Obama Administration Criticizes UK Torture Ruling, UN Receives Secret Rendition Report

Three of the most senior Court of Appeal judges in England and Wales on Wednesday authorized the public release of documents concerning the secret rendition and alleged torture of Binyam Mohamed. The ACLU has the details.

While in detention, Mohamed was subjected to physical and psychological abuse by his captors. Upon his release, Mohamed sought documents from the British government that would confirm that U.K. officials were aware of and complicit in his abuse by U.S. forces. Today's ruling orders the disclosure of seven previously suppressed paragraphs from an earlier court ruling that summarize British government documents related to Mohamed's detention and torture while under the control of U.S. authorities.

The CIA had provided the documents to MI5. Ben LaBolt, a spokesman for President Barack Obama, criticized the ruling, saying:

"We're deeply disappointed with the court's judgment because we shared this information in confidence and with certain expectations.


"As we warned, the court's judgment will complicate the confidentiality of our intelligence-sharing relationship with the UK, and it will have to factor into our decision-making going forward."

Dennis Blair, Obama's Director of National Intelligence, said:

"The decision by a United Kingdom court to release classified information provided by the United States is not helpful, and we deeply regret it.

Mohamed was detained in Pakistan in 2002, transferred to Guanatamo in 2004, and released without charges ever having been filed in 2009.

Mohammed is also involved in another case that the Obama Administration is fighting. The ACLU says:

Mohamed is the lead plaintiff in the ACLU's lawsuit against Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen DataPlan for its role in the extraordinary rendition program. The lawsuit charges that Jeppesen knowingly participated in the forcible disappearance and torture of Mohamed and four other men by providing critical flight planning and logistical support services to the aircraft and crews used by the CIA to carry out their extraordinary rendition. The U.S. government has sought to prevent the case from moving forward by invoking the state secrets privilege.

The Obama Administration is just wrong on this. As the ACLU says:

The suppression of government documents confirming Binyam Mohamed's rendition and torture by the United States has never been about protecting secrets; it has always been about preventing legal accountability for torture. There is absolutely nothing in the newly released documents that was not already widely known.

The British court's ruling will further undermine the Obama administration's efforts to use dubious claims of state secrets to prevent accountability for torturers and justice for victims. After today's developments, it would be a farce if Binyam Mohamed and other victims of U.S. torture policies were denied their day in court.

On January 26, 2010, the U.N. received a documented report called "Joint study on global practices in relation to secret detention in the context of countering terrorism. " The full report is here (Word) or here (pdf).

The parts about what the U.S. has done since 9/11 begins on page 46 (of the pdf version) in the section "SECRET DETENTION PRACTICES IN THE GLOBAL “WAR ON

The United States Government declared a global “war on terror”, in which individuals captured around the world were to be held neither as criminal suspects, put forward for federal court trials in the United States, nor treated as prisoners of war protected by the Geneva Conventions, irrespective of whether they had been captured on the battlefield of what could be qualified as an armed conflict in terms of international humanitarian law. Rather, they were to be treated indiscriminately as “unlawful enemy combatants,” who could be held indefinitely without charge or trial or the possibility to challenge the legality of their detention before a court or other judicial authority.

After describing how the U.S. decided to depart from the Geneva Conventions when it came to al Qaida by invoking the "enemy combatant" theory, it continues:

By using this war paradigm, the United States purported to limit the applicable legal framework of the law of war (International Humanitarian Law) and exclude any application of human rights law. Even if and when human rights law would apply, the United States Government was of the view that it was not bound by human rights law outside the territory of the United States.

Therefore, by establishing detention centres in Guantanamo Bay and other places in the world, the United States was of the view that human rights law would not be applicable there. Guantanamo and other places of detention outside the United States territory were intended to be outside the reach of domestic courts for habeas corpus applications by those held in custody in those places.

One of the consequences of this policy was that many detainees were kept secretly and without access to the protection accorded to those in custody, namely the protection of the Geneva Conventions, international human rights law, the United States Constitution, and various other domestic laws.

The report describes the effect of this policy, first in broad terms:

The secret detention policy took many forms. The CIA established its own secret detention facilities to interrogate so-called ‘High Value Detainees.’ It asked partners with poor human rights records to secretly detain and interrogate persons on its behalf. When the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq started, the United States secretly held persons in battlefield detention sites for prolonged periods of time.

In several ensuing sections, the report provides the specifics of the various secret detention sites, the individuals held there, Governments that cooperated with us and what was done to them.

Read the section "The “high-value detainee” programme and the CIA’s own secret detention facilities" beginning on page 49. Among the findings: The CIA planned to put a secret detention/interrogation site at Guantanmo but canceled it in 2004 when the courts started ruling for the detainees.

The CIA had planned to convert it into a state-ofthe-art facility, operated independently of the military [but] pulled out when US courts began to exercise greater control over the military detainees, and agency officials feared judges would soon extend the same type of supervision over their detainees”. Most recently former Guantanamo Bay guards have described "an unnamed and officially unacknowledged” compound nestled out of sight from the main road between two plateaus about a mile north of Camp Delta, just outside Camp America’s perimeter with the access road chained off. The unacknowledged "Camp No" is described as having had no guard towers and being surrounded with concertina wire, with one part of the compound having "the same appearance as the interrogation centers at other prison camps." At this point it is unclear whether this facility was run by the CIA or the Joint Special Operations Command.

Why this is particularly signficant: the suicides at Gitmo that Harper's recently reported may have been homicides. The detainees may have been taken there. The study cites the recent Harper's article.

The Experts are very concerned about the possibility that three Guantanamo detainees (Salah Ahmed Al-Salami, Mani Shaman Al-Utaybi and Yasser Talal Al-Zahrani) might have died during interrogations at this facility, instead of in their own cells, on 9 June 2006.

On page 67, it details three of our secret prisons in Afghanistan, called "The Hangar" (at Bagram) and the "Salt Pit" and the "Dark Prison" (near Kabul.)

Binyam Mohammed, the subject of yesterday's British court ruling, was held for a while at the "Dark Prison."

The report names those who survived and provided descriptions, and those who are "missing." The treatment was horrific and there can be no doubt it was torture, not just stressful interrorgation.

On page 77, the report gets to our prisons in Iraq, and goes beyond Abu Ghraib to the secret facililities. It cites the 2004 Schlessinger report but notes:

the locations of these other prisons, and the numbers of detainees held, have not yet been thoroughly investigated.

On page 79, it describes our "proxy prisons" where we had others do the dirty work for us.

From 2005 onwards details emerged of how the U.S. was not only secretly capturing, transferring and detaining people itself, but also transferring persons to other states for the purpose of interrogation or detention without charge....The Government of the United States of America acknowledged that “some enemy combatants have been transferred to their countries of nationality for continued detention....

Given the prevailing secrecy regarding the CIA’s rendition programme, exact figures regarding the numbers of prisoners transferred to the custody of other governments by the CIA without spending any time in CIA facilities are difficult to ascertain. Equally, little is known about the amount of detainees who have been held at the request of other States such as the United Kingdom and Canada. While several of these allegations cannot be backed up by other sources, the Experts wish to underscore that the consistency of many of the detailed allegations provided separately by the detainees adds weight to the inclusion of Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, the Syrian Arab Republic, Pakistan, Ethiopia and Djibouti as proxy detention facilities where detainees have been held on behalf of the CIA. Serious concerns also exist about the role of Uzbekistan as a proxy detention site.

We're only up to page 80 of the 219 page report. It continues to describe the CIA involvement in renditions and detentions in those countries.

On page 99, it gets to secret detention and rendition under the Obama Administration. While it recognizes his orders to close Gitmo, end CIA secret prisons, treat Gitmo detainees humanely, allow the Red Cross access to those detained -- and several other commitments he's made that fill three pages, it says there are troubling omissions from his orders:

The Experts welcome these commitments. They believe however that clarification is required as to whether detainees were held in CIA “black sites” in Iraq and Afghanistan or elsewhere when President Obama took office, and, if so, what happened to the detainees who were held at that time.

Also, the Experts are concerned that the Executive Order which instructed the CIA “to close any detention facilities that it currently operates” does not extend to the facilities where the CIA detains individuals on “a short-term transitory basis”. The Order also does not seem to extend to detention facilities operated by the Joint Special Operation Command.

As to the Red Cross order:

The Experts also welcome in particular the new policy which was implemented in August 2009, under which the military must notify the ICRC of the detainees’ names and identification number within two weeks of capture. 343 Nevertheless, there is no legal justification for this two-week period of secret detention. According to the Third Geneva Convention, prisoners of war are to be documented, and their whereabouts and health conditions made available to family members and to the country of origin of the prisoner within one week.....it is obvious that this unacknowledged detention for one week can only be applied to persons that have been captured on the battlefield in a situation of armed conflict.

This is an important remark, as the Experts noted with concern news reports which quoted current government officials saying that “the importance of Bagram as a holding site for terrorism suspects captured outside Afghanistan and Iraq has risen under the Obama administration, which barred the Central Intelligence Agency from using its secret prisons for long-term detention”.

The report finds that Bagram in Afghanistan is of particular continued concern.

The Experts are concerned that the new review system fails to address the fact that detainees in an active war zone should be held according to the Geneva Conventions, screened close to the time and place of capture if there is any doubt about their status, and not be subjected to reviews at some point after their capture to determine whether they should continue to be held. The Experts are also concerned that the system appears to specifically aim to prevent US courts from having access to foreign detainees captured in other countries and rendered to Bagram.

While the Experts welcome that the names of 645 detainees at Bagram are now known, they urge the United States Government to provide information on the citizenship, length of detention and place of capture of all detainees currently held within Bagram Air Base.

The parts about the U.S. end on page 104 and the next section details other countries' practices. It's called "THE NATURE AND SCOPE OF SECRET DETENTION PRACTICES IN RELATION TO CONTEMPORARY REGIONAL OR DOMESTIC COUNTERTERRORIST EFFORTS.

Starting on page 166, there's a helpful chart organized by country providing their official responses to the study's questionnaires.

The authors of the report also requested permission from various countries to interview released detainees. The results are contained in an annex beginning on page 182, by prisoner and continues to the conclusion of the report on page 229.

The Obama Administration should not be assisting to keep this information private. The world needs to know what we did, and Americans need to know what was done in our name. That's the only way we can work to make sure it doesn't happen again. Rather than stonewalling, the U.S. should take it on the chin, admit its wrongdoing and apologize. It won't make up for the torture and our failure to comply with our international obligations (and our own Constitution) but it's the only way to begin to repair our image and show we've changed.

By fighting to keep the information secret, the Obama Administration is sending the message that the changes he made are cosmetic only. Without disclosure and an investigation, we can't fully know what was done. If we don't know what was done, how can we or anyone else in the world know that it's not being done any more? Verbal assurances and executive orders just aren't enough, given the gravity of the misconduct.

Obama should be praising the Britsh ruling, not trying to bury it. Since he won't, it's up to the rest of us.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Looking (5.00 / 2) (#1)
    by lentinel on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 03:25:11 AM EST
    It can appear sometimes that people writing posts that are critical of Obama and his administration are looking for something to justify a previously held and somewhat irrational dislike for him.

    But how is one to respond to the kind of information that is provided in this post by Jeralyn?

    Exactly (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by kmblue on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 09:07:58 AM EST
    Let the Obama apologists spin this one.

    Wow...I will have to read the whole (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by Anne on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 10:38:26 AM EST
    report, but from what you've provided here, Jeralyn, this is truly damning - maybe worse than what a lot of people were expecting.  

    Given Obama's DOJ taking up the state secrets privilege where Bush left off, together with what lay under the surface of some of Obama's public pronouncements that only appeared to be changing and rejecting Bush policies, it's awfully hard, I think, to conclude that it's not only been pretty much business as usual in the Obama administration, but the reason it has is that he fully embraces these policies and is determined to protect the previous administration from any consequence of designing and implementing them.

    So, now what?  Will Obama do his usual "explanation" that involves patting us on the head and telling us that if we only knew what he did, we would understand?  

    I can't speak for anyone else, but I don't think this can stand.  I don't know how it can be made to change, whether Congress has the wherewithal to do anything, but the whole thing just makes me feel sick inside - maybe sicker than I felt when Bush/Cheney were in charge.

    Guess he'll have a lot of GOP support, though; that makes me feel so much better...

    I think what many forget (none / 0) (#3)
    by jen on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 10:05:38 AM EST
    is that yes, this was done in our name. Jeralyn is exactly right, since Obama is trying to bury this, it is up to us to speak out and support those working to bring the information to light.

    let the CIA whine. (none / 0) (#5)
    by Salo on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 11:54:05 AM EST

    Putting lipstick on a pig (none / 0) (#6)
    by Andreas on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 04:22:02 PM EST
    By fighting to keep the information secret, the Obama Administration is sending the message that the changes he made are cosmetic only.

    Yes. And this message is correct. The changes Obama made are cosmetic only.

    Obama should be praising the Britsh ruling, not trying to bury it.

    Sounds like putting lipstick on a pig.