Gitmo Show Trials

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Gitmo: Broken Minds, Broken Justice

The WaPo reports that Judge James Pohl has just severed Ramzi Bin al-Shibh from 9/11 trial, creating two 9/11 trials. He did so for two reasons: because he could not quickly resolve whether the FBI investigation into defense attorneys has compromised his representation, and because the court has not yet determined whether he is competent to stand trial.

Army Col. James L. Pohl said the court needs to resolve whether Binalshibh has the mental capacity to participate in a trial and whether he needs another lawyer because of a potential conflict of interest after theFBI questioned members of his defense team.

These issues “are not expected to be completed in the near term,” Pohl said in his order.

While both issues are emblematic of the clusterfuck that is Gitmo, I’m particularly struck by the uncertainty whether bin al-Shibh is competent.

Earlier this year, prosecutors asked the judge to evaluate Binalshibh after he repeatedly interrupted court proceedings and had to be removed because he ignored warnings to stop the disruptions. However, neither the government nor Binalshibh’s lawyer argue that he is mentally incompetent.

“The judge’s decision today seems to indicate that the issue of competency is still open,” [bin al-Shibh lawyer James] Harrington said. “We have to clarify that with him.”

After all, the entire point of the torture program was to break these men. They succeeded in doing so with bin al-Shibh (that is confirmed by other sources). But now they can’t try him — it sounds like this severance is probably a tacit admission he can never stand trial, for a variety of reasons.

I would much prefer civilian justice, and have said so numerous times. But this Kangaroo Court in Gitmo has sure succeeded in demonstrating all the problems with the US counterterrorism approach.

AQAP Drone Strikes Obama’s Awlaki Drone Story

Shirhi Abdulmutallab KissTwo days before the Administration was due to release a memo laying out its rationale for drone-killing American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, AQAP released a video that challenges the narrative the Administration has used for doing so.

As Gregory Johnsen reports, the memo shows (see correction below) former Gitmo detainee Said al-Shihri embracing Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, then whispering in his ear.

In the video, Shihri says he was the head of external operations — the title the US always used to describe Anwar al-Awlaki.

The video says that it was Shihri — not Awlaki — who was “responsible for external operations against America.” For years, the Obama administration has argued the opposite, claiming that Awlaki was directing AQAP’s efforts against the U.S., including the failed underwear bomb on an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.

On the day Awlaki was killed, Obama called him “the leader of external operations for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula” and said he “directed” the 2009 attack. The video appears to refute both claims, giving credit to Shihri, the former Guantanamo Bay detainee.

Halfway through the video there is a clip of Shihri embracing Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the underwear bomber in the Christmas Day attack, and whispering in his ear as a narrator reads that the attack was conducted “under the direct supervision of (Shihri) and a number of his brothers in the section in charge of external operations.”

While there may be some disagreement about how best to translate Shihri’s role — “directed” or “supervised” — this video clearly says that Shirhi was in charge, directly to the contrary to the narrative DOJ released purportedly summarizing Abulmutallab’s confession (the one that conflicted in key ways with his two other confessions).

What Johnsen doesn’t say — but is clear from comparison — is that that embrace took place while Abdulmutallab was dressed to make his martyrdom video.

Compare this frame, which appears just after the embrace in the new video (at 21:54),

Abdulmutallab Video Shihri

With this one from Abdulmutallab’s martyrdom video (at 0:52).

Abdulmutallab Video Martyr

That’s important because arranging to make the martyrdom video is one of the tasks DOJ’s narrative says Awlaki did.

Awlaki told defendant that he would create a martyrdom video that would be used after the defendant’s attack. Awlaki arranged for a professional film crew to film the video. Awlaki assisted defendant in writing his martyrdom statement, and it was filmed over a period of two to three days. The full video was approximately five minutes in length.

Shihri’s presence at the making of Abdulmutallab’s martyrdom video doesn’t refute the claim that Awlaki had a role in making it (though none of the experts I have asked has ever given a remotely credible explanation why AQAP’s greatest English-language propagandist and someone formally schooled in English would make a martyrdom video in Arabic). But it does place him there, suggesting Awlaki was not the only one directing the production of the video, if he had a role at all.

This video definitely doesn’t prove that Awlaki didn’t have an operational role in the UndieBomb attack. But it shows that the narrative the government released — which Abdulmutallab’s lawyer said had been made in the context of a plea deal never finalized and which the government agreed not to rely on at the trial, where it could have been challenged — neglects not just the role of Fahd al-Quso, but also Said al-Shihri. It is, at the very least, incomplete in some important ways.

And yet that is the only public “proof” the government has ever released that justified their execution of Anwar al-Awlaki.

Update: Apparently al-Shihri isn’t the one portrayed in this video, Nasir al-Wuhayshi is. In which case this connection is not meaningful.

SouthCom Commander Calls Gitmo Hunger Strikes “a Joke”

The government has made 10 of the videos showing the force-feeding of Abu Wa’el Dhiab available to his lawyers. They are reportedly watching the video this weekend.

In a piece seemingly meant to diminish concerns about the claims the government tortured detainees, in the guise of force-feeding them, to break up a large hunger strike last year — and to pre-empt whatever claims his attorneys will make after viewing the videos – Southern Command Commander Marine Gen. John F. Kelly gave an interview to the AP. In it, he made the absurd claim that Gitmo does not force feed anyone.

Military officials, who call the hunger strike a propaganda stunt, reject the phrase “force-feeding.” They say the video will show nothing more than guards and medical personnel doing their jobs in a difficult situation.

“We don’t force feed anyone,” said Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, who oversees the prison as commander of U.S. Southern Command.

Worse, in an apparently effort to redefine hunger strike as he also redefined force feed, Kelly called hunger striking “a joke.”

“The whole hunger strike thing was kind of a joke anyway before. Now it’s based on nutrition and a medical exam as opposed to missing meals,” he said.

The general said “very few” detainees now qualify for the feeding procedure and he believes none are truly on hunger strike — “if the definition of a hunger striker is someone who is no-kidding attempting to hurt themselves by starvation.”

Of course, the hunger strikes aren’t about “attempting to hurt themselves by starvation.” They are attempts to regain some sort of autonomy and dignity and — yes — to call attention to the injustice of detaining men who could be released for over a decade.

Whether a judge will ultimately rule that force feeding, as done to the men most committed to hunger striking, amounts to the water torture or not, Kelly’s disdain for the hunger strikers lays bare the coercion involved.

Intelligence Response to KSM’s Claim Intelligence Supersedes Justice Holds Up His Own Trial

Matt Apuzzo collects the thoughts of a number of people who are getting frustrated with the way the CIA and FBI (though I suspect it might be CIA and CIA) keep holding up the Gitmo show trials.

Most damning of them is this quote from top military justice lawyer professor, Eugene Fidell.

“It’s a courtroom with three benches,” said Eugene R. Fidell, who teaches military justice at Yale Law School. “There’s one person pretending to be the judge, and two other agencies behind the scenes exerting at least as much influence.”

That assessment is not all that far from the claim Khalid Sheikh Mohammed made in the propaganda tract behind this latest delay.

Every democratic country in the west has a constitution, an executive branch, a judicial branch, and a legislative branch. They also have a big black box above and beyond these branches that implements all that it sees as being in the interest of the country or ruling party without consideration for any constitution, morality, religion, or principle. This black box is called Intelligence and its authority supersedes all other considerations.

The Kangaroo Court trying KSM is proving him right. That’s not a good thing.

Dangerous Censored Documents, in Soviet Russia and War on Terror America

Yesterday, in announcing the public release of documents relating to CIA’s publication of a Russian edition of Dr. Zhivago, the CIA bragged (justifiably) about its Cold War success in making books Warsaw Pact governments had banned available within those countries.

In a memo dated April 24, 1958 a senior CIA officer wrote: “We have the opportunity to make Soviet citizens wonder what is wrong with their government when a fine literary work by the man acknowledged to be the greatest living Russian writer is not even available in his own country [and] in his own language for his people to read.”

[snip]

Obtaining, publishing, and distributing banned books like Doctor Zhivago was an important Cold War-era success story for the CIA.

Even as CIA was declassifying the documents underlying Peter Finn’s book on this topic, the 9/11 Gitmo trial was being stalled, once again, by issues arising from the Court’s fragile Constitutional foundation.

The issue, this time, makes for ironic comparison with CIA’s boasts of making banned texts available to societies where the government was too fragile to release such texts.

On Monday, the 9/11 defense lawyers revealed that their Defense Security Officer had been recruited as an informant by the FBI as part of an investigation into how an unclassified 36-page tract written by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed became available to the HuffPo.

The Gitmo prosecutors claim to have no knowledge of the FBI investigation.

At Monday’s hearing, the judge pointedly asked the prosecutor, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, if his prosecution team was “aware of this visit” by two agents to the bin al Shibh team member’s house on Sunday, April 6, to question him after church. At issue, in part, was how the Huffington Post and Britain’s Channel 4 television got a copy of the Mohammed commentary.

“No, we were not,” Martins replied — even before the judge had finished his question.

[snip]

At the prison, spokesman Navy Cmdr. John Filostrat on Monday night replied to a question of whether the prison staff asked the FBI to investigate the document this way: “I am unaware of any investigation and won’t get into ongoing legal proceedings, anyway.”

Tuesday, a Pentagon spokesman said that while Martins did give the FBI the copy of the Mohammed document neither the chief prosecutor “nor the prosecution team had any idea that an investigation was launched.”

“He gave it to the FBI to maintain as evidence in event that there could at some point be an investigation,” said Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, “and in the event that it is determined that releasing [Mohammed’s 36-page commentary] was unlawful.”

Nevertheless, it appears someone requested an investigation into the disclosure. And DOJ’s part of the prosecution team suggests the judge would infringe on Executive Branch privileges if he investigates the FBI investigation.

Separately, a lead case prosecutor, Ed Ryan of the Justice Department warned the judge against asking to question the FBI agents who visited a defense team member.

“Your Honor is suggesting that you want to investigate an ongoing investigation. There are numerous government privileges that would be at stake,” Ryan said at the hearing. “I think the commission would be greatly mistaken to go down a road of trying to look inside an ongoing investigation being conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation if, in fact, one exists.”

Defense Attorneys also complained that a (perhaps now former) member of the Prosecution team is the Chief of Staff to FBI Deputy Director Mark Giuliano.

And then finally, there’s a member of the trial team, Ms. Baltes, who is also — who also serves as the Chief of Staff to the Deputy Director of the FBI. And I appreciate counsel’s unequivocal statement that the prosecution was not aware of this investigation, did not know — did not know that an investigation was taking place and did not direct FBI agents to go and try to penetrate Mr. Harrington’s team, but somebody did, and somebody at the FBI did. And I don’t think it’s too much of a leap to imagine that when a member of the trial team has a dual role as the Chief of Staff to the Deputy Director of the FBI, that there could be an interface there, and I think it would be appropriate to examine Ms. Baltes as well.

Joanna Baltes happens to have been the lawyer who, in January, refused to admit in public that the CIA had installed a means to censor Gitmo proceedings, unbeknownst to the Judge. Is she, once again, answering to the CIA above and beyond her obligations to a court purportedly delivering independent justice?

So our attempt to hold the perpetrators for 9/11 responsible for their crimes has once again ground to a halt as the Judge investigates whether and why (and at whose behest) the FBI is investigating the release of KSM’s unclassified writings.

Americans might ask, like Russians before them, “wonder what is wrong with their government” that we must delay justice in the 9/11 attack because someone made a shitty tract from KSM publicly available.

Don’t get me wrong. Unlike Boris Pasternak’s novel, KSM’s tract is not literature, not even close. Continue reading

The CIA’s Excuse: Hiding the Double Agents

Adam Goldman and Greg Miller offer the CIA’s excuse for removing documents from the SCIF where they had been made available to Senate Intelligence Committee staffers: they had to hide their double agents.

After the CIA provided a massive cache of documents in 2009 to Senate staffers investigating the agency’s detention and interrogation program, the agency realized it might have a problem.

Within those documents, agency employees feared, were details that could lead to the exposure of CIA sources, former U.S intelligence officials said. Among them were top assets who had been recruited while being held at a secret CIA facility on Guantanamo Bay called “Penny Lane,” according to one of the officials.

So great was the concern that the sources’ identity would be disclosed that the CIA withdrew some of the documents from a special facility that had been set up for members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

[snip]

Two employees of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center and a lawyer were assigned to scrub the documents for sensitive sources, including the asset who agreed to work for the CIA after his capture and transfer to Guantanamo, the official said.

The assets went through a recruitment program at Guantanamo that began in early 2003 and ended several years later. Some of those who took part in the program have provided key information to the CIA, helping the agency kill a number of top terrorists.

Let’s take the CIA at its word for a minute and consider the implications of this from the standpoint of oversight.

By removing the names of those the CIA had flipped while at Gitmo, the CIA permitted politically motivated people — including the guy who had a key role in “releasing” them — to call those detainees “recidivists.”  While it might be great cover to have Dick Cheney screaming about what dangerous people these people were, it was lethal for Obama’s effort to close Gitmo.

By hiding the names of the double agents, the CIA also hid the true details about the actions those double agents would go on to commit. Which may have permitted CIA to use those double agents in ways that weren’t just intelligence gathering.

Hiding double agents also hid how corrupt the entire military commission program was, because it hid the degree to which detainees had been implicated — and were still being held years after their capture — solely through the testimony of informants.

I wonder. Has CIA yet given its oversight committees a full list of all those CIA believes to have flipped? For a number of reasons, I doubt they have.

Removing details on the effort to flip detainees also hides evidence about the purpose of torture, which wasn’t really to obtain intelligence, but to exploit detainees, whether that involved propaganda (such as eliciting the justification for the Iraq War) or developing assets. Until we understand that that was one of the reasons we embraced torture and other kinds of humiliation, we won’t be able to account for the full human waste of it all.

One more detail: by claiming it took back evidence of flipping detainees, CIA can obscure what happened with Hassan Ghul, whose cooperation with the US Miller first broke. If this report ever comes out in any halfway revelatory form, Ghul’s treatment may well be one of the most unjustifiable (particularly since he had already given up Osama bin Laden by the time we started torturing him). How convenient, then, that CIA is prepping to claim SSCI doesn’t know everything about Ghul’s treatment.

1st Amendment Justice Delayed is Justice Denied for Col. Morris Davis

Bg32jNgCYAApToACol. Morris Davis is, at least for my money, an American hero. He served and fought not only for his country, but for the Constitution he swore to protect. The subject of what happened to him at the hands of the very government he defended deserves a much longer, and deeper, dive than I have time for in this post. We will likely come back for that at a later date as it seems as if the legal case Col. Davis brought to correct the wrongs done to him will likely go on forever.

And the going on forever part is the subject of this post. Col. Davis was scheduled to have a hearing in United States District Court in Washington DC tomorrow in front of Judge Reggie Walton. But the hearing was postponed. And that is the problem, this is the FOURTEENTH (14th) TIME hearing on Col. Davis’ case has been delayed. One delay was due to a conflict on Judge Walton’s part, and one because the offices of Davis’ attorneys at the ACLU in New York were substantially damaged by Hurricane Sandy. Other than that, the delay has been at the hands of an intransigent and obstreperous DOJ. If the actions of the DOJ in relation to Col. Davis are not “bad faith”, it is hard to imagine what the term stands for.

Now, to be fair, it appears the latest delay was at the unilateral hand of the court, as yesterday’s minute entry order reads:

In light of the fact that potentially dispositive motions remain pending, it is hereby ORDERED that the status hearing currently scheduled for Friday, February 21, at 9:15 a.m. is CONTINUED to a date and time to be determined by the Clerk.

The problem with that is that the “dispositive motions” the court speaks of as being “pending” have been “pending” for a VERY long time, since July of last year. And the case itself has been going on since the complaint was filed on January 8, 2010.

Why is it taking so long you ask? Because of the aforementioned bad faith and obstreperousness of the Department of Justice, that’s why. To get an idea of just what is going on here, a little background is in order. Peter Van Buren gives a good, and relatively brief synopsis:

Morris Davis is not some dour civil servant, and for most of his career, unlikely to have been a guest at the Playboy Mansion. Prior to joining the Library of Congress, he spent more than 25 years as an Air Force colonel. He was, in fact, the chief military prosecutor at Guantánamo and showed enormous courage in October 2007 when he resigned from that position and left the Air Force. Davis stated he would not use evidence obtained through torture. When a torture advocate was named his boss, Davis quit rather than face the inevitable order to reverse his position.

Morris Davis then got fired from his research job at the Library of Congress for writing an article in the Wall Street Journal about the evils of justice perverted at Guantanamo, and a similar letter to the editor of the Washington Post. (The irony of being fired for exercising free speech while employed at Thomas Jefferson’s library evidently escaped his bosses.) With the help of the ACLU, Davis demanded his job back. On January 8, 2010, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the Library of Congress on his behalf. In March 2011 a federal court ruled against the Obama Administration’s objections that the suit could go forward (You can read more about Davis’ struggle.)

Moving “forward” is however a somewhat awkward term to use in regards to this case. In the past two years, forward has meant very little in terms of actual justice done.

Yes, you read that right. Col. Davis was fired from the job he truly loved at the Congressional Research Service because he, on his own time as a private citizen, exercised his First Amendment right to speak. As one of Davis’ pleadings puts it:

Col. Davis was unconstitutionally removed from his position at the Library of Congress’ Congressional Research Service for writing opinion pieces in the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post expressing his nonpartisan, personal views on the failures of the American military commissions established to try detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. His speech lies at the very core of the First Amendment and exemplifies the kind of speech that federal courts have been most vigilant in protecting from government retaliation.

The full pleading that quote came from, Col. Davis’ response to the government’s motion for summary judgment (one of the “pending dispositive motions”) can be found here and is a good read if you are interested in more background.

That is exactly what happened and what is at stake. And you do not have to take my word for it, Judge Walton thinks it is a solid and valid claim too. Here is language from Judge Walton in an order in late January 2010, not long after the case was filed:

The Court is satisfied that the plaintiff has established, at least based on the record before the Court at this time, that the likelihood of success on the merits and public policy prongs of the preliminary injunction standard weigh in his favor. Essentially, the record before the Court suggests that the plaintiff was terminated immediately after two specific opinion editorials he authored were published in national newspapers. Regardless of the defendants’ contention to the contrary, it appears that the content of the plaintiff’s published opinions was one of the reasons, if not the primary reason, he was fired, i.e., because the plaintiff took a position on the prosecution of detainees being housed at the United States military’s Guantánamo Bay facility which the Congressional Research Service felt would call into question its impartially as to any policy recommendation it would make and any research it would conduct on that issue. This conclusion is supported by the fact that the opinion articles were specifically referenced in the plaintiff’s termination letter, and also the timing of the letter, which was issued only several days after his writings were published. The plaintiff’s likelihood of success position therefore is well-founded, at least with respect to the record the Court now has before it. And as to the public interest prong, it cannot be questioned that government employees retain First Amendment rights. (citations omitted)

So, there is really no question but that protected First amendment rights were involved, and that Col. Davis was wrongfully fired for exercising them. Makes you wonder why the DOJ would string him out and fight so hard in a case that is only about the rights and not even about the money damages he suffered as a result (that would have to be litigated in a separate action).

As the graphic at the top questions, why is the DOJ willing to give free speech rights to a terrorist at Guantanamo and not to Col. Morris Davis? Bad faith is the answer. Complete, scandalous, bad faith.

Exploitation: “In my ears and in my eyes”

Goldman and Apuzzo, perhaps as a swan song before the former heads off to WaPo, break the story of Penny Lane — the story of the Gitmo camp where recruited double agents stayed until they were sent off to spy for the CIA.

They focus primarily on the series of perks detainees got both while at Gitmo and once they had agreed to spy.

By early 2003, Penny Lane was open for business.

Candidates were ushered from the confines of prison to Penny Lane’s relative hominess, officials said. The cottages had private kitchens, showers and televisions. Each had a small patio.

Some prisoners asked for and received pornography. One official said the biggest luxury in each cottage was the bed — not a military-issued cot but a real bed with a mattress.

The cottages were designed to feel more like hotel rooms than prison cells, and some CIA officials jokingly referred to them collectively as the Marriott.

Current and former officials said dozens of prisoners were evaluated but only a handful, from a variety of countries, were turned into spies who signed agreements to work for the CIA.

[snip]

Prisoners agreed to cooperate for a variety of reasons, officials said. Some received assurances that the U.S. would resettle their families. Another thought al-Qaida had perverted Islam and believed it was his duty as a Muslim to help the CIA destroy it. One detainee agreed to cooperate after the CIA insinuated it would harm his children, a former official said, similar to the threats interrogators had made to admitted 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

All were promised money. Exactly how much each was paid remains unclear. But altogether, the government paid millions of dollars for their services, officials said. The money came from a secret CIA account, codenamed Pledge, that’s used to pay informants, officials said.

But there are a few details they either barely hint at or profess ignorance to.

First, that mention of threatening a detainee with harming his children? Obviously, that’s coercion, not persuasion. Jason Leopold and Jeff Kaye have long focused on how our torture program aims to exploit prisoners, including “recruiting” them to be double agents, in part, by torturing them. (And this was one key purposes of torture at Abu Ghraib, too.)

The process by which we recruited detainees to turn informant was by no means solely about real mattresses.

Goldman and Apuzzo profess ignorance about whether these double agents showed up in lists of “Gitmo recidivists.” They did. Remember: several Gitmo “recidivists” then “flipped back” to Saudi control and provided key information on AQAP structure and plots. Though it appears to have even taken several years before they explained to Congress that some of these recidivists were actually not — or at least were not supposed to be. So not only did these detainees serve as double agents against al Qaeda, but the existence of them as “recidivists” fed the fears about closing Gitmo.

And there are at least textual hints of whom they did flip (or think they had flipped), though I won’t lay out the several places where I’ve seen those hints in case these men are still out there.

Finally, Goldman and Apuzzo note this program ended in 2006, as the number of new detainees dropped (and, I might add, as the government tried to get out of the torture business).

But make no mistake. The government still aims to exploit the people it captures for counterterrorism purposes, whether in some forgotten cell in Afghanistan or on a ship. If we were only in the interrogation business, it could all take place in a traditional jail with legal representation.

Say Hello To Our New Friends At Just Security

Screen shot 2013-09-23 at 11.46.58 AMWe do a lot of things here at Emptywheel including occasionally, goofing off. But our primary focus has always been the intersection of security issues, law and politics. I think I can speak for Marcy and Jim, and I certainly do for myself, we would love it if that intersection were not so critical in today’s world. But, alas, it is absolutely critical and, for all the voices out there in the community, there are precious few that deep dive into the critical minutiae.

Today we welcome a new and important player in the field, the Just Security Blog. It has a truly all star and broad lineup of contributors (most all of whom are listed as “editors” of one fashion or another), including good friends such as Steve Vladeck, Daphne Eviatar, Hina Shamsi, Julian Sanchez, Sarah Knuckey and many other quality voices. It is an ambitious project, but one that, if the content already posted on their first day is any indication, will be quite well done. The home of Just Security is the New York University School of Law, so they will have ample resources and foundation from which to operate for the long run.

Ironically, it was little more than three years ago (September 1, 2010 actually) that the Lawfare Blog went live to much anticipation (well, at least from me). Whether you always agree with Ben Wittes, Bobby Chesney, Jack Goldsmith and their contributors or not, and I don’t always, they have done this field of interest a true service with their work product, and are a fantastic and constantly evolving resource. There is little question but that Just Security intends to occupy much of the same space, albeit it in a complimentary as opposed to confrontational manner. In fact, it was Ben Wittes who hosted the podcast with Steve Vladeck and Ryan Goodman that serves as the multi-media christening of Just Security.

Orin Kerr (who is also a must read at Volokh conspiracy), somewhat tongue in cheek, tweeted that the cage match war was on between Lawfare and Just Security. That was pretty funny actually, but Orin made a more serious point in his welcome post today, and a point that I think will greatly interest the readers of Emptywheel:

Whereas Lawfare tend to have a center or center-right ideological orientation, for the most part, Just Security‘s editorial board suggests that it will have a progressive/liberal/civil libertarian voice.

From my understanding, and my knowledge of the people involved, I believe that to be very much the case. And that is a very good thing for us here, and the greater discussion on so much of our work.

So, say hello to our new friends at Just Security, bookmark them and give them a read. Follow them on Twitter. You will be better informed for having done so.

Dianne Feinstein Suggests President Obama Personally Violating Our Treaty Obligations

As I noted the other day, in her ruling that she could not halt the force-feeding at Gitmo, Gladys Kessler described the treatment as “degrading,” potentially invoking our obligations under Article 16 of the Convention again Torture to prevent degrading treatment. Kessler actually explicitly invoked International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which includes a similar prohibition on degrading treatment.

Dianne Feinstein and Dick Durbin sent Obama a letter yesterday, using Kessler’s ruling to connect the two explicitly.

U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Judge Gladys Kessler also expressed concern about the force-feeding of Guantanamo Bay detainees. The Court denied detainee Jihad Dhiab’s motion for a preliminary injunction to stop force-feeding due to lack of jurisdiction, but in her order, Judge Kessler noted that Dhiab has set out in great detail in his court filings “what appears to be a consensus that force-feeding of prisoners violates Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which prohibits torture or cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment.” The United States has ratified the ICCPR and is obligated to comply with its provisions. Judge Kessler also wrote, “it is perfectly clear from the statements of detainees, as well as the statements from the [medical] organizations just cited, that force-feeding is a painful, humiliating, and degrading process.” (emphasis added).

The judge concluded by correctly pointing out that you, as Commander in Chief, have the authority to intercede on behalf of Dhiab, and other similarly-situated detainees at Guantanamo. The court wrote: “Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution provides that ‘[t]he President shall be the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States. …’ It would seem to follow, therefore, that the President of the United States, as Commander-in-Chief, has the authority—and power—to directly address the issue of force-feeding of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay.”

Feinstein only by association makes the next part of her argument. We comply with these treaties by complying with our Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel or unusual punishment. And the government has long said that if we can do something elsewhere in a our gulag system, we can do it in Gitmo.

In a letter to Chuck Hagel last month — which Feinstein noted in yesterday’s letter but did not quote from — she laid out how our force-feeding at Gitmo differs from that used in the Bureau of Prisons.

In addition to the allegation that the Department of Defense’s force-feeding practices are out of sync with international norms, they also appear to deviate significantly from U.S. Bureau of Prison practices. Based on a review by Intelligence Committee staff, the significant differences between force-feedings at Guantanamo Bay and within the U.S. Bureau of Prisons relate to the manner in which the detainees are force-fed, how often detainees are force-fed, and the safeguards and oversight in place during force-feedings.

Within the Bureau of Prisons, force-feeding is exceedingly rare. The Intelligence Committee staff has been told that no inmate within the Bureau of Prisons has been force-fed in more than six months. When force-feedings do occur within the Bureau of Prisons, we have been told that nearly 95% of the time they are conducted with a fully compliant inmate requiring no restraints. At Guantanamo Bay, on the other hand, all detainees being force-fed–regardless of their level of cooperation–are placed in chairs where they are forcibly restrained. The visual impression is one of restraint: of arms, legs, and body. Further, at Guantanamo Bay, detainees are fed twice a day in this manner, potentially over a substantial period of time. This also is inconsistent with the practice of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

Additionally, the U.S. federal prison guidelines for force-feedings include several safeguards and oversight mechanisms that are not in place at Guantanamo Bay. These guidelines require the warden to notify a sentencing judge of the involuntary feeding, with background and an explanation of the reasons for involuntary feeding. Further, the Bureau of Prisons requires an individualized assessment of an inmate’s situation to guide how force-feedings are administered, a practice that I found largely absent at Guantanamo Bay. Finally, all force-feedings must be videotaped within the Bureau of Prisons.

It’s almost as if DiFi knows or suspects there’s an OLC memo that — parallel to the ones that found torture to be legal because it vaguely resembled practices elsewhere (as when they noted that members of the military undergo SERE training, so reverse-engineered SERE techniques used in different situations were legal) — finds our force-feeding at Gitmo to be legal because judges have approved the way we force-feed people in federal prisons. In any case, Gitmo officials have said their treatment is similar with BOP treatment.

Between these two letters, she has laid out why that is not the case. Indeed, that’s the import of Kessler’s language, a federal judge finding the treatment we use in Gitmo to violate our obligations under ICCPR.

Say what you will about DiFi (lord knows I’ve often said the same, where I thought it appropriate), but she has just told a President from her own party that he’s breaking the law.

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Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz @joanmccarter Welp, this is not going very well. #BroncoBlues
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bmaz @shaneharris @columlynch No, not in the least. Seemed worth noting though.
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bmaz Does Power ever look in the mirror? RT @CBSWalsh: Strong words from @AmbassadorPower: Russia has to stop lying+has to stop fueling conflict
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bmaz @shaneharris @columlynch Well, that is pretty dubious.
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bmaz @kevinjonheller No kidding. Also, Sam Power chastising Russia for lying is pretty hilarious. Does she ever look in the mirror??
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bmaz RT @kevinjonheller: Pretty sure the US is the last country that should be criticising #Russia 4 violating #Ukraine’s sovereignty. Something…
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emptywheel Why are they teaching Johnny Football w/binders rather the Surface?
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emptywheel SEC Commissioner calling SEC punishment a wrist slap. http://t.co/bm0nFW4W6S
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emptywheel RT @eisingerj: #SEC chair Mary Jo White's commissioners are now in open revolt. Aguilar's amazing dissent on weak enforcement move: http://…
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bmaz @jadler1969 @Mansfield2016 @brianbeutler @voxdotcom @ezraklein Hey, I would like to hear more about the Halbig Kitty.
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bmaz Wow. Texas A+M did some work on SC and the 'Ole Ball Coach. Very impressive. Bet @JWGOP is pretty pumped up.
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emptywheel @kevinjonheller I won't be satisfied with this night until he throws a pick. @camachotalk
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