Link to download PDF of the document above]

With the U.S. threatening a pre-emptive attack on North Korea for the latter's pressing development of a nuclear warfare capability, it is more imperative than ever that the history of the U.S.-North Korea conflict be made available to the world, the better to assess the claims made by both sides.

While many see North Korea as a dictatorship run by a madman or evil, others see a rational government - dictatorial, yes - that seeks to defend itself against a power that once obliterated its country in war, and threatened it with nuclear weapons. Indeed, even today, the U.S. says it will not forego using nuclear weapons against North Korea and even executes military war games with South Korea that involve practice runs with nuclear bombers almost up to the border of North Korea.

Back in the early 1950s, during the Korean war, until the Soviets began to fly MiGs over the Korean peninsula in defense of the North Koreans, the U.S. had near unconstrained freedom of airspace over North Korea and China, and in particular, dropped hundreds of thousands of tons of Napalm on North Korea, wiping out nearly every city, and contributing to over a million civilian deaths, maybe 15% of the entire population. Because of the relentless bombing, the people were reduced to living in tunnels. Even the normally bellicose Gen. MacArthur found the devastation wreaked by the U.S. to be sickening.

Most controversially, both North Korea and China maintain that the U.S. used biological or germ warfare weapons against both North Korea and China during the Korean War. The U.S. has strenuously denied this. Captured U.S. flyers who told their North Korean and Chinese captors of the use of such weapons were told under the threat of courts martial to renounce such confessions after they were returned to U.S. custody. They all did so.

To convince the world of the truth of their claims, the North Koreans and Chinese, sponsored a purported independent commission, using the auspices of the World Peace Council, gathering together a number of leftist scientists from around the world. Most surprisingly, this commission, which came to be known as the International Scientific Commission, or ISC, was headed by one of the foremost British scientists of his time, Sir Joseph Needham. The ISC travelled to China and North Korea in the summer of 1952 and by the end of the year produced a report that corroborated the Chinese and North Korean claims that the U.S. had used biological weapons in an experimental fashion on civilian populations.

This posting is not meant to examine the full range of opinions or evidence about whether or not the U.S. used biological weapons in the Korean War. It is instead an attempt to publish essential documentation of such claims, documentation that has been withheld from the American people, and the West in general, for decades. I am publishing here Appendices AA and BB from the Report of the International Scientific Commission for the Investigation of the Facts Concerning Bacterial Warfare in Korea and China.

I introduced that report to the world and posted the report itself online back in January 2015. But the report itself is only some 60-odd pages long, and I was unable at that time to post or publish any of the voluminous appendices that documented the claims of the report. (I am reposting the original executive summary report at the close of this post, for reference sake.) The ISC appendices are crucial in assessing the claims made in the report, and the later denials from U.S. and other allied governments, such as Great Britain.

Appendices AA and BB concern claims of air attacks against various villages in Northeastern China in the Spring of 1952. Using the same kinds of insect (fleas, beetles, etc.) and related "vectors" (such as dropping feathers or rodents) that were studied intensely by Imperial Japanese military scientists and doctors as part of the infamous Unit 731 program. In a matter of proven historical record, but still largely unknown in the United States, the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies, with knowledge of scientists working out of the Army's Ft. Detrick chemical and biological warfare labs, gave amnesty to the Unit 731 war criminals, who conducted their biological warfare experiments on live prisoners, who were incinerated after the Japanese scientists were done with them.

In the executive report, the ISC examined claims of a biological warfare attack in the town of "K'uan-Tien, which lies in the southeastern part of Liaotung province near the Yalu River," as well as a number of other "localities in the provinces of Liaotung and Liaohsi." They looked in depth at five "fatal human cases of respiratory anthrax and haemorrhagic anthrax," including "a railwayman, a tricycle-rickshaw driver, a housewife, a school-teacher, and a farmer." They considered the extreme, indeed, unprecedented appearance of this disease in that part of the world, and the fact that respiratory or inhalational anthrax had earlier been the subject of research by Ft. Detrick scientists. The analysis included laboratory examination from the bodies and from insects discovered in the area and believed to be spreading the disease, after being dropped by U.S. aircraft.

The ISC concluded (pg. 34 of the summary report, which can be accessed at end of this post):
On the basis of the evidence presented, and on their own searching and prolonged interrogation of a considerable number of witnesses, both medical and lay, the Commission was compelled to conclude that the delivery of various biological objects contaminated with anthrax bacilli to many places in the two Chinese provinces had taken place, and that this had given rise to a number of cases of a mortal infection hitherto unknown in the region, namely pulmonary anthrax and ensuing haemorrhagic meningitis. Eye-witness statements impossible to doubt indicated American airplanes as the vehicles of delivery of the infected objects.
The U.S. denied all biological warfare charges. They demanded the International Red Cross be allowed to independently examine the evidence and document the charges. But unknown to all, in secret meetings of top U.S. Pentagon, the CIA, and State Department officials, gathered together as the U.S Psychological Strategy Board, agreed that there never would be any independent investigation, as the Eighth Army was conducting operations during the Korean War which if they became known ("e.g. chemical warfare") "could do us psychological as well as military damage.” (See full article here.) The scholars Stephen Endicott and Edward Hagerman found similar evidence of an unwillingness to really examine the North Korean/Chinese/Soviet charges in their 1998 book on the BW controversy.

The controversy has simmered every since.

But convergent evidence of the charges was made in Chapter 13 of the 2006 book Deadly Cultures. Entitled "Allegations of Biological Weapons Use," the chapter was written by Martin Furmanski and Mark Wheelis. While these authors were highly dubious of the claims of U.S. biowarfare, they couldn't discount the anthrax charges. Primarily, they found that the description of inhalational anthrax made at this time - for instance, the wide range of incubational periods reported for the Chinese cases - came before a detailed scientific examination of such cases of anthrax had already been studied. But the ISC description was peculiarly apt and prescient. Furmanski and Wheelis concluded that the deaths documented by the ISC as due to inhalational anthrax had to be real and not faked.

"These results must have been from real human inhalation anthrax cases, since the information did not exist in 1952 to have allowed fabrication using textbook or medical literature sources," Furmanski and Wheelis wrote. (See pg. 260 of Deadly Cultures.)

But I should note, Furmanski and Wheelis in the end did not conclude this was full evidence of biological weapon attack. Indeed, they concluded it must have been of natural origin, though how such a coincidence of widely dispersed, unprecedented appearance of the disease occurred coinicentally with charges of biowar attack.

What they solely relied on for their conclusion was an April 2004 "personal communication" from a U.S. scientist that isolates from the B. anthracis samples from China, which by inference included those from the 1952 putative attack were "subjected to genomic analysis, and all were clearly indigenous to China." Furmanski and Wheelis believe that despite the "highly suspicious" nature of the inhalation anthrax cases discussed in the 1952 ISC Needham report, the genomic analysis proved that the anthrax cases reported to the ISC were of natural origin, and not from a U.S. biological warfare attack.

I have been in touch with all the people involved in this supposed genomic analysis, and while I find it odd that nothing was every published on this genomic or DNA analysis, I will leave a full analysis of the refutation of the ISC report on this score for a future and more scholarly essay. In the meantime, I have decided to publish the ISC documentation as in the West all we ever seem to get are what Cold War scholars publish. Even when critics of the U.S. historical account publish, the actual documentation is thin. This leaves us reliant on the authority of the scholars, which is an extraordinary situation.

[Update, December 21, 2017 - In spring 2017 I contacted U.S. anthrax expert Martin Hugh-Jones, whom Furmanski and Wheelis had referred to in their book as the source of a "genomic analysis" that showed the inhalation anthrax cases in China could not have come from U.S. stocks of anthrax. Professor Hugh-Jones referenced a Chinese scientist, Wang Bingxiang, who worked on bacterial vaccines at the Langhou Institute of Biological Products, who Hugh-Jones said had supplied samples of the 1952 anthrax cases to the Special Pathogens Lab (SPL) at the School of Veterinary Medicine at Louisiana State University.

I subsequently contacted both a U.S. scientist, Kimothy Smith, who Professor Hugh-Jones said worked on the identification of the anthrax strains brought from China to the SPL, and Mr. Wang in China. Neither of them backed up Hugh-Jones' story that the 1952 anthrax strain had been identified, much less worked on. Wang denied knowing anything even about it. Prof. Hugh-Jones subsequently told me in an email, "And as it seems that no one, including the Chinese, that no one, including the Chinese, have any cultures from the 1952 'incident' (true or false) matters must remain at that. It was a time rife with governmental disinformation, especially by the Chinese & Soviets, so one must be cautious with any personal conclusions."

Professor Hugh-Jones did not reference any possible governmental disinformation from the U.S. side. But the failure to dismiss the inhalation anthrax accounts from the ISC, which Furmanski and Wheelis found so compelling that only the presence of supposed "genomic analysis" - now discredited - could dispel, means that hard evidence indeed exists to prove the presence of U.S. biological warfare attack upon China, and most likely North Korea, during the Korean War.

For his part, Professor Furmanski in correspondence to me maintains for other reasons that the North Korean and Chinese claims of germ warfare attacks were a hoax. He does this for a number of reasons, and seems among them to embrace the fairly recent publication of a Chinese official at the time, Wu Zhili, who had a posthumous publication stating the germ warfare attacks were a "false alarm," one which was then amped up for propaganda reasons into a full-scale campaign around the ostensibly false charges.

Few have embraced my main concerns, which center around the suppression of information in general around this historical incident. I cannot speak to North Korean or Chinese suppression, but I can document and obviously comment about the suppression by the U.S. and its allies, as information slowly is obtained about them. I can also encourage others to pursue original documents and do their own analysis, as I have done.

For his part, despite much professional obloquy, Dr. Needham maintained until the day he died that the U.S. had indeed used biological weapons against the North Koreans and the Chinese. His investigation went far beyond that detailed in this essay, and concerned more than the dissemination of anthrax.

Was there any fraud involved in Chinese, North Korean, or Soviet evidence of germ warfare attacks by the U.S.? I think it's possible there was, just as a suspicious patient might exaggerate symptoms to get the attention of a doctor they fear isn't taking them seriously. The importance of the suppressed ISC report is the attention given to many multiple sources of evidence. Sir Joseph Needham wasn't one of the leading scientists of his day for nothing. He understood the scientific approach to evidence.]

I hope that the publication of this material will lead to a greater effort by U.S. and European media and other commentators to assess the real history of U.S. and North Korean and Chinese relations, the better to counter the claims of the hawkish Trump administration and Pentagon spokespeople, who are threatening to plunge this country, and possibly the world, into a terrible new war, painting the North Koreans as unreasonable and dangerous people. But any fair historical account will see that while not by any means perfect, the North Korean regime has plenty to complain about and fear from U.S. intervention.


[Link to download PDF of the document above]

Original version of this article, without update, was published on April 26, 2017

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Book Review - Unjustifiable Means: The Inside Story of How the CIA, Pentagon, and US Government Conspired to Torture

This review is adapted from my posting at Amazon.com

Mark Fallon's new book, Unjustifiable Means: The Inside Story of How the CIA, Pentagon, and US Government Conspired to Torture, is the story of one man's journey towards bitter illumination. It is also the story of a nation's journey into a moral abyss.

Fallon was a top counterintelligence official and investigator, someone who believed in patriotic idealism, who discovered a core of thuggery inside the U.S. military and intelligence apparatus. From 2002 to 2004, he was a top official for the government's Criminal Investigation Task Force (CITF). Rather than turn aside (something repugnant to him), he tried to intervene against the barbarism of torture. What he encountered was the corruption of institutions to which he otherwise had been loyal, which he had served for decades. The book is the story of what he experienced and what he felt driven to do.

But this book also has a metastory, manifested in the form of words, sentences, paragraphs and ultimately pages of redactions. The repeated blackened lines of typeface represent the arm of that same torturing government Fallon opposed reaching into the reader's own personal universe, that sacred connection between reader and author. The shadow of the evil that conjured up torture, and then acted to protect it, seeps into the realm of the reader him or herself.

As anyone who has studied the torture issue for some time can readily see, many of the redactions are embarrassingly stupid, including censorship of names that were recorded in otherwise declassified government documents, or opernly reported by the press. But other redactions are serious and frightening, such as the attempt to still hide the full story about the torture of Mohammed Al Qahtani, the so-called 20th hijacker.

Mark Fallon is a congenial author, and he wishes to convey some of the shock and outrage he felt as the full implementation of the CIA's torture program unfolded, born out of the government's embrace of modern psychological and psychiatric forms of control over human behavior, and spread into the military.

I wouldn't look to this book for a full history of how that all took place, nor does the author pretend to present such a history. His is the account of a whistleblower. His former position inside Guantanamo and corridors of the Defense Department apparatus provides a unique and invaluable perspective of just how the torture policy spread and how it was covered-up.

In the end, Fallon witnesses the bureaucratic institutions to which he pledged fealty fatally infected by the virus of torture. His is a harrowing journey, and one that, it is clear from the narrative, haunts him still.

Along with books recently written by former detainees themselves, this book by someone on the other side of the interrogation booth is essential reading. I think the torture scandal is even far deeper and darker than even Mark Fallon presents it -- and his is a pretty dark portrayal -- but U.S. readers in particular must understand the courage it took for some of the government's most loyal and idealistic officials and servants to confront those in power with the truth of their crimes.

I believe that the torture policy began far earlier than after 9/11, and was inimitably linked to long-time policies of war and conquest. It's current manifestation was itself a logical extension of the "war on terror." From that standpoint, one can see Fallon's battle against torture, and others like him (some of whom he discusses in the book), is important and certainly courageous, as the people they come to oppose are seriously dangerous, with a great deal of power behind them.

Rather than the sense of failure that haunts Mark Fallon -- many times he bemoans the fact he could not actually stop the full torture program -- his moral awakening at a dire time in history is a triumph of the human spirit.

The confrontation with the urge to torture goes back centuries now, to Voltaire and the French Enlightenment, and on to Nuremberg, to those who organized ad hoc tribunals against Vietnam War crimes in the 1960s, to citizens in North Carolina today trying to bring their own state government to account for its collaboration with CIA torture, and many, many more. The latter include those I've known in the psychology profession who have fought to end collaboration with torture and war crimes in their own profession.

The fight against torture is something that has unfolded over generations, and sadly, I've come to realize, will take generations more to win. But what Mark Fallon and others like him achieved was significant. Some of the torture was cut back. The policy dragged out of the shadows and exposed in public. It is not so easy for the torturers to operate as before.

In the end, Mark Fallon's book is a document about a significant time in our history. Every partisan of human rights and liberty will want it on their bookshelf.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Detainee Reported Gitmo Guards Having Oral Sex, 2 Weeks Later He Was Dead

Having received hundreds of new pages of information regarding the deaths of Saudi detainee Abdul Rahman al Amri (ISN199) and Yemeni detainee Mohammed Salih Al Hanashi (ISN78) at Guantanamo, I've now finished revising my book, Cover-up at Guantanamo, published at Amazon*.

The new version is now online and ready to be purchased and downloaded. It's full of new revelations that will interest all who have followed or are still following the deaths of these two detainees, and others who have died at Guantanamo.

As a sneak preview, I thought I'd reveal one of the more disturbing, if not bizarre, details surrounding Al Amri's case. It just might also represent a motive for his murder by Guantanamo authorities.

Al Amri was found in his cell, almost dead (he still apparently still had a pulse), on May 30, 2017. According to guard accounts, he was hanging from a rope made from his bed sheet, attached to a second piece of sheet-derived rope whose end was ripped or torn into ten different strands and then looped through very small holes in an air conditioning vent some nine feet up off the floor.

As people can read when they buy the new 2nd, revised edition of my book, the method by which Al Amri supposedly died is very suspicious, not just that it seems nearly physically impossible for this particular detainee to have killed himself in the way described, but because the time it would have taken the 5'6" Al Amri to get up on some apparatus to tie the rope to the air vent almost nine feet up off the floor was far longer than very tight surveillance at Guantanamo made possible.

There's much more to the story, of course, but I wanted to mention one aspect that leads to the question of motive.

Perhaps Al Amri was not in fact a suicide, but was murdered. While it sounds outlandish, the fact is it's possible that guards at Guantanamo, having been reported to be having oral sex while on duty, decided to kill the detainee who blew the whistle on them.

According to a sworn statement by a Guantanamo linguist, dated June 5, 2007 - six days after Al Amri died - and released to me via FOIA request, approximately two weeks before he died, Al Amri asked for an interpreter. The linguist responded.

Interestingly, besides being an interpreter for detainees, this linguist also started each day listening to tapes made of detainee talk or chatter the night or day before, making transcripts of them for officials for "exploitation as well as interpretation." This linguist may have had more to do with certain details surrounding Al Amri's death, but you'll have to get my book to read about it.

The linguist told the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), which was looking into Al Amri's death:
"When I arrived, ISN 199 informed me that the guards were performing oral sex on each other. I asked him how he knew. He responded that while he was not able to see the act, he could hear what was going on. At no time did ISN 199 allege that he had been sexually assaulted or violated by any of the guards."
Now there can really only be three possibilities here: either 1) the guards were really having oral sex; or 2) guards or interrogators were trying to make Al Amri think guards were having oral sex, as a way of messing with his mind. The use of sexualized situations or abuse as a means of torture of the religious Islamic detainees has been well documented, and anyone who saw the pictures from Abu Ghraib knows about that.

Finally, 3) perhaps there was no indication of oral sex taking place at all and the entire thing was a figment of Al Amri's imagination. If so, it would indicate a possibility of mental illness, or maybe a past instance of sexualized abuse or behavior, predisposing Al Amri to believe in such a situation as his guards having oral sex with each other. (There are other more distant possibilities, such as the linguist making the whole story up, or that guards were not having oral sex with each other, but with other detainees. But these all seem very unlikely.)

What makes the story noteworthy is that Al Amri was found dead in his cell about two weeks after making this allegation. Furthermore, the circumstances of his case are highly suspicious. He was found hanging in his cell with his hands tied "snugly" behind his back in a figure-eight fashion, attached via a rope made from bed sheets (prison sheets that weren't supposed to tear) to an air vent far above his reach.

NCIS tried to hide the fact of Al Amri's hands being tied behind him, not reporting on it in Executive Summaries of their investigation to NCIS and Guantanamo higher-ups. They did, however, tell the autopsy doctors, but misrepresented the circumstances, telling them the bindings were bound "loosely," the better to lead to an inference Al Amri did it to himself.

According to the FOIA documents released, the guard who actually cut the hand bindings off Al Amri described them as "snugly" bound. (All the relevant documents are now posted at GuantanamoTruth.com.)

As readers of the new edition of Cover-up at Guantanamo* will know, investigators ruled out his standing on either the cell toilet or sink to reach the vent from which he was hanged. There was no evidence that the other possibility -- standing on a folded bed mattress -- happened either. Even if he managed to reach the vent, it would have taken a lot longer to construct this death apparatus than the every three minutes or less constant visual surveillance upon him would have allowed.

The mainstream press let the death of this detainee for the most part go unexamined. I hope with the revelations here and in my book, about which I intend to write other stories, will lead authorities to look very seriously at what really happened inside Guantanamo, and that a process of accountability for the crimes there will commence.

[*Reader note: As of September 18, 2017, the updated revised version of Cover-up at Guantanamo is available in both paperback and its ebook version. Buy the paperback and get the ebook for only $1.99 more.]

Friday, August 11, 2017

Guantanamo Detainee Was Disciplined by Putting Him in the Morgue

You'd think the crazy things done to prisoners of the United States in the "war on terror" couldn't get any more bizarre. The U.S. government has waterboarded prisoners, placed them in coffin-like confinement boxes, threatened them with drills, given them forced enemas of hummus and pasta, and sealed them up in all-white rooms and blasted music at them night and day.

ISN 00156, Adnan Farhan Latif
By JTF-GTMO (File:ISN 156's Guantanamo detainee assessment.pdf) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

But a newly surfaced document, part of a FOIA release on the death of Guantanamo detainee Adnan Farhan Abd Al Latif in September 2012, seems to state that subsequent to an alleged rock throwing incident by Al Latif on July 25, 2012, he was taken to Guantanamo's morgue for some unspecified punishment.


Even more, a series of reports, beginning July 25, and ending August 2, indicated that Al Latif had been sent to or located in the "morgue." The reports were each labeled "DIMS Observation/Disciplinary Report Form" and classified "Secret." See end of this post for all the documents. DIMS stands for "Detainee Information Management System" and is the primary documentary record at Guantanamo for literally everything a detainee does or happens to him. For more on DIMS, see my Truthout article here.

I asked the JTF-Guantanamo Public Affairs Office for an official explanation. I queried, "Was Mr. Latif imprisoned for a time in the morgue at Guantanamo as some kind of discipline or punishment for perceived or actual infractions?"

Commander John Robinson at PAO replied tersely, "We don't discuss details of camp operations." (I've asked whether this means they don't deny Al Latif was placed in the morgue as discipline. I've not yet had a reply but will update this post when I do.)

[Update, August 15, 2017: Today received a further communication from JTF-GTMO's Public Affairs Office, responding to a second query of mine on August 11. I had asked if military authorities weren't really going to deny use of the morgue as a disciplinary action. Commander Robinson wrote back:
"JTF GTMO does not discuss the details of camp operations or specific locations of specific detainees. However, the morgue is only used for proper handling of detainee remains, not for detention. In response to apparent confusion regarding Detainee Information Management System data received via FOIA, please note that when an electronic query is conducted in DIMS, a detainee's 'Current Location' in block 7 will show the physical location (updated to date) of the detainee at the time the search was conducted. The 'Current Location' in block 7 is not associated with the "Date" of the report shown in block 2. Therefore, the location 'Morgue' in block 7 was the updated (most current) location of the detainee at the time the electronic file query in DIMS was conducted."
This would seem to negate the essence of the claims made in this article. But in the service of transparency, I'll leave open what I wrote as a cautionary tale about the use of government documents, and because the other points in the article are still relevant. I'd note, as you'll see in update below, this explanation for the surfacing of the location as the "morgue" as something generated by computer or software dynamism was first brought to my attention by Charlie Savage of The New York Times.]

The period July 25 to August 2, 2012 produced a flurry of disciplinary reports on Al Latif. Only three days earlier, the Supreme Court had refused to hear Al Latif's appeal of a lower court's overturn of his habeas appeal. For the young Yemeni detainee, the Supreme Court's decision was devastating, condemning him to an unending detention with no hope of knowing when it would end. Such indefinite detention has been found to be extremely emotionally and mentally stressful.

Indeed, Al Latif's behavior became more erratic and confrontative after he was in effect sentenced to indefinite detention, following the Supreme Court's decision. If we can believe camp accounts, Al Latif assaulted guards and a nurse with urine and feces, threw a rock at a guard in a watch tower, and possibly even grabbed for a guard's gun in the recreation yard. Only a little over a month later, he was found dead in his cell in Camp 5, ostensibly from a drug overdose of prescription antipsychotic medication. He was also suffering from pneumonia only a day after being medically cleared to be moved from the Behavioral Health Unit (BHU) at the Detainee Hospital to Alpha Block at Camp 5.

During the period in question in this article - July 25 to August 2, 2012 - Al Latif was ostensibly quartered in the BHU for ongoing suicidality and psychotic behavior. The registered nurse who worked closely with him told government investigators after Al Latif's death that during the period we're looking at Al Latif was “particularly agitated about events that had taken place the previous two days....”

The nurse described Latif as "jumping from the bed to the sink to the table to the toilet.” The jumping behavior would not stop. There was a lot of back and forth about giving Al Latif a forced injection of drugs to calm him. He refused the injection, and in the end, they opted to simply observe him, though there were other times when the prisoner was supposedly agitated when he was involuntarily injected with the drug Haldol to sedate him.

While the government isn't about to explain what really happened, reading between the lines, it looks like Al Latif became very upset when the Supreme Court denied his habeas appeal. His protests and psychological regression overwhelmed camp personnel, who responded ham-handedly by upping the discipline on him. While he was sprayed with pepper spray and involuntarily drugged, it looks like they also imprisoned him in the morgue for hours each day, returning him to the hospital later each day.

While it seems Al Latif was driven insane, or at least driven to desperate acts of defiance and protest by his despair at conditions at Guantanamo, things definitely seemed to get worse after July 25, the first day at the morgue. What happened to Al Latif there? Was he placed in a coffin-like box, as happened to Abu Zubaydah at a CIA "black site" prison? Was he threatened with death? Did he have contact with a corpse, or a fake corpse? Did Guantanamo authorities try to worsen his already fragile mental health?

We don't know the exact answer to the questions above, but given the macabre imagination of the torturers in the U.S. government, anything is possible.

[Update, 8/12/2017: Journalist Charlie Savage at the New York Times saw the documents online, and thought a simpler explanation for the "morgue" location could be that, since the documents contained "dynamic content" (as described at the top of each report), the "current location" was really simply the last location for Al Latif at Guantanamo. That would have been Guantanamo's morgue. In other words, the document automatically updated when it was processed for FOIA. Mr. Savage links to this webpage as an explanation. I think it's a possibility, at this point, and will look more into this explanation.]

The entire episode is an indication of how much we still don't know about the U.S. torture activities undertaken by both the CIA and the Pentagon. Meanwhile, apparently the U.S. is trying to suppress the publication of a "tell-all" book about Guantanamo from an insider, Mark Fallon, who worked with the Criminal Investigative Task Force at Guantanamo from 2002 to 2004.

There is also the fact the Senate Intelligence Committee has refused, under both Democratic and Republican leadership, to fully declassify and release their report on CIA torture.

Only a public outcry against torture and its effects, the human costs of which are staggering, will put an end to this censorship. Societal indifference to such inhumanity is highly damaging, the effects of which are to brutalize the society and render it less able to fend off authoritarian or even totalitarian impulses from above.

NOTE: The documents released from SOUTHCOM that are the basis for this story came from a FOIA I filed some years ago. The initial filing for the documents, however, was made by Jason Leopold, a journalist who now works at Buzzfeed, and with whom I worked on various stories about torture a few years back. Jason followed the Al Latif story for some time (see here and here). I've previously covered Al Latif's death as well, most recently in my book, Cover-up at Guantanamo.

AL LATIF "MORGUE" DOCUMENTS

If the embedded documents below don't work for you, you can download them here.



Friday, August 4, 2017

Saudi government defends imminent protest-related executions

The following is an August 4 press release from the international human rights and legal group, Reprieve. I'd note only that Saudi Arabia is a firm ally of the United States, and U.S. apologia for that government's human rights violations have been going on for decades.
Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Justice has released a rare response to criticism over the imminent execution of 14 Saudi nationals on protest-related charges - including juveniles and a man with disabilities. The statement, released today, makes a number of apparently false claims about the trial of the 14.

The Saudi government is facing criticism over plans to execute the 14, who were arrested in the wake of protests and sentenced to death on protest-related charges in a secretive counter-terrorism court. Among the group is a juvenile, Mujtaba al Sweikat, who had a place to study at university in Michigan, but was arrested at the airport en route to the USA; and Munir Adam, who has disabilities. Both men were tortured into making false confessions, which were used against them at trial. Last month, the Supreme Court upheld the 14 protest-related death sentences, meaning the executions are now imminent.

In a statement released today, Sheikh Mansour Al-Qafari, the spokesman of the Ministry of Justice, responded to criticism over the standard of the trial of the 14. The statement claimed that all trials before the controversial Specialised Criminal Court - which sentenced the 14 to death - meet international standards for fairness and due process, and allow for access to lawyers, the preparation of a defence, and even access to the trials by media and human rights observers.

The public statement on the executions is at odds with assessments by the UN, as well as rights groups such as human rights organization Reprieve. Reprieve has established that at least one defendant, Mujtaba, was never permitted to see a lawyer; in Munir's case, no evidence against him was presented at trial. Mujtaba told the court at trial that he was tortured into a false confession, but this claim was dismissed by the judges and never investigated.

In November 2016, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said of the Specialized Criminal Court that “such a special court, specifically designed to deal with so-called terrorism cases, raises serious concerns about its lack of independence and due procedure.” The UN Committee Against Torture has accused judges of the Court of “repeatedly refus[ing] to act on claims made by defendants facing terrorism charges that they had been subjected to torture”.

Today’s Saudi statement also claimed that death sentences are only handed down for the most serious crimes. However, the Saudi authorities continue to carry out executions for non-violent alleged crimes, including political protest and drug offences. Some of the 14 men were convicted of offences such as using mobile phones to organise demonstrations, and using social media.

Commenting, Maya Foa – Director of Reprieve – said: “Saudi Arabia’s attempts to justify these 14 unlawful executions are appalling. This statement is a serious mischaracterisation of the trial process against the 14 men, and it is risible to claim that a protester like Mujtaba – who never even saw a lawyer – received a fair trial. Governments close to Saudi Arabia – including the Trump Administration and the UK – must urgently call on the Kingdom to halt these executions.”
According to Reprieve, English translations for the Saudi documents linked in their press release can be arranged via request. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: alice.gillham@reprieve.org.uk, or +44 (0)7792 351 660.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Writing to NARA to Stop CIA Destruction of Records

Following a story at Unredacted, the blog for The National Security Archive, regarding the potential changes in the rules allowing destruction of historical CIA documents, I wrote the following letter. Today is the deadline to submit comments to request.schedule@nara.gov. I strongly recommend readers mail their comments in ASAP!
Margaret Hawkins
Acting Director, Records and Management Services
National Archives and Records Administration
8601 Adelphi Road
College Park, MD 20740-6001
Request.Schedule@nara.gov

Dear Ms. Hawkins:

I was alarmed to read that the National Archives had tentatively approved a CIA request to destroy a number of potentially important documents that are 30 years old or older, including classified information related to the Agency’s official actions abroad, investigative files from the offices of the Inspector General, Security, and Counterintelligence, and files relating to CIA assets (spies) that the CIA itself does not deem “significant.”

This action would amount to a destruction of history itself, as there is no guarantee that the government operations covered by these records exist anywhere else, even if the CIA maintains that it does. Historians have too often seen documents destroyed. It was as recent as the late 1990s that historian Sheldon Harris complained of government officials (in this case, Department of Defense officials) destroying government records on U.S. collaboration with Unit 731 Japanese war criminals after he and other historians and journalists had expressed interest in such documents. See his letter republished in the November 19, 1999 issue of Congressional Record (pp. S14542-S14543).

I've had my own experience with disappearing records. In 2012, I filed a FOIA on investigative files from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service on a Guantanamo detainee who died in custody in June 2009. I subsequently received notice that crucial computer records from the day the detainee had died (and the day after) had gone "missing" and were irretrievable as a result. While I cannot say with assurance they were deliberately destroyed, it was a very suspicious disappearance.

In this brief review, I'd note that the CIA itself has a history of destroying important documentation, from the bulk of the files pertaining to the MKULTRA program of the 1950s and 1960s, to the November 2005 destruction of videotapes of the interrogation and torture of detainees, which a court had ordered preserved.

This is an urgent matter, and the proposal to destroy historical records is contrary to the functioning of a democratic government and a strong civil society. I strongly request that NARA reconsider its pending approval of the CIA’s proposed schedule, N1- 263-13-1, until NARA can better assure the public that records of permanent historic value will not be allowed to be destroyed by the CIA.

In this matter, I am in accord with The National Security Archive, OpenTheGovernment, and other organizations, who ask that NARA pause the approval of CIA N1-263-13-1 until NARA is able to verify beyond a reasonable doubt to the public that: 1) the records set for destruction are in fact not historically valuable, as the CIA’s claims, and 2) The records and information that the CIA claims are captured elsewhere are in fact preserved. I also request that "Item 30-3a: Declassification Referral Files" be re-designated for preservation. We strongly believe that these files do have significant research value, as they provide an invaluable tool and a roadmap for researchers to identify documents that were once designated as too secret to disclose to the public, but will be subject to release at some point in the future. Executive Order 13526 states, “No information may remain classified indefinitely;” NARA must ensure safeguards so that no previously secret, historically valuable, information is improperly destroyed.

Sincerely,

Jeffrey Kaye, Ph.D.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

10 Yr. Anniversary of Gitmo Detainee's Death, New Documents Show Suicide Improbable

Ten years ago today, Abdul Rahman Al Amri was found dead in Cell 211, B Block, upper tier, at Guantanamo's Camp Delta's Camp 5. The Saudi detainee was found hanging from an improvised rope attached to the air vent just under the ceiling, about nine feet up. Al Amri was 5'5" tall.

Al Amri was found with his hands tied "snugly" behind his back. He had no history of suicide attempts, and was considered a "detainee of interest." He weighed only 125 pounds.

The autopsy tested for the presence of antimalarial drugs, even though there was no malaria at Guantanamo. Al Amri had been a prisoner there for five years. He had never seen an attorney, but new documents I've received show he had papers that supposedly contained attorney-client communications. Those papers have not been released.

But NCIS has released a new trove of documents to me via a years-long FOIA request. I will be soon posting those publicly, as well as updating my analysis of those documents in my book, Cover-up at Guantanamo.

The new documents confirm what I already suspected, that Al Amri did not die a suicide. In fact, the prisoner, subject to checks every three minutes, and with his room bugged, if not under video surveillance, would have taken a long time to create and set-up his suicide apparatus, according to the NCIS investigator who examined the death scene.

As this investigator wrote, noting the complex fashion in which the rope was attached to the air vent:
The attachment of the cloth to this grate would have been time consuming as the cloth appeared to have been weaved through ten holes to assure that it would support a weighted object. It was difficult to ascertain how the cloth attachment was facilitated through gross scene examination. A request was made of this facility to have the grate removed for further inspection and study. The height of the grate on the wall was at a location in which the weaving necessary to attach the cloth to the grate would have been challenging for a shorter detainee. (Note: the detainee had been measured at a height of 66" at the time of the autopsy examination [5' 5" tall].) Standing on the nearby toilet or sink would allow this access but it would put the person at an angle in which further support would have been required through balancing with a hand or upper body.... There was no indication of recent use of the sink or toilet to climb as dust was found on the top surface of both the sink and toilet....
There will be much more to say about this and other new facts about Al Amri's death in the coming weeks. But it is not too late to remember his death, and the fact that his death and others at Guantanamo have never been independently investigated. I believe that when I explain all that is to be revealed about Al Amri's death, calls for a new investigation should be made.

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