Rice 'approved torture methods'
Friday, April 24, 2009
Condoleezza Rice, the former US secretary of state, approved the use of torture methods such as waterboarding as early as 2002, a new report says.
A US senate intelligence committee report said on Wednesday that Rice, then national security adviser, verbally gave the green light to the CIA in July 2002 to use waterboarding on Abu Zubaydah, an al-Qaeda suspect held in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
A few days later on August 1, 2002, the then US justice department approved the use of waterboarding in a secret memo, the report said.
Abu Zubaydah underwent waterboarding at least 83 times in August 2002, according to memos from the administration of George Bush released earlier this week.
The news comes as the senate armed services committee had its own report declassified earlier this week, in which it said senior US officials in the Bush administration were involved in the approval of the use of torture on so-called terror suspects.
Both reports follow the release of internal Bush administration legal memos by Barack Obama, the US president, that justified the use of torture by the CIA, a move that has sparked a wave of controversy in the US over the use of torture on detainees.
The memos document in detail techniques lawyers believed would not break laws against torture including waterboarding, the repeated slamming of a prisoner's head against a padded wall, face-slapping and sleep deprivation.
Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, said the scale of the revelations in the memos and reports had left him concerned about a potential backlash against US forces overseas.
"I...was quite concerned, as you might expect, with a potential backlash in the Middle East and in the theaters where we're involved in conflict," he said.
"There was the realisation in the discussions that some of these disclosures could be used by al-Qaeda and our adversaries," Gates added but said that keeping the contents of the documents secret was "unrealistic".
The senate intelligence report, which compiles legal advice provided by the Bush administration to the CIA, says Rice personally conveyed the administration's approval to waterboard Zubaydah, a so-called high-value detainee, to George Tenet, then director of the CIA.
It also shows that dissenting legal views about the severe interrogation methods were brushed aside repeatedly.
The new timeline in the intelligence committee report indicates that Rice, then reporting to Bush, played a greater role than she has previously acknowledged last year in written testimony to the senate armed services committee.
Rice told the armed services committee last year that she had attended meetings where the CIA's requests over interrogation techniques were discussed, but said she did not recall details and did not refer to her reported direct role in approving the programme in her written statement to the committee.
Zubaydah underwent waterboarding at least 83 times in August 2002, far more than the agency had originally admitted, while Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the September 11 attacks in 2001, was waterboarded 183 times in March 2003, one of the memos released earlier this week said.
Some critics have accused Obama of undermining the US intelligence community after he ordered the release of "top secret" memos on interrogation techniques that have largely been condemned as torture.
And last week Dennis Blair, Obama's own most senior intelligence official, said in a memo leaked to the Associated Press news agency that "high value information'' was obtained through the use of such harsh techniques.
But on Tuesday, in a written statement, Blair said the information gained from the techniques "was valuable in some instances, but there is no way of knowing
whether the same information could have been obtained through other means.''
Obama has defended the decision to release the memos and has reassurred CIA employees that they will not face any punitive action from the government.
However, earlier this week he left the door open to the possibility that those who drafted the memos approving the tactics could be prosecuted, saying that it was up to Eric Holder, the US attorney-general, who has condemned waterboarding as
torture, whether to press charges.
Obama also said that he would support a congressional investigation over the issue if it were conducted in a bipartisan manner.
Pentagon to release images of prisoner abuse
Friday, 24 April 2009
The Defence Department will release a "substantial number" of photos depicting abuse of prisoners by US personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American Civil Liberties Union said.
The photos will be made available by 28 May, the union said, citing a letter dated yesterday from the Justice Department to a federal judge in New York. The photos' release is in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the group in 2004 and will include images from prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan at locations other than Abu Ghraib, the group said.
"These photographs provide visual proof that prisoner abuse by US personnel was not aberrational but widespread, reaching far beyond the walls of Abu Ghraib," Amrit Singh, staff attorney with the union, said in a statement. "Their disclosure is critical for helping the public understand the scope and scale of prisoner abuse as well as for holding senior officials accountable for authorizing or permitting such abuse."
The Justice Department letter, signed by Acting U.S Attorney Lev L. Dassin, follows a September 2008 ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit requiring disclosure of the photos and the court's subsequent refusal in March 2009 to rehear the case, the ACLU said.
Since the group's request in 2003, the Bush administration had refused to disclose these images, the ACLU said. The administration claimed that disclosure of such evidence would generate outrage and would violate US obligations toward detainees under the Geneva Conventions, the group said.
A three-judge panel of the appeals court in September 2008 rejected the Bush administration's position, saying there was significant public interest in disclosure of the photographs, the group said. The Bush administration's appeal to the full appeals court was denied on March 11 of this year.
The letter from Justice said the Pentagon was preparing to release 21 photos at issue in the appeal, plus 23 others "previously identified as responsive." The letter added that the Pentagon also was "processing for release a substantial number of other images contained in Army CID reports that have been closed during the pendency of this case."
The ACLU and the Defense Department reached an agreement for "all the responsive images" to be released by 28 May, the letter said.
"The disclosure of these photographs serves as a further reminder that abuse of prisoners in US-administered detention centers was systemic," said Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU National Security Project. "Some of the abuse occurred because senior civilian and military officials created a culture of impunity in which abuse was tolerated, and some of the abuse was expressly authorised. It's imperative that senior officials who condoned or authorized abuse now be held accountable for their actions."
New abuse claims at Guantanamo
More claims of mistreatment of detainees at the US prison facility in Guantanamo Bay have emerged after Al Jazeera obtained a letter from an inmate saying he had been abused since the Obama administration came to power.
Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, a Yemeni national held since 2001, said in a letter to his lawyer dated April that "oppression has increased, torture has increased and insults have increased".
"I have seen death so many times," he wrote. "Everything is over, life is going to hell in my situation. America, what has happened to you?"
The letter emerged on Thursday, two days after another inmate, Mohammad al-Qurani, told Al Jazeera in a phone call that he had been mistreated since Barack Obama, the US president, was elected last November.
David Remes, one of Abdul Latif's lawyers, said he had seen evidence of abuse on his client during meetings at the Guantanamo Bay facility in Cuba.
"We have met with our clients, we know the men and the experiences are uniform and universal," he said.
"I've seen the marks on these men, I've taken inventories that show the scars, that show the open wounds, that show the rashes.
"Adnan Latif ... has a badly dislocated shoulder blade. I've seen the evidence of physical torture and I've also heard about the evidence of psychological torture."
'Beaten and tear-gassed'
Al Jazeera reported on Tuesday that Mohammad al-Qurani had been beaten and tear-gassed by guards after Barack Obama, the US president, pledged to end abuse at the camp in January.
Al-Qurani said in a phone call to Al Jazeera that the alleged ill-treatment "started about 20 days" before Barack Obama became US president and "since then I've been subjected to it almost every day".
He made the call to Sami al-Hajj, an Al Jazeera cameraman who was himself held at Guantanamo Bay for more than six years.
On Thursday Robert Wood, a US state department spokesman, said he had not seen the allegations regarding al-Qurani and "did not want to get into specific cases".
However, he did say that the state department would "certainly have been looking into a number of these issues".
The call is believed to be the first made from a Guantanamo Bay inmate to a media organisation.
Secrecy 'ramped up'
In January, a US judge ordered the release of al-Qurani, who was only 15-years old when he was captured in Pakistan in 2001, after saying there was no evidence to justify his detention.
He is currently in the Camp Iguana area of Guantanamo Bay, where prisoners go after they have been approved for release before being transferred.
Cory Crider, a member of al-Qurani's legal team, told Al Jazeera on Wednesday it was hard to ascertain how al-Qurani had been treated in recent months as the situation varied from camp to camp within the facility and also there had been "ramping up" of secrecy under the new administration.
However, Crider said the last time she saw al-Qurani before his transfer to Camp Iguana she had seen abrasions on his hands "that I don't really think he did himself".
"I think that where he is now is a significant, significant improvement over where he was before, but there's no question ... that over the years this kid has been seriously mistreated," she said.
The ambassador of Chad to the US told Al Jazeera on Tuesday he would raise the claims of abuse of one of his country's citizens with the US authorities.
"I will bring these allegations to my authorities and also will talk to my counterparts at the state department," Mahmoud al-Bashir said.
The allegations by al-Qurani come after claims by several other Guantanamo inmates that they had been subjected to mistreatment, in violation of international law.
On his second day in office, Obama ordered the closure of the prison, which has been heavily criticised by rights groups over reports of ill-treatment of detainees.
He also ordered that prisoners held there be treated in line with the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit the abuse of detainees.
US army soldier convicted of killing Iraqi detaineesJury finds John Hatley guilty of execution-style slayings of four bound and blindfolded Iraqi detainees in 2007
Associated Press guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 15 April 2009 20.38 BST
A US army master sergeant was convicted today of murder in the execution-style slayings of four bound and blindfolded Iraqi detainees.
John Hatley and two others took the four men to Baghdad's West Rasheed neighborhood, shot them in the head and dumped their bodies into a canal in spring 2007, the prosecution said. Hatley acted as "judge, jury and executioner" in hatching the plot.
An eight-strong military jury found Haastley guilty of premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit premeditated murder after a three-day court-martial in Germany.
But the jury found him not guilty of premeditated murder in the January 2007 death of an Iraqi insurgent.
The 40-year-old career soldier, who has served in the first Gulf War, Kosovo and in Iraq, will be sentenced Thursday at the US army's Rose barracks in southern Germany. He faces the possibility of life in prison without parole.
Army prosecutor captain Derrick Grace said testimony had pointed to "a complete breakdown of discipline and crimes that are among the worst of a soldier."
"On two separate occasions, the accused became the judge, jury and executioner," he said.
Prosecutors said Hatley oversaw the shootings of detainees and had told his comrades they were going to "take care" of the Iraqis and killed them.
Hatley had denied the charges. His lawyer David Court told the court martial there was no physical evidence that the killings ever happened as no bodies, witnesses or blood had been found.
According to testimony this week and at previous courts martial, the four Iraqis were taken into custody in spring 2007 after an exchange of fire with Hatley's unit and the discovery of weapons in a building where suspects had fled.
Two soldiers in Hatley's unit, sergeant first class Joseph Mayo and then-sergeant Michael Leahy, have been convicted of the killings at separate courts-martial earlier this year.
Another two soldiers pleaded guilty in the spring incident, one to conspiracy to commit premeditated murder and one to accessory to murder, and were sentenced to prison last year. Two others had charges of conspiracy to commit premeditated murder dropped this year.
Guantánamo detainee gives interview by phone, says TV networkMohammed el Gharani, a 21-year-old from Chad, allegedly told al-Jazeera prison guards beat him
Associated Press guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 15 April 2009 06.01 BST
A Guantánamo detainee phoned a Middle Eastern TV network to say he was severely beaten for refusing to leave his cell, giving the first media interview with someone held at the US prison in Cuba.
Mohammed el Gharani, a 21-year-old from Chad, told al-Jazeera that guards beat him with batons and sprayed him with tear gas, according to the network. The comments were published on its website yesterday.
The US has never allowed journalists to interview Guantánamo prisoners and al-Jazeera did not say how it managed to speak with el Gharani.
A spokesman for the prison, US navy Lieutenant Commander Brook DeWalt, told The Miami Herald that el Gharani apparently used one of his weekly phone calls to his family to speak to the reporter. The spokesman also said there was no evidence to substantiate the abuse claims. DeWalt and lawyers for el Gharani did not immediately respond to requests for comment from the Associated Press.
El Gharani did not give the date of the alleged abuse but said it occurred after the election of President Barack Obama, who has ordered Guantánamo closed by the end of the year.
The prisoner says he refused to leave his cell because he was not being permitted to interact with other detainees and was denied "normal food". He said a group of six soldiers in protective gear removed him from the cell and beat him, breaking one of his front teeth.
"I could hardly see or breathe," el Gharani said.
A US judge ordered el Gharani released in January, dismissing as unreliable the military's allegations that he was part of al-Qaida and had worked for the Taliban in Afghanistan. He is held in a section of Guantánamo where prisoners are permitted more privileges while he awaits release.
El Gharani was arrested in Pakistan in 2001 at a mosque by local police and turned over to US forces in 2002. He was one of the first Guantánamo Bay detainees and one of the youngest.
The US holds about 240 men at the base in Cuba, most on suspicion of terrorism or links to al-Qaida and the Taliban.
US apologises over Afghan deaths
The US military has admitted that its troops killed four civilians in Afghanistan, including a child, not fighters as was earlier reported.
The US has also offered an apology for the deaths on Wednesday night and indicated that the family will receive support.
Brigadier-General Michael Ryan said in a statement late on Thursday: "We deeply regret the tragic loss of life in this precious family."
A 13-year-old boy who survived the night-time raid on his home told Al Jazeera that his mother, brother, uncle and another female family member were killed.
A woman who was nine months' pregnant was wounded and lost her baby.
"Words alone cannot begin to express our regret and sympathy and we will ensure the surviving family members are properly cared for," Ryan said.
Al Jazeera's Todd Baer, reporting from Kabul, said that while the US operation was going on, the family thought that somebody had entered their home unlawfully to steal.
"They began shooting at soldiers. So the soldiers returned fire," he said.
"There has been enormous pressure from citizens on the Afghan government to end these kinds of civilian casualties, end these kind of raids on houses."
Colonel Graig Julian, a US officer, told Al Jazeera: "When it appears that we have accidentally killed innocent civilians, we are very sorry about that. That is not why we came here. We came here to provide security for the Afghan citizens."
Violence in Afghanistan has reached its highest level since the US-led invasion to overthrow the Taliban government in 2001, despite a growing number of foreign troops.
In the latest clashes, Afghan and US-led multinational forces said they killed 27 fighters in two separate battles in the southern provinces of Helmand and Uruzgan on Friday.
A spokesman for Helmand's governor said the toll could be higher, with up to 36 people killed and 18 others wounded in one battle.
In a second incident in Helmand, six police officers were killed and seven wounded by suspected Taliban fighters in Nava district.
Barack Obama, the US president, wants to increase troop numbers further and is seeking the support of Nato countries, also stationed in Afghanistan, for a "surge" strategy similar to that operated in Iraq.
However, forces opposed to the US-backed Afghan government have been able to take the conflict from their strongholds in the south and east to the outskirts of the capital, Kabul.
Hundreds of civilians have been killed in operations by Afghan and foreign forces, an issue that has angered residents and increased pressure on Hamid Karzai, the country's president.
The casualties have also been a major source of friction between the Afghan government and the West.
'US drone' in deadly Pakistan raid
At least 10 people have been killed in an air raid by a suspected US drone on a village in northwest Pakistan, local officials say.
Al Jazeera's Kamal Hyder, reporting from Islamabad, said that two missiles struck a compound in the Tirah valley, on Wednesday.
The missiles are thought to have hit a compound that belongs to Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistan Taliban.