Bringing the ‘Bush Six’ to Justice [for torture](ie in Spain not US)

Bringing the ‘Bush Six’ to Justice

ie [for legitimizing torture]

( in Spain, but not in the US, of course)

Michael Ratner
Sat 08 Jan 2011
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If those responsible for the Bush administration’s torture policy will not face charges in the US, then in Spain it must be

Today, the Centre for Constitutional Rights filed papers encouraging Judge Eloy Velasco and the Spanish national court to do what the United States will not: prosecute the “Bush Six”. These are the former senior administration legal advisors, headed by then US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who violated international law by creating a legal framework that materially contributed to the torture of suspected terrorists at US-run facilities at Guantánamo and other overseas locations.

Friday’s filing provides Judge Velasco with the legal framework for the prosecution of government lawyers – a prosecution that last took place during the Nuremberg trials, when Nazi lawyers who provided cover for the Third Reich’s war crimes and crimes against humanity were held accountable for their complicity.

CCR would prefer to see American cases tried in American courts. But we have joined the effort to pursue the Bush Six overseas because two successive American presidents have made it clear that there will be no justice for the architects of the US torture programme, or any of their accomplices, on American soil.

Thanks to the US diplomatic cables recently released by WikiLeaks, we now know why seeking justice abroad has also been fraught with difficulty – why there have been so many delays and even dismissals. The same US government that will not pursue justice at home, not even when the CIA destroys 92 videotapes that show detainees being tortured, has put a heavy thumb on the scales of justice in other countries as well.

During the Bush presidency, the US intervened to derail the case of German citizen Khaled el-Masri, who was abducted by the CIA in 2003 and flown to Afghanistan for interrogation as part of the U.S. “extraordinary rendition” program—until they realized they had kidnapped the wrong man and dumped el-Masri on the side of an Albanian road. A leaked 2007 cable reveals the extent both of U.S. pressure and German collusion. In public, Munich prosecutors issued arrest warrants for 13 suspected CIA operatives while Angela Merkel’s office called for an investigation. In private, the German justice ministry and foreign ministry both made it clear to the US that they were not interested in pursuing the case. Later that year, then Justice Minster Brigitte Zypries went public with her decision against attempting extradition, citing US refusal to arrest or hand over the agents.

Will this toxic combination of American pressure and a European ally’s acquiescence derail justice in Spain, as well?

This 1 April 2009 cable, released 1 December 2010, shows Obama administration officials trying their best to stop the prosecution of the Bush Six. They fret that “the fact that this complaint targets former administration legal officials may reflect a ‘stepping-stone’ strategy designed to pave the way for complaints against even more senior officials” and bemoan Spain’s “reputation for liberally invoking universal jurisdiction”. Chief Prosecutor Javier Zaragoza reassures the US that while “in all likelihood he would have no option but to open a case”, he does not “envision indictments or arrest warrants in the near future”, and will “argue against the case being assigned to Garzon” (a notoriously tough judge, who has since been removed from the case).

Judge Velasco, who has since been assigned to the case, has been scrupulous in his oversight. The Spanish court has thrice asked the US, in accordance with international law, “whether the acts referred to in this complaint are or are not being investigated or prosecuted”, and if so, “to identify the prosecuting authority and to inform this court of the specific procedure by which to refer the complaints for joinder”. Of course, no response to any of these requests has been received, because the Obama administration has no intention whatsoever of pursuing justice on this matter.

Democracy demands a fully functioning legal system – one that does not bend to hidden pressures and political agendas. We have faith that Judge Velasco will justify the US officials’ concerns about Spain’s independent judiciary, and its respect for international law, and move forward with the Bush Six case.
January 07, 2010, The Guardian


Did the US Government Have an American Teenager Beaten In Kuwait?

— By Nick Baumann

| Thu Jan. 6, 2011 8:55 PM PST
— Illustration by Sarah Baumann

UPDATE, January 7, 7:30 p.m.: Gulet Mohamed “was not detained at the behest of the United States government,” Philip Crowley, a State Department spokesman, told reporters on Friday. “We are aware of his detention. We have provided him consular services, and we are ensuring his well-being, as we would for any citizen in detention.” Mother Jones will have more as this story continues to develop. Keep reading below for why Mohamed’s family and lawyer think the US was involved.

Gulet Mohamed, an American teenager detained in Kuwait who claims to have been brutally interrogated there, was arrested and questioned by Kuwaiti security on behalf of the US government, his lawyer and family members charged on Thursday.

Mohamed, a 19-year-old from Alexandria, Virginia, called the New York Times‘ Mark Mazzetti and Salon‘s Glenn Greenwald this week via a cell phone another inmate smuggled into the prison where he is being held. In the interviews, Mohamed recounted being severely beaten. He said he was forced to stand for hours, and that interrogators threatened to torture him with electricity and imprison his mother.

Questions that Kuwaiti interrogators asked Mohamed “indicated a level of knowledge about his family and actions” that could only have been obtained from American law enforcement, the teen’s lawyer, Gadeir Abbas, told the two reporters at a sparsely attended press conference Thursday afternoon. In fact, he added, interrogators mentioned a specific, off-the-cuff conversation Mohamed had at a mosque in the US some time ago—a conversation that he claimed they could only have learned about through surveillance. Since the idea that Kuwaiti intelligence forces are spying on US mosques strains credulity, Abbas and Mohamed’s family believe American officials were passing information to the Kuwaitis.

Mohamed’s case is an example of “proxy detention,” Abbas said. Instead of the US detaining and interrogating Mohamed, or using extraordinary rendition to send him to be tortured in Egypt or Syria, the government is “taking one step back and trying to accomplish the same goal: the unlawful torture and detention abroad of an American citizen by a country that is known to engage in human rights abuses,” Abbas argued.

Salon‘s Greenwald has suggested that Kuwaiti interrogators’ questions about Anwar al-Awlaki, the American cleric and Al Qaeda propagandist who is in hiding in Yemen, are further evidence of American involvement in Mohamed’s detention. Al-Awlaki has “become an obsession of the Obama administration,” Greenwald wrote Thursday, and “the idea that [Kuwait] would do this to an American citizen without the American government’s knowledge, if not its assent and participation, is implausible in the extreme.”

In a letter to the Justice Department sent Thursday, Abbas wrote that  “the manner of his detention and the questions asked of Mr. Mohamed indicate to him that he was taken into custody at the behest of the United States.” The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment.

Zahra Mohamed, one of Gulet’s six older siblings, offered a tearful defense of her brother at Thursday’s press conference and urged the US government to allow him to return home. In many ways, his family says, Gulet was a normal American kid. He played basketball, had an iPhone, and obsessed with the game Madden NFL. But like many American teenagers, Gulet had a bad case of wanderlust. He wanted to travel abroad to learn more about his heritage, Zahra explained. He begged his mother to let him leave: after all, he’d never known his father, and he wanted to learn Arabic. Traveling to the Middle East would let him get to know his father’s side of the family, get in touch with his roots, and learn the language of the Quran.

He visited Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, sometime around March 2009, and stayed with family there for three weeks. But his family (especially his mother) feared for him, his sister told Mother Jones, and eventually convinced him to leave. He then went to Somalia, where he stayed with another part of his late father’s side of the family.

Gulet didn’t like Somalia—it was too hot, and he kept getting food poisoning. So he went to stay with another uncle in Kuwait, and buckled down to finish his study of Arabic. He never met with militants like al-Awlaki, he told the Times: “I am a good Muslim. I despise terrorism.” He went to renew his three-month Kuwaiti visa several times, his relatives said, each time with no problem. But in December, when he applied for another, he was seized and thrown in prison. After hearing from Gulet every day for months (he’d sometimes ask his sister how Carmelo Anthony, his favorite basketball player, was doing), his family didn’t hear from him for a week.

In a late December conference call using the smuggled cell phone, Gulet told his family he had been tortured. They were shocked. “He is a kid, he hasn’t done anything,” Zahra said Thursday. “All we want is for him to come home; that’s it.”

Kuwaiti officials have told Gulet’s older brother, Mohed Mohamed, that they are ready to release Gulet, “have no interest” in him, and are only holding him “at the behest of the United States government,” Abbas said Thursday. Gulet told the Times that FBI agents visited him in prison “to tell him that he could not return to the United States until he gave truthful answers about his travels.” And American officials told the Times that Mohamed is on the no-fly list and cannot return to the US at this time.

Prohibiting a US citizen from returning to the US or conditioning a citizen’s right to return on answering questions is “absolutely illegal,” Ben Wizner, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, told Mother Jones on Thursday.

But this isn’t the first time that US citizens have been detained abroad and questioned about their travels to Yemen and other Muslim countries, Wizner said. Often, these Americans are told they are on the no-fly list and forbidden from returning to the US. Those people do have a way out, however. The ACLU is in the midst of a long legal fight over the no-fly list. As part of that lawsuit, the group sought to obtain a court order preventing the government from using the list in these types of situations. After that, the government “backed down, capitulated, and arranged for our clients abroad to be repatriated,” Wizner says. “Ever since that, every time someone has contacted us on behalf of a citizen stranded abroad we’ve been able to arrange for that citizen to get back using the threat of litigation.”

Gulet Mohamed has not been charged with any crimes. “I went to school, studied the US Constitution,” his sister says. “What happened to the Constitution? I feel like that has been lost. He’s such a kid, a little kid.”

Nick Baumann covers national politics and civil liberties issues for Mother Jones’ DC Bureau. For more of his stories, click here. You can also follow him on twitter. Email tips and insights to nbaumann [at] motherjones [dot] com. Get Nick Baumann’s RSS feed.


Obama and GOPers Worked Together to Kill Bush Torture Probe

— Zuma/Paul Morse 

A WikiLeaks cable shows that when Spain considered a criminal case against ex-Bush officials, the Obama White House and Republicans got really bipartisan.

— By David Corn

Wed Dec. 1, 2010 2:47 PM PST

In its first months in office, the Obama administration sought to protect Bush administration officials facing criminal investigation overseas for their involvement in establishing policies the that governed interrogations of detained terrorist suspects. A “confidential” April 17, 2009, cable sent from the US embassy in Madrid to the State Department—one of the 251,287 cables obtained by WikiLeaks—details how the Obama administration, working with Republicans, leaned on Spain to derail this potential prosecution.

The previous month, a Spanish human rights group called the Association for the Dignity of Spanish Prisoners had requested that Spain’s National Court indict six former Bush officials for, as the cable describes it, “creating a legal framework that allegedly permitted torture.” The six were former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; David Addington, former chief of staff and legal adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney; William Haynes, the Pentagon’s former general counsel; Douglas Feith, former undersecretary of defense for policy; Jay Bybee, former head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel; and John Yoo, a former official in the Office of Legal Counsel. The human rights group contended that Spain had a duty to open an investigation under the nation’s “universal jurisdiction” law, which permits its legal system to prosecute overseas human rights crimes involving Spanish citizens and residents. Five Guantanamo detainees, the group maintained, fit that criteria.

Soon after the request was made, the US embassy in Madrid began tracking the matter. On April 1, embassy officials spoke with chief prosecutor Javier Zaragoza, who indicated that he was not pleased to have been handed this case, but he believed that the complaint appeared to be well-documented and he’d have to pursue it. Around that time, the acting deputy chief of the US embassy talked to the chief of staff for Spain’s foreign minister and a senior official in the Spanish Ministry of Justice to convey, as the cable says, “that this was a very serious matter for the USG.” The two Spaniards “expressed their concern at the case but stressed the independence of the Spanish judiciary.”

Two weeks later, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) and the embassy’s charge d’affaires “raised the issue” with another official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The next day, Zaragoza informed the US embassy that the complaint might not be legally sound. He noted he would ask Cándido Conde-Pumpido, Spain’s attorney general, to review whether Spain had jurisdiction.

On April 15, Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), who’d recently been chairman of the Republican Party, and the US embassy’s charge d’affaires met with the acting Spanish foreign minister, Angel Lossada. The Americans, according to this cable, “underscored that the prosecutions would not be understood or accepted in the US and would have an enormous impact on the bilateral relationship” between Spain and the United States. Here was a former head of the GOP and a representative of a new Democratic administration (headed by a president who had decried the Bush-Cheney administration’s use of torture) jointly applying pressure on Spain to kill the investigation of the former Bush officials. Lossada replied that the independence of the Spanish judiciary had to be respected, but he added that the government would send a message to the attorney general that it did not favor prosecuting this case.

The next day, April 16, 2009, Attorney General Conde-Pumpido publicly declared that he would not support the criminal complaint, calling it “fraudulent” and political. If the Bush officials had acted criminally, he said, then a case should be filed in the United States. On April 17, the prosecutors of the National Court filed a report asking that complaint be discontinued. In the April 17 cable, the American embassy in Madrid claimed some credit for Conde-Pumpido’s opposition, noting that “Conde-Pumpido’s public announcement follows outreach to [Government of Spain] officials to raise USG deep concerns on the implications of this case.”

Still, this did not end the matter. It would still be up to investigating Judge Baltasar Garzón—a world-renowned jurist who had initiated previous prosecutions of war crimes and had publicly said that former President George W. Bush ought to be tried for war crimes—to decide whether to pursue the case against the six former Bush officials. That June—coincidentally or not—the Spanish Parliament passed legislation narrowing the use of “universal jurisdiction.” Still, in September 2009, Judge Garzón pushed ahead with the case.

The case eventually came to be overseen by another judge who last spring asked the parties behind the complaint to explain why the investigation should continue. Several human rights groups filed a brief urging this judge to keep the case alive, citing the Obama administration’s failure to prosecute the Bush officials. Since then, there’s been no action. The Obama administration essentially got what it wanted. The case of the Bush Six went away.

Back when it seemed that this case could become a major international issue, during an April 14, 2009, White House briefing, I asked press secretary Robert Gibbs if the Obama administration would cooperate with any request from the Spaniards for information and documents related to the Bush Six. He said, “I don’t want to get involved in hypotheticals.” What he didn’t disclose was that the Obama administration, working with Republicans, was actively pressuring the Spaniards to drop the investigation. Those efforts apparently paid off, and, as this WikiLeaks-released cable shows, Gonzales, Haynes, Feith, Bybee, Addington, and Yoo owed Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton thank-you notes.

David Corn is Mother Jones’ Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He’s also on Twitter and Facebook. Get David Corn’s RSS feed.


Taxpayers Paying Torture Contractors’ Legal Bills

— By Nick Baumann

| Fri Dec. 17, 2010 1:15 PM PST

Taxpayers are currently paying the legal bills for Jim Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, two CIA contractors who reportedly helped plan and execute the Bush administration’s “enhanced interrogation” program, the Associated Press’ Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo reported Thursday night. The CIA agreed to pay up to $5 million to cover legal fees for the two men—far more than the standard amount that would be covered for employees of the agency (during the Bush administration, it was standard practice for CIA officers to pay half of the cost of insuring themselves against possible legal action).

Mitchell and Jessen were reportedly at the center of the effort to reverse-engineer interrogation methods from the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) training. The SERE training itself was based on interrogation methods that Chinese communists used to extract confessions from American prisoners during the Korean War. Many, if not most, of those confessions were false. In other words, Mitchell and Jessen developed interrogation methods based on training that was based on Chinese techniques the US had described as torture. (The Bush administration reportedly paid them between $1,000 and $2,000 per day to do it.)

Later, Mitchell and Jessen reportedly performed some interrogations—including waterboarding—themselves. The waterboarding technique Mitchell and Jessen reportedly used on suspected Al Qaeda members Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Nashiri was different from the simulation used in SERE because it was “‘for real'” and “more poignant and convincing,” a CIA inspector general’s report later concluded.

It has long been the talk of the town in Washington that Mitchell and Jessen are targets—and perhaps the top or even only targets—of federal prosecutor John Durham’s probe into what human rights groups call “torture-plus.” Durham’s investigation is looking at whether any interrogations of terrorist suspects went beyond the already brutal techniques authorized by John Yoo’s so-called “torture memos.”

The rumor about Durham targeting Mitchell and Jessen makes sense: politically, it would be far easier for the Obama administration to pursue prosecutions against Mitchell and Jessen, who were outside contractors, than it would be to go after CIA employees or Bush administration officials. (The fact that someone leaked a story about Mitchell and Jessen’s legal defense to the AP could also be read as a hint that the men are in Durham’s sights.)

Human rights and civil liberties advocates won’t be satisfied with a prosecution of Mitchell and Jessen—even a successful one. Many activists would prefer a full, 9/11 Commission-style investigation and report to a prosecutorial campaign that focuses on just a few of the many figures involved in Bush-era interrogation, detention, and rendition practices.

The relevant comparison is the Abu Ghraib detainee abuse investigation, which resulted in jail terms for low-level troops but no higher-level accountability, even though many of the techniques applied to prisoners at Abu Ghraib had been authorized for use by the military and/or the intelligence community. Human rights activists hated the outcome of that investigation. Errol Morris even made a movie about it. And as Adam Serwer points out, the troops at Abu Ghraib didn’t get close to the deal Mitchell and Jessen did.

Anyway, if the rumors are true and Durham really is zeroing in on Mitchell and Jessen, America could soon see a scenario in which taxpayers are paying not only for a torture prosecution that won’t satisfy the demands of the human rights community but also for the massive, top-notch defense team that will be trying to derail that same prosecution.

Here’s a video from ABC News, which tried to get Mitchell and Jessen to speak on the record in April of 2009. Both refused:

In other news, taxpayers are also apparently going to have to foot the bill for Rep. Pete King’s (R-N.Y.) McCarthy-esque hearings investigating the American Muslim commmunity.

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Nick Baumann covers national politics and civil liberties issues for Mother Jones’ DC Bureau. For more of his stories, click here. You can also follow him on twitter. Email tips and insights to nbaumann [at] motherjones [dot] com. Get Nick Baumann’s RSS feed.


CIA Tapes Found Under Desk Feature 9/11 Plotter’s Interrogation

— By Nick Baumann

| Tue Aug. 17, 2010 1:05 PM PDT
— Ramzi Binalshibh | Red Cross Photo. 

The Associated Press reports on the content several Bush-era interrogation tapes the CIA supposedly found under an employee’s desk in 2007. According to the AP story, the mysterious tapes depict the questioning of 9/11 plotter Ramzi Binalshibh in a prison in Morrocco—but they just happen to be free of any evidence of harsh treatment:

Discovered in a box under a desk at the CIA, the tapes could reveal how foreign governments aided the United States in holding and interrogating suspects. And they could complicate U.S. efforts to prosecute Binalshibh, who has been described as one of the “key plot facilitators” in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Apparently the tapes do not show harsh treatment—unlike videos the agency destroyed of the questioning of other suspected terrorists.

The two videotapes and one audiotape are believed to be the only existing recordings made within the clandestine prison system and could offer a revealing glimpse into a four-year global odyssey that ranged from Pakistan to Romania to Guantanamo Bay.

The tapes depict Binalshibh’s interrogation sessions in 2002 at a Moroccan-run facility the CIA used near Rabat, several current and former U.S. officials told The Associated Press. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because the videos remain a closely guarded secret.

In 2005, the CIA destroyed nearly 100 tapes that featured accused Al Qaeda plotters Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Nashiri being waterboarded. At that point, “officials believed they had wiped away all of the agency’s interrogation footage,” the AP says, but that was apparently not the case. In late October 2008, the government told a federal judge it had found what we now know are the Binalshibh tapes. But nothing was known about their contents until Tuesday.

The reported absence of harsh interrogation from the Binalshibh tapes is awfully convenient. Morocco (where Binalshibh’s interrogations took place) is the same country where British detainee Binyam Mohamed says an interrogator cut his penis with a scalpel and CIA officials have told reporters that Binalshibh was subjected to “enhanced interrogation,” so it stands to reason that any tapes that “do not show harsh treatment” don’t constitute a full record of Binalshibh’s time abroad. US Attorney John Durham is leading an investigation of the CIA’s destruction of the interrogation tapes, and the AP story includes a note that Durham is now investigating the Binalshibh tapes as well. Good.

Over at FDL, Marcy Wheeler offers some “wildarsed speculation” that the Binalshibh tapes have been altered in the same way as those that once depicted the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah (and now show “nothing but snow”). Here’s the ACLU’s Alex Abdo commenting on the revalations:

Today’s report is a stark reminder of how much information the government is still withholding about the Bush administration’s interrogation policies. Many records critical to real accountability remain secret, such as transcripts in which prisoners tell of the abuse they suffered in CIA custody and the presidential directive authorizing the CIA to establish secret black sites.

The content of these tapes could provide insight into the U.S.’s troubling collaboration on interrogations with Morocco, a country routinely cited by the State Department for its use of torture. Only with real transparency and accountability for these abuses can the government turn the page on this dark chapter in our history.

The “under-the-desk” tapes aren’t the only interrogation records that survive. Audio and video records of Mohammed al Qahtani’s interrogation still exist, too. Foreign observers of interrogations may have made their own recordings. Also, there has always been talk of a parallel, digital recording system at some overseas prisons and black sites. And the CIA medical personnel monitoring “enhanced” interrogations must have had some way to review sessions at which they couldn’t be present, right? Even if the CIA really did destroy all the visual records of waterboarding, “walling,” stress positions, and so on, it would have a lot more trouble getting rid of all the paper records describing the content of the tapes. There’s no question that there’s enough information out there to paint a pretty detailed picture of the rendition, detention, and interrogation program. America just has to muster up the political will to look for it.

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Nick Baumann covers national politics and civil liberties issues for Mother Jones’ DC Bureau. For more of his stories, click here. You can also follow him on twitter. Email tips and insights to nbaumann [at] motherjones [dot] com. Get Nick Baumann’s RSS feed.


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