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The (Unfinished) Story of Majid Khan, Dick Cheney and the Torture Memos

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FROM THE UNPUBLISHED ARCHIVES: This post is among several unpublished, unfinished drafts — all of them works-in-progress, when I set them aside to speak out on behalf of other issues. The news in America is relentlessly bad, and it’s only getting worse. It’s difficult for the average person to stand still long enough to make sense of one horror story, before another one overtakes it. Torture is promising to be an ongoing horror — past, present and future.  And I remain unconvinced that the Obama Adminstration has done enough — or intends to do enough — to ensure, “Never again.”

In this vein, we should never stop shedding light on all the terrorist acts Dick Cheney committed under the false flag of fighting terrorism. We should never stop demanding that Cheney and his gang be held accountable for their war crimes. Even as this post is unfinished, it holds value as a reference tool for shedding light onto the complex legal sleights-of-hand Cheney used to “legalize” torture.

Equally important is the need to continually shed light onto the victims of the Cheney-era war crimes. Many of these victims — if not most — are believed to be innocent. And who’s to say otherwise? Few have ever been officially charged with a crime and none have been permitted the basic right of a trial — their every effort to do so having been defeated by Team Cheney’s devious legalese, which is still a de facto part of American law. The number of these victims is seemingly countless. Majid Khan is but one of these human souls left to rot in jail, his guilt long ago sealed by accusations and confessions extracted under torture.

My apologies for not finishing this post, and for any loose ends I didn’t tie up.

The (Unfinished) Story of Majid Khan

Dick Cheney and his torture regime are like the vampire in the B-grade movie that refuses to die. Until someone drives a stake through its heart — that is, until the Department of Justice sees fit to take the gloves off and conduct an honest investigation into Cheney’s regime of corruption and torture — the monster will continue to re-injure our country, our laws, our integrity, our standing in the world. Not to mention the victims, whose stories are the stuff of nightmares. Problem is, the more time passes, the easier it becomes for Dick Cheney and daughter, Liz (who is — mark my words — being groomed to run for the vice-presidency in 2012), to re-write history and for the American public to then blindly accept their bill of goods. But, make no mistake, the rest of the world — the good, the bad and the ugly — aren’t buying.

Obama’s refusal to acknowledge America’s war crimes and hold these criminals acountable is not only short-sighted — permitting this history to exist unimpeded and ripe to repeat itself — but it also makes  Obama party to the crimes.  Obama’s neglect does not abrogate the DOJ from their duty to investigate these crimes to the fullest extent of the law. But that’s not how things are done in America today. Ultimately, it is up the American people to demand this. Perhaps we can pencil this fight into our busy agendas, somewhere between our battle for health care reform our own personal struggles with the collapsing American economy.

I want to be absolutely clear with our people and the world: the United States does not torture. — George W. Bush, September 6, 2006

By the time George Bush uttered those words, he was (technically, anyway) correct. That is, according to the precise letter of the law, as interpreted by Dick Cheney’s crackerjack team of attorneys at the Dept. of Justice Office of Legal Council (OLC) and published in the four Bybee and Bradbury memos, dating from August 2002 and May 2005. According to Team Cheney, we never did torture, and even if we did, the point was moot. Here’s why, according to the Bybee and Bradbury memos:

  • Intention is nine-tenths (plus one-tenth) of the law: Unless the interrogators intended to inflict pain and suffering, it was not torture. And since the specific intention of the interrogators was to gather intelligence — and not to inflict pain and suffering, per se — it was not technically torture.
  • Location, location, location: Under the terms Article 16 in the Geneva Convention Against Torture (CAT), the torture prohibitions apply specifically to “territories under [United States] jurisdiction.” To ascertain whether we were in compliance with this treaty obligation, the memo authors repeatedly consulted dictionary definitions of “territory” and “jurisdiction,” which neatly supported their argument that it is was not illegal for the U.S. to torture prisoners, so long as the torture took place in non-U.S. territories. Thus, the network of secret black site prisons around the globe (e.g. Afghanistan, Poland, Syria, Morocco, Thailand, etc.) where torture took place were determined to be, technically, legal, as were enhanced interrogations on any ships not registered with the U.S.  (see pages 17-21 in the May 30, 2005 Bradbury Memo)
  • Look that up in your Funk & Wagnalls: An existing U.S. Senate reservation states the the U.S. is bound to the obligations of the Geneva Convention Against Torture “only insofar as the term ‘cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment'[ means [that] prohibited by the Fifth, Eigth and/or Fourteenth Amendments to Constitution of the United States.” Scrutinizing the language of this reservation, Team Cheney again consulted the dictionary for clarity on the precise definitions of key words and terms, such as “torture” and “calculated” and “severe physical suffering” and “severe mental pain or suffering” and “prolonged mental harm.” After careful consideration of the dictionary definitions, they concluded that  the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, were legal. Waterboarding cannot be considered “severe physical suffering” because, according to the dictionary, for distress to be “severe,” the intensity and duration of the distress must be taken into account. The memo explains that, by definition, waterboarding does not constitute “severe physical suffering,” since (a) the physical distress of waterboarding ends as soon as the session is over, and since (b) these sessions were, by their estimation, brief (with the maximum time set at 12 minutes per day, total, of actual waterboarding per day, with each session to last no longer than 40 seconds.) A similar argument is used to explain why waterboarding does not cause “prolonged mental harm,” as the length of these sessions do not conform to the dictionary definition of “prolonged.” You’d have to read the memos to appreciate the beauty of these definitions, as they apply to the blow-by-blow legalization of torture, as construed in these memos. Here are a few examples, as they apply to each of the following Constitutional Amendments:
    • 8th Amendment – This amendment protects against the infliction of “cruel and unusual punishments.” As the memo argues, however, this amendment only applies after an individual has been convicted of a crime. Thus, the memo concludes that “Because the high-value detainees on whom the CIA might use enhanced interrogation techniques have not been convicted of any crime, the substantive requirements of the Eighth Amendment would not be relevant here.” Accordingly, so long as the due process is denied ( per the provisions of the 14th Amendment, below) then a detainee could be detained forever, being subjected all the while to “cruel and unusual punishments.”
    • 5th Amendment — Unlike the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, the Fifth Amendment allows that NO person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law. Setting aside the dictionary for a moment, the memo’s authors turned to case law, citing a 1952 ruling, which stated that the due process component of the 5th Amendment protects, specifically, against executive action that “shocks the conscience.” And to determine whether an action “shocks the conscience,” it is necessary to determine whether it is “arbitrary in the constitutional sense,” which, in turn, depends on whether the action is justifiable “in the service of a legitimate government objective.” The memo authors devote several pages to this concern before ultimately determining waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques do not “shock the conscience” and therefore do not violate the 5th amendment.  Building on this argument, the memo asserts that — since aliens (non-U.S. citizens) are not entitled to Fifth Amendment rights outside of the sovereign territory of the United States — it is not illegal to subject aliens to “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”so long as this takes place in the above mentioned black prison sites. This argument was no doubt used to justify the extraordinary rendition of Canadian citizen Mahar Arar to Syria. (To be sure, since the Constitution technically only applies to U.S. citizens, it stands to reason (and this is painstakingly spelled out in the Bybee-Bradbury memo) that it is perfectly legal to subject non-U.S. citizens to “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.” )
    • Fourteenth Amendment — While this amendment provides that “No State shall deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law,” this provision does not *technically* apply in the District of Columbia, which is coincidentally where the White House is located. This gave the Bush-Cheney Administration additional license, as if they needed it, to deprive anyone they jolly well pleased — from American citizens to aliens — of life, liberty or property, without due process of law.

In other words, (according to the authority of Dick Cheney and his crackerjack team of lawyers) there are no domestic or international laws to prohibit the U.S. from torture, illegal detainment, extraordinary rendition or the denial of due process. Which brings me to the case of Majid Khan.

It is only appropriate (since his incarceration and torture would have been deemed illegal in pre-Bybee-Bradbury years) that his name is physically present in these memos. In the May 30, 2005 Bradbury memo, if you look at the 2nd paragraph on page 10, you’ll find his name. Look closely, because the words “Majid Khan” — much like the actual person — have been partially obliterated by the ubiquitious redactions.

In broad brushstrokes, the story of Majid Khan  can be given in two sentences: Majid Khan, a legal U.S. resident from Baltimore, was arrested in 2003, based on accusations from a torture victim, who has since acknowledged giving false information under torture, simply to make the torture stop. Majid Khan has spent the past 6 years — and counting — in prison, without charges, during which time he, himself, has been reportedly subjected to torture, under which he confessed to crimes he never committed.

Majid Khan is seen in year in high school in Baltimore, Maryland. Khan, 27, is now jailed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Majid Khan is seen in 1999 during his senior year in high school in Baltimore, Maryland. Khan, 27, is now jailed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Again, my apologies to Majid Khan and his family for not finishing this post. I hope that this post will be a starting point for others to take an interest in his story.  By all appearances, Mr. Khan is an innocent man: he has yet to be charged with any crime — much less been granted the basic right of a trial — and, as such, appears to be guilty of nothing more than getting mired in the web of Dick Cheney’s deceitful war on terror.

Below is a synopsis of Majid Khan’s story, quoted from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change. CCR has been actively involved in litigation on behalf of many Guantanamo detainees, including Mr. Khan, whom they’ve represented since Sept. 2006, a timeline of which can be found here, at the CCR website, along a list of PDF files of their actions throughout this case:

Mr. Khan was kidnapped in 2003 while visiting relatives in Pakistan, imprisoned in secret CIA detention for three-and-a-half years and subjected to “alternative interrogation methods” that amount to torture. He has never been formally charged with a crime.

Majid Khan had immigrated with his family to the United States in 1996. They settled in Baltimore, where he attended Owings Mills High School, graduating in 1999. Majid was granted legal asylum in the U.S. in 1998 and subsequently worked for the State of Maryland. In 2002, he went to Pakistan to get married and then came home to the United States to continue working. Shortly after returning to his wife in Pakistan, Majid and other relatives were kidnapped from their residence.

In the middle of the night, on March 5, 2003, individuals identified as Pakistan security officials pounded on the door of the home of Majid’s brother in Karachi, and rushed into the flat. The family members at home included Majid, his brother, his brother’s wife and their month-old daughter. As the family was trying to wake up, the officials hooded and bound them before placing them in a vehicle. They were all taken to an unknown location.

Majid’s sister-in-law and infant niece were imprisoned for about a week. Pakistan officials imprisoned his brother for approximately one month. When Majid’s brother was released, officials threatened him not to make any public statements or inquire after Majid. As a result of the threats, Majid’s family in Baltimore and Karachi waited anxiously and fearfully for his return. He was never released or heard from again.

Back home in the U.S., Majid’s family cooperated with U.S. authorities in every way they could; Majid’s older brother, a U.S. citizen, was interviewed hundreds of times by the FBI and he asked repeatedly about Majid’s whereabouts. Nonetheless, Majid’s family did not learn he was in U.S. custody or even that he was alive until a news reporter knocked on their door and told them President Bush announced Majid’s name in a speech before the nation on September 6, 2006.

Majid now has a young daughter he hasn’t seen.

For more on Majid Khan from the Center for Constituional Rights archives:

Khan v. Bush / Khan v. Gates Synopsis: CCR’s representation of Majid Khan involves two cases: Khan v. Bush is a habeas corpus … of former Baltimore, MD resident and U.S. asylum-holder, Majid Khan, who was transferred from three-years in secret C.I.A. detention to …
Going to See a Ghost: Majid Khan and the Abuses of the ‘War on Terror’ … wrote this op-ed in The Washington Post on CCR client Majid Khan, a former Baltimore resident who was “disappeared” into a CIA …
Redacted Motion to Declare Interrogation Methods Used on Majid Khan Are Torture Cleared By CIA … the government to preserve evidence of Guantanamo detainee Majid Khan’s torture by the CIA, a second motion filed by the Center for … the motion is due to the court on December 20. “Majid Khan was subjected by U.S. personnel to a ruthless program of …
CCR Attorneys Release Revelations of Torture of Former Ghost Detainee Majid Khan Sub Heading: Motion Filed to Preserve Evidence of Majid‘s Torture While at CIA Black Site Last week, a motion that … attorneys filed in the case of former ghost detainee Majid Khan was made public. The heavily redacted motion, which was filed in order to …
Government Declassifies Majid Khan Torture Motion … by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) on behalf of Majid Khan, a former CIA ghost detainee now held at Guantanamo. The motion and its …
Freedom of Information Act: Ghost Detention and Extraordinary Rendition Case … tortured in Syria for nearly a year. CCR also represents Majid Khan, a former resident of Baltimore, Maryland, who was detained in secret for …
Dixon, J. Wells … Yemen. He also represents former Baltimore-area resident Majid Khan, who was imprisoned and tortured in secret CIA “black sites” for more …
CCR Files Important Brief in Khan v. Bush … response to the government’s efforts to deny CCR access to Majid Khan, on whose behalf CCR previously filed a petition of habeas corpus. Mr. …
Gutierrez, Gitanjali … Convening Authority in May 2008.  She also represents Majid Khan, a Baltimore resident and citizen of Pakistan transferred from secret CIA …
CCR Attorney Gives Unprecedented Classified Briefing to Senate Intelligence Committee on Details of CIA Torture Program … provided a thorough account of what was done to CCR client Majid Khan and of the on-the-ground implementation of the CIA’s “enhanced …

Court Orders Government Not to Destroy Torture Evidence … to preserve” evidence relating to Guantanamo detainee Majid Khan, including evidence of his torture by the CIA. The U.S. Court of Appeals …

FAQs: What Are Ghost Detentions and Black Sites … In addition, CCR provides legal representation to Majid Khan, one of the 15 men transferred from secret CIA custody to Guantanamo Bay. …
House Votes to Outlaw Waterboarding … was released on the same day that the government brought Majid Khan, who is represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights, and others to …
CIA Acknowledges It Has More than 7,000 Documents Relating to Secret Detention Program, Rendition, and Torture … of men. These include some of our clients, like Majid Khan, who were known to be in the program. The public needs to know what …

Sources plus more info for further reading:

April 17, 2009 Letter from Attorney General Eric Holder to  Sen. John D. Rockefeller in response to the Senator’s Feb. 2009 request for declassification and release of a narrative regarding advice provided by the CIA on the legality of certain interrogation techniques

World Socialist Website: More Revelations from Bush Torture Memos

Security Dilemmas (A blog dedicated to examining issues of international and national security, international politics, and international law): Legalizing Torture? Part II: The 30 May 2005 Bradbury Memo

Emptywheel/Firedoglake: The Gestation of Bradbury’s Torture Memos

Congressional Research Service: The U.N. Convention Against Torture: Overview of U.S. Implementation Policy Concerning the Removal of Aliens (January 21, 2009)

The United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment: The text

ACLU: FAQs on the U.N. Convention Against Torture

ACLU: On April 16, 2009, the Department of Justice released four secret Bybee-Bradbury Memos, which were used by the Bush-Cheney Administration to justify torture. This page includes links to the texts of the following memos:

  • The Bybee-Memo: An 18-page memo, dated August 1, 2002, from Jay Bybee, Assistant Attorney General, OLC, to John A. Rizzo, General Counsel CIA. [PDF]
  • Bradbury Memo: A 46-page memo, dated May 10, 2005, from Steven Bradbury, Acting Assistant Attorney General, OLC, to John A. Rizzo, General Counsel CIA. [PDF]
  • Bradbury Memo: A 20-page memo, dated May 10, 2005, from Steven Bradbury, Acting Assistant Attorney General, OLC, to John A. Rizzo, General Counsel CIA. [PDF]
  • Bradbury Memo: A 40-page memo, dated May 30, 2005, from Steven Bradbury, Acting Assistant Attorney General, OLC, to John A. Rizzo, General Counsel CIA. [PDF]
    • NOTE: This is the memo where you will find mention of Majid Khan in the 2nd paragraph on page 10, which reads:

More specifically, we understand that KSM [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed] admitted he had tasked Majid Khan with delivering a large sum of money to an al Qaeda associate… Khan subsequentgly identified the associate (Zubair) who was then captured. Zubair, in turn, provided information that led to the arrest of Hambali. the information acquired from these captures allowed CIA interrogators to pose more specific questions to KSM, which led the CIA to Hambali’s brother, al-Hadi. Using information from multiple sources, al-Hadi was captured, and he subsequently identified the Guraba cell…. With the aid of this additional information, interrogations of Hambali confirmed much of what was learned from KSM.

The footnote (#6) to the above section was redacted in entirety, except for this sentence:

We discuss only a small fraction of the important intelligence CIA interrogators have obtained from KSM.

2007 International Red Cross report This ICRC report, dated February 2007, details the treatment of fourteen “high value detainees” in CIA custody. The leaked report was first published by the New York Review of Books. This report cites specific instances of ill-treatment as reported by these 14 detainees. Below are the passages that mention Majid Khan:

  • Prolonged Stress Standing (Section 1.3.2): Ten of the fourteen [detainees] alleged that they were subjected to prolonged stress standing positions, during which their wrists were shackled to a bar or hook in the ceiling above the head for periods ranging from two or three days continuously, and for up to two or more months intermittently. All those detainees who reported being held in this position were allegedly kept naked throughout the use of this form of ill-treatment. For example…. Mr. Majid Khan [was shackled] for three days in Afghanistan and seven days in his third place of detention…. While being held in this position some of the detainees were allowed to defecate in a bucket. A guard would come to release their hands from the bar or hook in the ceiling so that they could sit on the bucket. None of them, however, were allowed to clean themselves afterwards. Others were made to wear a garment that resembled a diaper… Three other detainees specified that they had to defecate and urinate on themselves and remain standing in their own bodily fluids. Of these, on Mr. Bin Lep agreed that his name be transmitted to the authorities.
  • Prolonged Nudity (Section 1.3.6): The most common method of ill-treatment noted during the interiews with the fourteen was the use of nudity. Eleven of the fourteen alleged that they were subjected to extended periods of nudity during detention and interrogation, ranging from several weeks continuously up to several months intermittently. For example…. Mr. Majid Khan alleged that he was kept naked for three days in Afghanistan and for seven days in his third place of detention….. Most of the detainees commented that the provision of clothes was determined by how cooperative they were perceived by the interrogators.
  • Deprivation/Restricted Provision of Solid Food (Section 1.3.12) Eight of the fourteen alleged that they were deprived of solid food for periods ranging from three days to one month.This was often followed by a period with the provision of food was restricted and allegedly used as an incentive for cooperation. Two other detainees alleged that, whilst they were not totally deprived of solid food, food was provided intermittently or provided in restricted amounts. For example…. Mr. Majid Khan alleged that he did not receive any solid food for seven days in Afghanistan.
  • In addition, the dates of the ICRC’s written interventions to the U.S. authorities, requesting information on Majid Khan are given in Annex 2 of this same report.

The Washington Post:

  • Human Beings Without Humanity — (Excerpt: “The profoundly disgusting memos made public yesterday — in which government lawyers attempted to justify flatly unconscionable and illegal acts — provide a depressing reminder of a time when the powerful and powerless alike were stripped of their humanity. These memos gave the CIA the go-ahead to do things to people that you’d be arrested for doing to a dog. And the legalistic, mechanistic analysis shows signs of an almost inconceivable callousness. The memos serve as a vivid illustration of the moral chasm into which the nation fell — or rather, was pushed — during the Bush era. President Obama deserves great credit for defying members of the intelligence community who wanted to keep these memos secret. But in calling for the nation to move on without any further looking back, Obama put his political needs above his moral and legal obligations…..”)
  • Too Embarrassing to Disclose? (Excerpt: “President Obama’s approach to government transparency is disturbingly opaque in places, particularly when it comes to disclosing information about the Bush administration’s torture legacy….”)

Salon.comIs waterboarding torture? Ask the prisoners (November 6, 2007)

Long Excerpt: If senators such as Charles Schumer and Dianne Feinstein have doubts about whether waterboarding is torture, they should — and should be allowed to — interview the men who have likely experienced it in secret CIA detention facilities in American hands.

For example, they should interview Majid Khan, a Baltimore resident abducted and held for years in secret CIA prisons. He was a “ghost detainee” who this past year was among the “reappeared” at Guantánamo.

President Bush himself has clearly stated that Khan was held at a secret CIA facility before being transferred to Guantánamo. Bush also made clear that an “alternative set of procedures” were enforced — procedures widely believed to include waterboarding.

So, was Majid Khan really waterboarded? I don’t know. Khan has been prohibited from speaking to anyone except my colleagues, lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights who were finally allowed to visit him recently. One of those attorneys, Gitanjali Gutierrez, and her colleagues have also since been silenced: The government forced them to sign a protective order because Khan knew about “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Likely translation: Khan was tortured and the government is trying to cover it up by silencing him — and even his attorneys….

Those senators are perfectly within their rights and powers to pick up the phone right now and demand to interview Khan and others who were likely tortured at CIA secret sites. They can conduct classified interviews with the lawyers for the Center for Constitutional Rights about their milestone visit with Khan. They can learn exactly what happened to these men. And, if the men were waterboarded, they can learn exactly what the practice entails.

What they will likely hear are descriptions like one written by Henri Alleg, a French journalist who suffered waterboarding during the Algerian war: “I had the impression of drowning, and a terrible agony, that of death itself, took possession of me.”

…. And so the question is extremely simple: Do the men and women who serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee want to know, or not? Do they care about whether our nation has tortured?

….I believe that upon talking to victims of waterboarding any reasonable senator — or citizen — will define it as torture. There is no reasonable disagreement on this point. It was a technique invented in the Spanish Inquisition and used to terrible effect in the centuries since. The only question is whether there is any institution or group of politicians in this nation with the will to stand up for our Constitution, even at the risk of their own political prospects. If there are such men and women, then there is yet hope that our nation will rescue the Constitution from those who would shred it.

This is not a moment for political theater. This is not a moment for politics at all. This is the moment for good and decent leaders to remember that the truth still matters and to act accordingly.

POTENT QUOTABLES:

This is a highly classified area. All I want to say is that there was “before” 9/11 and “after” 9/11. After 9/11 the gloves come off. Nearly three thousand al-Qa’ida terrorists and their supporters have been detained. In Afghanistan the al-Qa’ida who refused to surrender have been killed. The hunt is on. — Cofer Black (former Director of the CIA’s counterterrorism center from 199 to May 2002) in his Sept. 2002 testimony before the House/Senate Intelligence Committee Hearing in their joint investigation into September 11th

The gloves are coming off gentlemen regarding these detainees…. we want these individuals broken. — U.S. Senate Committed on Armed Services report, titled “Inquiry Into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody” November 2008, pg. 199 [quoting an August 2003 email sent by Capt. William Ponce (the battle captain in the Combined Joint Task Force 7’s Human Intelligence and Counterintelligence Office in Iraq) to interrogation elements in the field, in which he requested they submit “interrogation techniques wish lists.”]

The danger facing us is enormous. The efforts we take to meet it must be just as enormous. The time has come to remove the gloves! We must use our fists now! ….Those who do not understand this fight today will thank us on bended knee tomorrow that we took it! — Joseph Goebbels, from his 1943 speech, “Nation Rise Up and Let the Storm Break Loose”

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183 Times is the Charm: The Accusation (by Torture) of a Young Mother Named Aafia Siddiqui

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NOTE: The post, below, is from June 2009. To see our most recent post on Aafia Siddiqui, published 1/19/2010, see:  The New American Justice: Aafia Siddiqui’s Trial by Water

HAS IT BEEN ONLY 317 YEARS?

From June through September of 1692, nineteen men and women, all having been convicted of witchcraft, were carted to Gallows Hill, a barren slope near Salem Village, for hanging. Another man of over eighty years was pressed to death under heavy stones for refusing to submit to a trial on witchcraft charges. Hundreds of others faced accusations of witchcraft. Dozens languished in jail for months without trials. Then, almost as soon as it had begun, the hysteria that swept through Puritan Massachusetts ended. (“An Account of Events in Salem,” from the University of Missouri — Kansas City website)

The hunt was characterized by unrestrained torture and and an obsession with getting tortured witches to name other witches. (from Witch Hunts in Europe and America: An Encyclopedia, by William E. Burns)

"Water Torture" 16th century woodcut by Joos de Damhouder, illustrating how to interrogate witch suspects under torture

"The Water Torture" 16th century woodcut by Joos de Damhouder, illustrating how to interrogate witch suspects under torture

By now, most Americans — having heard the word “waterboarding” at least 183 times over the past month — seem to have grown immune to the visceral horrors attending to that particular techinque that the International Red Cross terms “suffocation by drowning.” We’ve surely grown immune to human suffering. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have reduced the topic of torture to a mere parlor game — an exercise in sophistry — as the left and the right mentally wrestle with questions whose answers have been known for centuries: Is waterboarding torture? Does torture ‘work’?

[Click here to read the rest of this introduction on U.S. policy and torture. Or just skip the intro entirely, and keep reading onward, into the stories of several individuals (with particular focus on Aafia Siddiqui) who have been falsely arrested, illegally imprisoned, “disappeared,” subjected to extraordinarily rendition and/or tortured over the past 8 years — and counting.]

An American Story

Imagine this: You are a 41 year-old man, a U.S. citizen, born in Kansas, an Army veteran, married with three children, practicing family law in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon; you pay your taxes on time, have never had a brush with the law. You are the quintessential “average American citizen.” Imagine, then, your surprise when the FBI descends on your home and fingers you as the mastermind of the 2004 Madrid train bombing that killed 191 people and injured over 2000. Your name is Brandon Mayfield, and it’s official: You have just been arrested as the mastermind in an international terrorist plot.

“But I haven’t left the country in over 10 years!” you protest. “And I’ve never even been to Spain! How could this happen?”

Turns out it was your fingerprint. The FBI’s Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) identified your fingerprint as a possible match to the one found on a plastic bag near the Madrid bombing. The match was then verified in quadruplicate by FBI fingerprint experts, which lent full credibility to the claim in their affidavit: “….the FBI lab stands by their conclusion of a 100 percent positive identification.” It was the fingerprint, see.

‘Lucky’ for you, your incarceration lasted only 2 weeks. The Spanish police identified the real mastermind (some guy from Algeria), prompting the FBI to dismiss the charges against you. In return, you file a a civil-rights lawsuit against the U.S. government. Herein, more facts emerge. Turns out, the Spanish police had already rejected the FBI’s identification of your fingerprint — twenty-three days before your arrest — as “conclusively negative.” Perhaps that would have been the end of that, if not for the smoking gun: you were also a Muslim convert.

Convinced of your guilt, the FBI spent those twenty-three days doggedly pursuing a case against you, with an intensity that the Spanish Police found perplexing. As one commissioner said, “It seemed as though they [the FBI] had something against him, and they wanted to involve us.” Lacking probable cause for search and seizure, the FBI turned to the nifty new provisions in the Patriot Act, which allowed them to entirely sidestep your Fourth Amendment rights, via “sneak and peak” warrants.

Turns out, you and your wife hadn’t been imagining things. Your door lock had been tampered; someone had been in your home. You were being watched. It was the FBI who, in your absence, snuck into your home, your office, and even the family farm in Kansas,“surreptitiously, photographing papers, downloading hard drives, and planting listening devices.”

But you were ‘lucky.’ You had, at your disposal, due process — stuff like habeas corpus, and an attorney to represent you in a U.S. court of law. Your case was fairly clear-cut, too. That is, once the facts were allowed to see the light of day. In the end, the FBI aplogized and you were awarded a $2 million settlement. And in 2007, a federal judge ruled that those nifty Patriot Act provisions used by the FBI to sneak into your home actually violated the U.S. Constitution.

2891436BG002_Ottawa_CitizenNow imagine that you are a 34-year old man — married, a father, a Canadian citizen for 17 years, Syrian-born. And, oh, a muslim. Imagine yourself going on vacation with your family to Tunisia in 2002 and, upon your return flight home to Canada, passing through the JFK airport in New York City. Here, you are detained in solitary confinement and interrogated for 12 days, then shackled and flown to Syria, where you are imprisoned inside a coffin-sized underground cell for 10 months + 10 days, being subjected throughout this time to beatings and torture sessions to extract information which the U.S. government is certain you own.

While you initially refuse to admit to something you didn’t do, the torture finally becomes so unbearable, that you will say anything to make it stop — up to and including making false confessions, admitting guilt to whatever terrorist acts your torturers accuse you. Your name is Maher Arar and — even as you are ultimately determined to be 100% innocent — your case is not as clear cut as Brandon Mayfield’s. You are, after all, a Canadian citizen. And, oh, a muslim of Arab descent.

Still, the facts of your case do eventually see the light of day. The Canadian government launches a Commission of Inquiry into your case and, in 2006 (three years after your release from your extraordinary rendition to Syria), you are cleared of all accusations. The Canadian government issues an official apology, and you are awarded a settlement of $10.5 million Canadian dollars. For their part, however, the U.S. government and the FBI refuse to extend an apology, official or otherwise (even as there were a few notable lawmakers of integrity on Capitol Hill who did issue personal apologies on behalf of the U.S. government).

[see also: Patrick Leahy’s interrogation of Gonzales on the Maher Arar case here, and the 1-1/2 hour video of the U.S. Congressional hearing on Maher Arar’s case here].

Seeking to clear your name, you file a lawsuit against the U.S. government for violating your civil rights. But the Bush Administration refuses to allow your case to come to trial, for reasons of “national security.” To this day, you are still on the U.S. terrorist watch list and are forbidden to enter the country.

The likelihood of your case going to trial in the U.S. is slim, as the Obama Administration has, so far, aligned itself with the Bush Administration, — having recently used the “state secrets” argument to deny trials to 5 other Bush Administration victims who were similarly flown to other countries to be tortured. According to Obama, the Bush Administration was right: allowing these innocent victims a trial could threaten national security.

Ibrahim JassamNow imagine this: You are a 31-year old man, an accredited freelance cameraman and photographer, working for Reuters in Iraq. On September 1, 2008,  U.S. forces, accompanied by dogs, storm your home in the middle of the night — breaking down your door, barking orders and terrifying the grandparents, children and grandchildren inside. You are taken into custody and thrown into jail, without charges. Three months pass. Still, no formal charges, no evidence, no due process.

In a stroke of democracy, the Iraqi central criminal court orders your release, for lack of evidence. The U.S. bars your release, however, saying you are a threat to Iraq security and stability. The protests of your family, of Reuters and international human rights and media rights groups fall on deaf ears. More months pass. To this day, you are still in jail, without charges. Your name is Ibrahim Jassam, and you are but one of  dozens of  journalists imprisoned — without charges — under the Bush Administration.

You are, so far, luckier than some. According to Reporters Without Borders,  hundreds of journalists have been killed in Iraq, with many more forced into exile, imprisoned or simply disappeared. Too, some have been imprisoned for much longer than you. Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, Bilal Hussein, for instance, was imprisoned for two years. Al Jazeera journalist, Sami al-Haj was imprisoned for over 7 years, with 6-1/2 of these years spent at Guantanamo, where America sends “the worst of the worst.”

A young boy hopes for the release of his father, Sami al-Haj -- a journalist and cameraman, better known to U.S. officials as Prisoner 345 at Guantanamo, where he spent 6-1/2 years without charges.

2007 photo: A young boy hoping for the release of his father, Sami al-Haj -- a journalist and cameraman, better known to U.S. officials as Prisoner 345 at Guantanamo, where he spent 6-1/2 years without charges.

[Here it must be said that Sami al-Haj’s story, alone, is evidence enough that our leaders and media should give pause to the Bush Administration’s “intelligence” that has effectively colored the entire population of 240 Guantanamo detainees — including those who have been long-pronounced innocent, but also those whose guilt was cemented under confessions extracted through torture — as a mix of terrorists and men so dangerous that they cannot safely be released anywhere on the planet Earth, much less allowed fair trials that would, in all likelihood, clear the names of some of these prisoners, the only “threat to national security” being that their trials would reveal the extent of the U.S. government’s tyranny.]

(video, above) Associated Press report (39 seconds long) on Bilal Hussein’s release in 2008, with footage of his reunion with his AP colleagues and his family

Both Bilal Hussein and Sami al-Haj were released  in 2008. Neither was ever charged with a crime, even as their incarcerations were justified by a series of shifting accusations, based on top secret evidence that, for national security reasons, could not be divulged: Bilal Hussein (see AP timeline of his case here) was accused, at one point, of being caught in possession of bomb-making materials, while Sami al-Haj was alternately accused of videotaping Osama bin Laden, sending money to suspicious Muslim charities, and arranging for the transport of a Stinger anti-aircraft system from Afghanistan to Chechnya. Despite these ludicrous accusations, in appears that these journalists were guilty of nothing more than practicing journalism.

Your name is Ibrahim Jassam, and you’ve been in jail for 9 months, without charges. Your misfortune is that you are being detained by the U.S. government. Had you been detained by, say, Iran you would have been afforded at least some semblance of due process — formal charges, an attorney, a trial, an appeals process. Had you been detained by, say, North Korea, your injustice would be given a voice in the U.S. media. Had you been arrested by anyone but the American government, you would be a poster child, of sorts, for media suppression under tyrannical regimes.

Your name is Ibrahim Jassam, and your story is almost, but not quite, unknown in America. According to your family, which has been allowed only a handful of visits, you used to be handsome. “But now he’s pale and he’s tired,” says your brother, describing one of these visits: “Every now and then while we were talking, he would start crying. He was begging me: ‘Please do something to get me out of here. I don’t know what is the charge against me.‘ I told him we already tried everything.”

Now imagine this: You are a 31-year old mother of three; you are also an MIT graduate with a PhD in cognitive neuroscience. [In hindsight, there is cruel irony to the topic of your dissertation, in which you explored how people learn — specifically, the interaction between visual memory and perception. In your abstract, you wrote, “Without a visible trail, it is difficult for the subject to form a picture or story.”] . It is late March of 2003. Just a few days earlier, the U.S. went to war in Iraq and — as is now known — the CIA, the FBI and the Bush Administration at large were working around the clock to put together the intelligence necessary to justifying this war.

Up until a year earlier, you’d spent 12 years living in America as a dual citizen of the U.S. and Pakistan. You’d originally moved to the U.S. in 1990 to attend college and be nearer your sister and brother — a Harvard-trained neurologist and a Houston architect, respectively. While living in the U.S., you married a medical student in Boston, who went on to work as an anesthesiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. You gave birth to 2 children. Neighbors and friends described you as a devoted mother, spending the bulk of your time in the everyday routines of raising your children, overseeing play groups with their friends. You were also a devout Muslim and donated both time and money to charitable causes and missionary work to help less fortunate Muslims.

Because contributing to Muslim charities constituted a red flag in post-9-11 American, the FBI was watching you and had been since the fall of 2001. According to U.S. intelligence sources, your husband purchased night goggles and body armor off the internet in 2001, which he claimed were intended for big game hunting. Because of these purchases, you, yourself, were brought in for questioning by U.S. officials.  Although you were released after questioning, this interrogation served as further evidence that the post-9-11 hostility toward Muslims was escalating. This factored into your decision to return to Pakistan — a debate that had already caused considerable strain in your marriage: you you wanted to raise your children in America, while your husband wanted to raise them in Pakistan. In 2002 — with your marriage now on the rocks — you and your husband returned to Pakistan.

By March of 2003, you’d been estranged from your husband for over 7 months, during which time you lived with your mother and gave birth to your third child, who was now 6 months old. Three months earlier, in December 2002, you’d returned to the United States to apply for jobs in the Baltimore area, where your sister was now working at Sinai Hospital. After making several applications — and interviewing with both Johns Hopkins and SUNY — you opened a post office box to receive replies from prospective employers, then returned to your children and your mother in Pakistan.

Now imagine that the FBI believes the only reason you opened that post office box was to receive communications as part of an al Qaeda plot to blow up gas stations and fuel tanks in the Baltimore area. Imagine, too, that during the course of the FBI’s 18-month surveillance of you and your husband, they discovered that, during the summer of 2001, one of your former Muslim acquaintances from Boston had been wired $20,000 from Saudi Arabia (a sum which, according to the explanation given by a Saudi official to the Boston Globe, was sent to pay for medical treatment for the man’s wife).  Lastly, imagine that, the FBI believes that this $20,000 is connected to a purported diamond smuggling trip, made by a mysterious woman in the summer of 2001, to fund al Qaeda operations. According to the FBI, that mystery woman is you.

To this story add water, then quickly spin

It is now March 28, 2003. Just a week earlier, on March 20th, the U.S. invaded Iraq. Several weeks earlier, on March 1st, the alleged architect of 9-11,  Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, was captured. It seems that — during one of his 183 waterboard interrogation sessions — your name came up.

(continued page 2 —–>)

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The Answer to Sarah Palin’s Rhetorical Question: Book Burning

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This post is part of “The Sarah Chronicles: A straight poop compendium of questions answers on Sarah Palin.” Today’s installment is on CENSORSHIP. 

 

Sarah Palin’s defense for twice asking the Wasilla City Librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, about removing ‘certain’ books’ from the library was simply this: “It was just a rhetorical question,” the implication being, “Sweet Lord, no! I would never ask the librarian to burn books!”

 

A rhetorical question is a figure of speech in the form of a question posed for its persuasive effect, without the expectation of a reply. — Wikipedia

 

The rhetorical question defense (RQD) is a handy one, applicable to all sorts of occasions, such as when a psycho husband asks rhetorical questions of a hit man, or when a pedophile rhetorically asks a little girl if she’d like to take her panties down. I beg the readers’ pardon for such graphic comparisons, but Ms. Palin’s RQD is deserving of a strong and unambiguous rebuke, for her effort to sanitize and render harmless her outright attempt to coerce the librarian into banning certain books. While the RQD defense may not be admissable in a court of law, it has sufficed for some 46% of the American voting public, who say, “Oh, hell yeah! I’d vote for Sarh Palin in a heartbeat!” to become president, should McCain keel over dead. These are the same Americans, of course, who would froth at the mouth, were they posed the rhetorical question: Would you like to see America become more like, say, Marxist Russia, where our government bans books they don’t want us to read?”

Sarah Palin would like us to believe that she was merely engaging in philosophical discourse, even as her rhetorical questions were raised not once, but twice, as Palin approached librarian, Emmons two weeks before and two weeks after Palin assumed the duties as Mayor of Wasilla on October 14, 1996. According to Emmons – -who is also the president of the Alaska Library Association — she responded in the negative on October 1, when asked by Palin if she could live with censorship of ‘certain books.’ When asked, again, on October 28, if Emmons would object to censorship, “even if people were circling the library in protest about a book,“ Emmons again refused, adding that the ACLU would step in at that point. According to Emmons’ statements: 

” I told her (Palin) clearly, I will fight anyone who tries to dictate what books can go on the library shelves…. This is different than a normal book-selection procedure or a book-challenge policy,” Emmons stressed. “She was asking me how I would deal with her saying a book can’t be in the library…. She asked me if I would object to censorship, and I replied ‘Yup’. And I told her it would not be just me. This was a constitutional question, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) would get involved, too.”

Palin, when asked who might picket the library, said that she, “had no one in mind,” and then re-explained the nature of her rhetorical question. “Again, the issue was discussed in the context of a professional question being asked in regards to library policy.”

Palin subsequently attempted to fire Emmons, stating that it had nothing to do with censorship or the fact that Emmons supported Palin’s opponent in the elections, but that she felt Emmons’ hadn’t given her full support to Palin’s administration.  A strong citizen protest erupted — threatening Palin’s position as Mayor — as the group, Concerned Citizens for Wasilla, stormed City Hall to protest Emmons’ firing and demand a recall of Palin’s mayorship. In response, Palin was forced to withdraw her letter of termination against Emmons. Palin saved some face by explaining that she now felt she had Emmons’ support. ”You know in your heart when someone is supportive of you,” she said. 

 

There is much historical precedence for book-burning. One notorious instance was the Nazi book-burning campaign (the above photo shows one such collection burned in Nazi Germany, which included many authors, such as Ernest Hemingway, Helen Keller and Jack London), as Hitler was determined to rid the country of all books he deemed “un-German.” Upon the occasion of one such burning, Goebbels announced, “The soul of the German people can now express itself again. The flames not only illuminate the end of the old era, they also light up the new.” Hitler’s campaign didn’t arrive overnight, just as Democracy doesn’t disappear overnight. It is eroded away, bit by bit, aided & abetted by a willing people.

 

Naturally, many people are now wondering exactly which books Sarah Palin would have proposed banning. Some people have surmised authors and titles such as: Harry Potter, Judy Blume and The Catcher in the Rye. While these are good guesses, they are just that — guesses. In truth, the specific authors/titles are of no importance. The importance lies in the fact that our rights to freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom from government censorship are among the most important and enduring hallmarks of our democracy. This same democracy protects people like Sarah from people like me, were I to abuse some power of authority and demand the burning of each and every copy of her current runaway seller (see below) on the basis that it offends my sensibilities. 

So it’s a bit dismaying to see that 46% of American voters find these rights unimportant. This is nothing new. These are the same voters prone to vociferous flag-waving, yet, who will raise nary a word of protest, should the most fundamental rights represented by that flag fall under threat. Take our books! Wiretap our phones and computers! Spy to your heart’s content! Lie to the American people — take our sons and daughters to an illegal war! We won’t protest, Mr. President, we promise. Just don’t take our flag — it’s everything we stand for!

It is only fitting, then, that this same 46% voting bloc would choose a candidate whose political record is pocked with constitutional assaults. It is only fitting that these voters would vociferously defend Sarah Palin’s political record — even as her good record has turned out to be riddled with lies, and her bad record is proving to be staggeringly factual. It is only fitting, then, that her own party should censor Sarah Palin’s voice, until such a time she can be tutored to deliver the correct script. In a country that has come to respect pomp and circumstance over substance, an icon like Sarah Palin may very well be the perfect candidate.  

 

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by Mantis Katz, for the canarypapers

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For more on this topic:

A Letter From Someone Who Has Known Sarah Palin Since 1992 – Excerpt: “While Sarah was Mayor of Wasilla she tried to fire our highly respected City Librarian because the Librarian refused to consider removing from the library some books that Sarah wanted removed. City residents rallied to the defense of the City Librarian and against Palin’s attempt at out-and-out censorship, so Palin backed down and withdrew her termination letter. People who fought her attempt to oust the Librarian are on her enemies list to this day.”

Anchorage Daily News: Wasilla keeps librarian, but police chief is out (a re-print of the Feb. 1, 1997 article)

Librarians Against Palin!

Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman  (Wasilla, AK): Palin: Library censorship inquiries ‘Rhetorical’ (re-print of a Dec. 18, 1996 article)

Atlantic.com: Andrew Sullivan – The Daily Dish: Another Dubious Firing

LA Times: Sarah Palin — aspiring book banner?

Prescott e-News: Fighting the Fires of Hate: America and the Nazi Book Burnings

Wikipedia: Nazi Book Burnings

ushmm.org: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: Book Burning