• Torture Laid Bare at Nuremberg, and Maybe Guantanamo?

    May 7, 2014 // 19 Comments »

    In another time and place, the intentional mistreatment and torture of human beings, often with the assistance of medical doctors and learned men and women, was made public to destroy it. But open justice at Nuremberg and hidden justice at Guantanamo are so very, very different.

    Or maybe not. New details in the trial of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri may give the world the clearest view yet of America’s torture program.


    Following World War II the United States and its Allies could have easily executed Nazis responsible for the Holocaust at a black site, or simply have thrown them into some forever jail on an isolated, island military base. It would have been hard to find anyone who would not have supported brutally torturing them. Instead, those evil men and women were put on public trial at Nuremberg, supplied with lawyers and made to defend their actions as the evidence against them was laid bare. The point was in part to demonstrate justice, that We were better than Them. The hope was also to ensure it all would never happen again.

    Though the scale remains very different, the intentions and actions echo across the decades. The United States, as a policy of our nation, used its full range of global resources to kidnap, imprison and torture human beings for its political aims. Now, in an obscene reimaging of justice, that same United States government works to the extent of its ability to hide what it did.

    What it did was torture. Here’s how the United States is trying to hide it.

    The Sham of Justice

    Trials of a sort are ongoing at Guantanamo. The case of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi accused of orchestrating the 2000 bombing of the destroyer USS Cole, is underway.

    Nashiri was held in CIA “black sites” and was one of three prisoners that the United States admits waterboarding. The CIA’s inspector general called Nashiri the “most significant” case of a detainee who was brutalized in ways that went beyond even the tortures approved by the Bush administration, including being threatened with a power drill. A specialist in treating torture victims (prosecuters aggressively tried to disqualify the witness as an expert) testified that Nashiri had been subjected to “physical, psychological and sexual torture.” As part of his torture, Nashiri was analy raped.

    Nashiri no doubt remembers every detail: his own screams, the looks on his torturers faces as they broke him, what they said to him about freedom and America as he was beaten, raped and waterboarded. But at Guantanamo, Nashiri’s lawyers cannot introduce those tortures as part of his defense, because the U.S. government classified them. Nashiri cannot discuss the details of his own torture at his own trial, nor can his lawyers access CIA files of his torture. They are classified.

    Even the court at Guantanamo found this too far from any concept of justice, and ordered the government to release the documentation, albeit still with the classifications, to Nashiri’s lawyer.

    (BACKGROUND: At one point government prosecutors argued against the release order as too broad, stating at one point that the defense must specify exact documents by name, impossible as even such details are classified– a Catch 22. Also in Nashiri’s case, the government admitted it had “inadvertently” accessed confidential e-mails among Nashiri’s defense lawyers made via Guantanamo’s computer systems. No mistrial was declared.)

    Torture Records Sought, Fought

    Despite the court’s order that the torture records be released to the defense team (the team also seeks testimony from the CIA torturers themselves, who, if they are indeed compelled to speak of their actions in front of their victim, will be allowed to testify under false names), the government is now arguing in a new motion that they should not be required to release any records.

    The government’s argument would be funny in less dire circumstances. In an motion, prosecuters state the chief reason not to release the torture documents is that information from Gitmo should not get ahead of information that may be made public out of the White House at some vague future date.

    (BACKGROUND: The Senate Intelligence Committee voted April 3 to ask the Obama administration to declassify a lengthy executive summary of its investigative report on the torture and rendition program. The administration punted the issue to CIA claiming they had to review the document and make redactions first. There is no target date for release even now, more than a month since that process should have started.)

    The real reason for trying to block release of the documentation of Nashiri’s torture however seems darker than just wanting to avoid upstaging the White House: Prosecutors at Gitmo likely remain fearful that the unredacted documents pertaining to Nashiri’s torture may reveal far more heinous actions by the government than whatever sanitized version emerges from the CIA-edited version. Here’s why.

    Why the Government is Trying to Block Release of the Documents

    The goal of the defense in seeking the torture records is to show that Nashiri’s treatment was so outside any standards of accepted human behavior that any statements or confessions he made should not be admissible in the trial designed to determine if he should now be executed. The defense also seeks to show that the traumas purposely inflicted on Nashiri, and the lack of medical care afforded him afterwards, rendered him so psychologically damaged that he is not competent to stand trial in defense of his own life.

    At the same time, these same documents could provide the clearest picture to date of the U.S. government’s torture program. That’s what the prosecutors in Guantanamo are very likely really trying to suppress. Specifically, why is the government so scared? Have a look at what the current judge’s order requires them to produce:

    — A chronology identifying where Nashiri was held in detention between the date of his capture to the date he arrived at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in September 2006; [NOTE: Nashiri was captured in Dubai and believed to have been held in Afghanistan, Thailand, Poland, Morocco, and Romania.]

    — A description of how Nashiri was transported between the various locations including how he was restrained and how he was clothed;

    — All records, photographs, videos and summaries the Government of the United States has in its possession which document the condition of Nashiri’s confinement at each location, and Nashiri’s conditions during each movement between the various locations; [NOTE: The CIA destroyed video of Nashiri’s waterboarding in 2005.]

    — The identities of medical personnel (examining and treating physicians, psychologist, psychiatrists, mental health professionals, dentists, etc.), guard force personnel, and interrogators, whether employees of the United States Government or employees of a contractor hired by the United States Government, who had direct and substantial contact with Nashiri; [Note that former CIA case officer John Kiriakou is currently serving a sentence in federal prison for revealing the identity of a CIA staffer involved in the torture program.]

    — Copies of the standard operating procedures, policies, or guidelines on handling, moving, transporting, treating, interrogating, etc., high value detainees at and between the various facilities;

    — The employment records of individuals identified memorializing adverse action and/or positive recognition in connection with performance of duties at a facility or in transporting Nashiri between the various facilities;

    — The records of training in preparation for the performance of duties of the individuals at the various facilities or during transport of Nashiri;

    — All statements obtained from interrogators, summaries of interrogations, reports produced from interrogations, interrogations logs, and interrogator notes of interrogations of Nashiri and all co-conspirators identified on the Charge Sheet dated 15 September 2011; [Note the date. Despite the USS Cole bombing having occurred 11 years earlier, Nashiri was not charged with any crime until four days after 9/11.]

    — Un-redacted copies of requests with any accompanying justifications and legal reviews of same to employ Enhanced Interrogation Techniques on Nashiri and all co-conspirators;

    — Un-redacted copies of documents memorializing decisions (approving or disapproving), with any additional guidance, on requests to employ Enhanced Interrogation Techniques on Nashiri and all co-conspirators.

    What if Nashiri Wins?

    Ahead, many things are unclear. Prosecutors may win their motion now in front of the Gitmo judge, meaning some or all of the documents will not be released. They may succeed in editing or redacting what is released. They may block Nashiri’s lawyers from discussing in any public forum what is contained in the documents, meaning even their release will never see the information leave Guantanamo.

    But what if Nashiri wins?

    If, against very long odds, Nashiri wins, and if some or all of the documents are made public, the world will learn in much of the same banal evil of detail as from Nuremburg what the United States has done in the name of its own twisted definition of freedom.

    The world will learn– maybe by name– who did these things and thus have the ability to someday hold them responsible for their acts, should we acquire the courage to do so. It will learn in part who authorized and approved torture, and what efforts were made to train and equip the men and women who carried out that torture.

    Of most value to us all is that these detailed records from the case of Nashiri will pressure Obama to release the more comprehensive record of torture he and his CIA now hold in their hands. The sanitized version of events the White House would likely prefer to release would not stand up to the details that might be heard in Guantanamo.

    Obama and the CIA have to feel now that the troops are closing in on their bunker in Berlin. What will they do, now, with their enemy at the gates?

    We learned significant details of the torture program already out of Guantanamo, through the testimony of a psychiatrist in the trial of Shaker Aamer.

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    Posted in Democracy, Military, Post-Constitution America