Human Rights Watch Report on U.S. Torture and Rendition of Libyan Prisoners

Human Rights Watch has a new report outlining just how far down the rabbit hole the Bush administration was willing to go when it came to torturing anyone with ties to al-Qaida.

The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group was a dissident group formed in the late 1980s and dedicated to overthrowing the Gaddafhi regime. The LIFG tried unsuccessfully to assassinate Gaddafhi at least three times in the 1990s but was largely defeated by the end of the decade. Its members were forced to flee Libya and many of them ended up in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The LIFG sympathized with and was clearly supported by al-Qaida.

So, of course, the logical thing for the Bush administration to do after the 9/11 attack was to assist the Libyan government in rounding up and torturing members of the LIFG. According to Human Rights Watch,

Five former LIFG members told Human Rights Watch that they were detained in US run-prisons in Afghanistan for between eight months and two years. The abuse allegedly included: being chained to walls naked—sometimes while diapered—in pitch dark, windowless cells, for weeks or months at a time; being restrained in painful stress positions for long periods of time, being forced into cramped spaces; being beaten and slammed into walls; being kept inside for nearly five months without the ability to bathe; being denied food and being denied sleep by continuous, deafeningly loud Western music, before being rendered back to Libya. The United States never charged them with crimes. Their captors allegedly held them incommunicado, cut off from the outside world, and typically in solitary confinement throughout their Afghan detention. The accounts of these five men provide extensive new evidence that corroborates the few other personal accounts that exist about the same US-run facilities. One of those five, before being transferred to Afghanistan, as well as another former LIFG member interviewed for this report, were also held in a detention facility in Morocco.

After the U.S. was finished torturing Libyan detainees, the Bush administration illegally renditioned them back to Libya despite international treaties forbidding the U.S. to transfer prisoners to countries with a record of torturing prisoners,

All interviewees said their captors forcibly returned them to Libya at a time when Libya’s record on torture made clear they would face a serious risk of abuse upon return. All had expressed deep fears to their captors about going back to Libya and five of them said that they specifically asked for asylum. One of them, Muhammed Abu Farsan, sought asylum in the Netherlands while in transit between China and Morocco. He said his asylum application was ultimately denied and he was sent to Sudan, where he held a passport. But Sudanese authorities kept him in detention and, shortly after his arrival, individuals representing themselves as CIA officers interrogated him on three different days. Within two weeks he was sent back to Libya. Though the Netherlands is the only government that actually had provided any of the Libyans we interviewed with an opportunity to challenge their transfer, the Tripoli Documents contain information suggesting Dutch officials might have been aware that Abu Farsan would ultimately be sent to Libya from Sudan. To the extent they knew that there was a genuine risk he would be returned to Libya, they violated his rights against unlawful return.

As Human Rights Watch notes, the torture of Libyan prisoners is especially important since the torture of one Libyan—Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi—was essential in the U.S. run-up to the war with Iraq. After being interrogated by CIA torturers, al-Libi told his tormenters what they wanted to hear—that Saddam Hussein had extensive ties to al-Qaida. The Bush administration then trumpeted that fact and Secretary of State Colin Powell included it in his now infamous 2003 presentation to the UN Security Council.

As a 2006 report from the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence summarized,

Al-libi told debriefers that he fabricated information while in U.S. custody to receive better treatment and in response to threats of being transferred to a foreign intelligence service which he believed would torture him… He said that later, while he was being debriefed by a (REDACTED) foreign intelligence service, he fabricated more information in response to physical abuse and threats of torture.

As Human Rights Watch maintains in its conclusion, it is time for the United States to provide a full accounting of its actions,

  • Consistent with its obligations under the Convention against Torture, investigate credible allegations of torture and ill-treatment since September 11, 2001 and implement a system of compensation to ensure all victims can obtain redress.
  • Acknowledge past abuses and provide a full accounting of every person that the CIA has held in its custody pursuant to its counterterrorism authority since 2001, including names, dates they left US custody, locations to which they were transferred, and their last known whereabouts.
  • Create an independent, nonpartisan commission to investigate the mistreatment of detainees in US custody anywhere in the world since September 11, 2001, including torture, enforced disappearance, and rendition to torture.

It is sad that our political culture has become so degraded that the odds of any of those steps actually happening are essentially zero.

CIA Documents Outline U.S. Plans/Threats to Nuke North Korea Over the Years

To mark the 60th anniversary of the Korean War, the CIA earlier this year released 1,300 documents from 1950-1953 outlining, among other things, extensive planning by the United States to use nuclear weapons against North Korea during the Korean War, as well as threats to do the same.

According to an Associated Press summary of the documents,

Based on previously declassified documents, however, historians believe the U.S. came closest to unleashing its atomic arsenal against North Korea in April 1951, on the eve of an expected Chinese offensive.

With Truman’s signoff, the Joint Chiefs of Staff ordered A-bomb retaliation if large numbers of fresh Chinese troops entered the fight. In the end, the U.S. military repelled the Chinese push and the weapons were never used. But Pentagon planners retained the option.

The planning went so far as to include rehearsal raids on Pyongyang with B-29s that involved dropping dummy nuclear weapons on the city.

The newly released documents are available on the CIA’s website here.

DigMyPics.Com vs. ScanCafe.Com

Like a lot of people, I have thousands of photographs preserved on 35mm slides and negatives that I’ve really wanted to get scanned. There are a lot of companies that will do that for you, but the two leaders in that area are DigMyPics and ScanCafe . . . two companies that have often had a contentious relationship, to say the least.

After ScanCafe.Com became popular a year or so ago, based on undercutting DigMyPics pricing, DigMyPics started a campaign to highlight the fact that ScanCafe was shipping photos to India for scanning.  For example, on its website DigMyPics had this helpful FAQ entry,

Will the work be done in the USA?

Some companies quietly your photos to a foreign country to have the work performed to increase their profit. For instance, one company in Miami will ship your photos to Costa Rica and another in California will ship them to India to have the scanning done even though these companies never mention those facts on their websites or they give the information in carefully chosen language and bury it in far less prominent places than their pricing.**

Nothing against Costa Rica or India, but I wouldn’t want my photos shipped there by a third party and out of my control.

While outsourcing to another country may make sense with high volume, low margin manufactured goods, it hasn’t worked so well with services. Irrespective of the clear risks involved with sending your photos to a third world country, it’s quite clear that dealing with the company’s employees who are working on your project in your language and culture produces a much more efficient and gratifying end user experience as well as a superior final product.

Rest assured that DigMyPics never ships your photos anywhere else and that all work is done right here in the USA by professional American photographers and artists.

Got that. India and/or Costa Rica are “risk[y] . . . third-world countries” where your photos are “out of my control.” Certainly you’d be much better sending your photos to a safe, American company (cue the Lee Greenwood music).

So last night, I was once again pondering whether to send my negatives off to be scanned and hit the DigMyPics site to see what their current pricing was. And this is what is currently on their front page,

DigMyPics.com

To our customers and friends,

On Monday May 5, 2008 at approximately 2am, Arizona Time, DigMyPics suffered a devastating fire which destroyed our building and most of its contents.  The fire was large and the neighboring city of Mesa was called in to help fight it.  Three large ladder trucks were used to douse the flames.   Despite the best efforts of both city’s firefighters, the building was completely destroyed. Our website, email, customer database, and telephone lines are all currently down as a result.

As you can imagine, Annette and I are heartbroken by what has happened. We always believed that our customers placed their trust in us when they sent us their photos and videos and we took that responsibility personally and extremely seriously.

Annette, the employees of DigMyPics, and I are all still in shock and disbelief and we aren’t sure if we’ll even try to rebuild the company.  What we are sure of is that we want to help those people that had put their trust in us to retrieve whatever is retrievable.  We’re putting together a restoration team to help us restore whatever is uncovered.  The Gilbert Fire Department has been extremely helpful to us and are sensitive to what we had in the building.  They’re working hard to help us find and extract our customer’s photos and videos.  The scene is currently under their custody as they investigate the fire’s cause but today we delivered a trailer to them and they’ve agreed to put any photos, film, hard drives or computers that they find in that trailer and give us access to it twice a day.  We’ll take the material to another site we’ve temporarily leased to begin work on salvaging any images or videos that can be saved.

I don’t want to give any false hope, some people may have lost everything, but we had some encouraging news today.  The fire department was able to successfully retrieve our servers and their forensic team has told us that the servers look good and that the data is likely retrievable.  We store a copy of the images that have been completed on some of those servers.  The building is completely destroyed but the roof collapse may have sheltered some areas from the worst effects.  Fire crews are removing pieces of the roof and have found some photos and reels in tact.

Ouch.

Kansas State Students to Stop Throwing Chickens During Basketball Games (Seriously)

Apparently it is common for students at Kansas State to sneak live chickens into the auditorium when their team plays rival Kansas, whose mascot is the Jayhawk. The student(s) then throw the chicken out onto the floor as a way of mocking the Jayhaw mascot.

Yeah, it didn’t make any sense to me either.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals got wind of the practice, however, and sent a letter to Kansas State objecting to this mistreatment of animals.

The athletic department followed up with a statement asking fans to discontinue the tradition, saying,

These actions severely tarnish the image of our University, its athletics teams and the majority of our outstanding fans and supporters and while viewed by many as harmless pranks, these acts are likely illegal.

PETA’s Debbie Leahy told the Associated Press, “Any student who throws live birds on a basketball court should be thrown out of school.”

A bigger question might be how the chicken throwers managed to get in to Kansas State in the first place.

Sources:

N.C. vs. Duke: blood feud. Reggie Hayes, The News-Sentinel (Indiana), March 6, 2007.

Kansas State Athletic Department Condemns Chicken Toss. Associated Press, February 28, 2007.

The American College of Surgeon’s View of Animal Research

In a letter to the editor of the Tribune & Georgian, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine’s Aysha Akhtar responds to a previous letter published in that newspaper attacking PCRM.

Akhtar discusses the current state of animal use in medical schools and writes,

The America [sic] College of Surgeons no longer uses live animals in its clinical training programs and has endorsed the use of simulation technologies to replace live animal use in surgery training programs.

Since Akhtar is so fond of the American College of Surgeons, it might be useful to look at the entirety of their position statement on animals in education and research. The following is the full text of that statement, first adopted in 1991 and then altered slightly in 2002 to reflect changes in federal animal regulations,

The American College of Surgeons supports the responsible use and humane care and treatment of laboratory animals in research, education, teaching, and product safety testing in accordance with applicable local, state, and federal animal welfare laws. Further, the membership believes that only as many animals as necessary should be used; that any pain or distress animals may experience should be minimized or alleviated; and that, wherever feasible, alternatives to the use of live animals should be developed and employed.

The American College of Surgeons believes that now and in the foreseeable future it is not possible to completely replace the use of animals and that the study of whole living organisms, tissues, and cells is an indispensable element of biomedical research, education, and teaching.

Certainly the American College of Surgeons has recommended the use of non-animal alternatives for clinical teaching where the non-animal alternatives are equal to or better than traditional animal methods, but the ACS does not share Akhtar’s or PCRM’s view of “the need to move away from using animals in medical research and education.”

Sources:

Animals are not meant for medical research. Aysha Akhtar, Letter to the Editor, The Tribune & Georgian, March 6, 2007.

Statement on the Use of Animals in Research, Education, and Teaching. American College of Surgeons, 2002.

More Animal Dissections in Schools than Ever?

Washington Post writer Valerie Strauss has an interesting look at the current state of animal dissection in American schools. Among other things, the article suggests that animal dissections are more common now than ever, in part due to the popularity of animal dissection at lower grade levels.

The article claims that,

Across the country, more dissections are performed than ever before, according to the advocates and critics of dissection. The nonprofit Humane Society estimates that 6 million vertebrate animals are dissected in U.S. high schools alone; the number of dissections of invertebrate animals is probably comparable, it says.

Unfortunately, Strauss doesn’t include any information on estimates of animals dissected over time, so readers have to take her word for it. Moreover, the increase in animals dissected over a much earlier time could represent the large increase in population in the United States over the past few decades rather than any genuine increase in the popularity/prevalence of animal dissection.

One genuine change appears to be an increasing number of animal dissections at the middle and elementary school level (the first time I remember doing an animal dissection was in the 7th grade).

Of course animal rights activists argue for replacing animal dissections with computer models of the same, and 9 states require students who object to animal dissection to be given some sort of non-animal alternative. But Kenneth Roy, chair of the Science Safety Advisory Board of the National Science Teachers Association, defends animal dissection,

I would use the example of driving a real car versus a driving simulation on a computer or in a game room machine. The real-time dissection provides awareness to all of the senses — touch especially — texture, form, etc.

Source:

When cutting up in class is okay. Valerie Strauss, Washington Post, March 5, 2007.