History Repeats Itself: Kessler Orders Preservation of Gitmo Forced Feeding Torture Videos

With even the New York Times editorial page chiming in on Thursday  (just after the Abramson firing on Wednesday, so this is clearly a big deal to them), Judge Gladys Kessler ruled on Friday that the military must stop its forced feedings of a Syrian prisoner at Guantanamo and preserve videos of him being forcibly extracted from his cell and being fed. We’ve seen this movie before. Recall that Kessler was one of at least two judges ordering the CIA to preserve video evidence of waterboarding before Robert Eatinger and Jose Rodriguez decided to go ahead with destruction of the videotapes. Considering how out of control John Bogdan, head of the Joint Task Force Guantanamo Detention Group, already has been, it would not surprise me at all for these videos to meet the same fate. Heck, given Eatinger’s current behavior in trying to use intimidation to stop further revelations on the torture front, it wouldn’t even surprise me for him to decide, through some sort of OCA role, that it is the CIA’s job to take possession of and to destroy the tapes in question.

Here is Carol Rosenberg reporting on Kessler’s ruling:

A federal judge waded deep into the Pentagon’s handling of the Guantánamo hunger strike on Friday, ordering the military to temporarily suspend forced-feedings of a Syrian prisoner at the detention center until a hearing Wednesday.

U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler in Washington, D.C., also ordered the military to preserve any video recordings guards might have made hauling Syrian Mohammed Abu Wa’el Dhiab, 42, from his cell and giving him nasogastric feedings in a restraint chair. He has also been identified as Jihad Dhiab in court papers and news reports.

The order appears to be the deepest intrusion into prison camp operations by the federal court during the long-running hunger strike, which at one point last year encompassed more than 100 of Guantánamo’s 154 detainees.

The military has since December refused to disclose how many detainees are force-fed as hunger strikers each day, and it was not possible to know if Navy doctors at the base considered Dhiab at risk by perhaps missing four or five days of tube feedings.

Rosenberg goes on to inform us that it only recently was learned that the videos exist. She also realizes that whether Bodgan and his crew will honor the order is an open question:

Military spokesmen from Guantánamo and the U.S. Southern Command did not respond Friday night to questions from the Miami Herald on whether the 2,200-strong military and civilian staff at the detention center had received and would honor the order.

Recall that when the waterboarding tapes were destroyed, that destruction was in direct violation of court orders, including one from Kessler: Read more

Why Jose Rodriquez Should Be In Prison, Not On A Book Tour

As Marcy noted, Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo of the AP have gotten their hands on an early copy of Jose Rodriquez’s new screed book, “Hard Measures”. The one substantive point of interest in their report involves the destruction of the infamous “torture tapes”. What they relate Rodriquez saying in his book is not earth shattering nor particularly new in light of all the reporting of the subject over the years, but it is still pretty pretty arrogant and ugly to the rule of law:

The tapes, filmed in a secret CIA prison in Thailand, showed the waterboarding of terrorists Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Nashiri.

Especially after the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal, Rodriguez writes, if the CIA’s videos were to leak out, officers worldwide would be in danger.

“I wasn’t going to sit around another three years waiting for people to get up the courage,” to do what CIA lawyers said he had the authority to do himself, Rodriguez writes. He describes sending the order in November 2005 as “just getting rid of some ugly visuals.”

As you may recall, specially assigned DOJ prosecutor John Durham let the statute of limitations run out on prosecuting Jose Rodriquez, and others directly involved, including four Bush/Cheney White House attorneys (David Addington, Alberto Gonzales, John Bellinger and Harriet Miers) involved in the torture tapes destruction, as well as two CIA junior attorneys, on or about November 9, 2010. There was really never any doubt about what Rodriquez’s motivation was in light of the fact he destroyed the tapes of Abu Zubaydah and al-Nashiri within a week of Dana Priest’s blockbuster article in the Washington Post on the US “black site” secret prisons.

But, just as there was no doubt, then or now, as to the motivation of Rodriquez and/or the others, there was similarly never any doubt about the legitimate basis for criminal prosecution. The basic government excuse was they could not find any proceeding in which the torture tapes were material to so as to be required to have been preserved. For one thing, Judge Alvin Hellerstein determined the tapes were indeed material to the ACLU FOIA suit and within the purview of their evidentiary hold (even though he refused to hold CIA officials in contempt under the dubious theory they may not have had notice).

More important, however, was the immutable and unmistakable fact that the torture tapes were of specific individuals, al-Qaeda members Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who, at the time of destruction of the tapes, were in detention awaiting trial, whether it be in an Article III Read more

The Misplaced US Determination To Indict Assange

I have stayed out of the WikiLeaks scrum to date, mainly because the relatively few cables published to date (only 1,269 of the more than 250,000 cables they possess have been released so far) did not provide that much new on the subjects I normally write on as opposed to just confirming or further supporting previous knowledge and/or suppositions. This is certainly not to say they have not been interesting reading or useful to many others, the WikiLeaks material has been all that.

But now comes the bellicose fixation of the United States government on criminally prosecuting WikiLeak’s editor-in-chief Julian Assange. What started out as the usual idiotic yammering of Rep. Peter King and Sen. Joe Lieberman has turned into an apparently dedicated and determined effort by the Department of Justice to charge Assange. As the following discussion will demonstrate, it will require dicey and novel extrapolation of legal theories and statutes to even charge Assange, much less actually convict him.

The interesting thing is this type of prosecution flies directly in the face of the written charging guidelines of the DOJ which prescribe a prosecution should be brought only where the admissible facts and evidence are “sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction”. As we have seen in so many instances over the last few years, the DOJ uses this requirement to decline prosecution on a whole host of matters they simply do not want to touch, even where the evidence for conviction of serious crimes is crystal clear and unequivocal. Take for instance the case on the blatant destruction of the abu-Zubaydah and al-Nashiri torture tapes for instance (see here and here), where the DOJ and John Durham used just this basis to decline prosecution because the DOJ just does not, you know, go out on limbs.

So, why would the Obama Administration be so aggressive against Assange when doing so flies in the face of their written guidelines and standard glib protocol? Is it really all about prosecuting Assange? That would be hard to believe; more likely it is not just to monkeywrench Assange and WikiLeaks, but to send a hard and clear prior restraint message to the American press. This is almost surely confirmed by the rhetoric of Joe Lieberman, who is rarely more than a short ride away from his disciple and friend Barack Obama on such matters, and who is making noises about also prosecuting the New York Times.

Never before has the Espionage Act, nor other provisions of the criminal code, been applied to First Amendment protected American press in the manner being blithely tossed around by US officials in the WikiLeak wake. Avoidance of First Amendment press and publication has been not just the general position of the DOJ historically, it has been borne out by significant caselaw over the years. If you need a primer on the hands off attitude that has been the hallmark of treatment of press entities, you need look no further than New York Times v. United States, aka the “Pentagon Papers Case”. In NYT v. US, the government could not even use the Espionage Act in a civil context against the press, much less a criminal one as they propose for Assange, without being forcefully shot down. Daniel Ellsberg is right when he says that “Every attack now made on WikiLeaks and Julian Assange was made against me”.

The Barack Obama Administration, who rode into office on a platform and promise of less secrecy, more transparency and a respect for Constitutional principles, has proved itself time and again to be anything but what it advertised. And to the uninformed populous as a whole, ill served by the American press that is being pinched in this process, Julian Assange presents an attractive vehicle for this prior restraint demagoguery by the US government. The public, especially without strong pushback and fight from the press, will surely bite off on this craven scheme. Read more

Durham Torture Tape Case Dies, US Duplicity in Geneva & The Press Snoozes

From the best available information as to the original destruction date of the infamous “Torture Tapes” having been on November 8, 2005, the statute of limitations for charging any general crime by employees and/or agents of the US Government for said destruction will expire at midnight Monday November 8, 2010 as the general statute of limitation is five years. By operation of law, the statute would have run yesterday were it not a Sunday. So, by the time you are reading this, it is over. Absent something extraordinary, and I mean really extraordinary, a criminal statute of limitation is effectively a bar to subject matter jurisdiction and that is that. Ding dong, the John Durham torture tape investigation is thus dead.

Last week, I wrote a letter to the DOJ and saw to it that it was delivered to the main contacts, Dean Boyd and Tracy Schmaler, as well as John Durham’s office. None of them responded. Finally, late Monday afternoon I called Durham’s office, and they acknowledged having received the letter. Although extremely cordial, there was simply no meaningful information or discussion to be had on the subject. “We have no comment” was about the size of it. I asked about the remote possibility of the existence of a sealed indictment; there was “no comment” on that either, and there is absolutely no reason in the world to think anything exists in this regard.

Oh, there was one thing; when I asked why there had been no formal response to my letter, I was told perhaps it was a “little edgy”. Apparently actually phrasing an inquiry with legal specificity and facts makes it too “edgy” for the United States Department Of Justice. Who knew? Ironically, at the same time this discussion was transpiring today, the very same Obama DOJ was in US Federal Court, in front of Judge John Bates of the DC District, arguing for their unfettered right to extrajudicially execute an American citizen, and do so in secret without explanation. But my letter asking about the dying Durham investigation was edgy. The DOJ’s priorities, morals and duties seem to be a bit off kilter when it comes Read more

Letter to DOJ and John Durham Re: Torture Tape Crimes Expiring

As you may know, in early November of 2005, agents of the United States government destroyed at least ninety two videotapes containing direct evidence of the interrogation and, upon admission and belief, torture of Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see: here, here, here, here and here). The statute of limitations, for the criminal destruction of said taped evidence in the cases of Abu Zubaydah and al-Nashiri will expire on Sunday November 7 (since the last day falls on a weekend, the statute should maintain through the next business day, which is Monday November 8). As we have heard absolutely nothing from Eric Holder, John Durham, the DOJ or the Obama Administration in relation to indictments or other results of the investigation Mr. Durham has been conducting since January 8, 2008, nearly three years, I thought a letter was in order asking just exactly what their status was. Said letter was addressed to Dean Boyd and Tracy Schmaler, official representatives and spokesmen for the Department of Justice, and reads as follows:

Dean and Tracy,

As I believe you are already aware, the statute of limitation on criminal charges including, notably, obstruction of justice for the destruction of evidence, are about to expire. The destruction appears to have occurred on or about November 8, 2005 and there is a five year statute on most all of the general crimes that could possibly be under investigation by John Durham. No competent prosecutor would have waited this long to file charges if he intended to do so, but there are still a couple of days left; what is the status?

Secondly, I would like to point out that should you be thinking about relying on some rhetoric that Mr. Durham simply cannot find any crimes to prosecute and/or that there were no proceedings obstructed, it is intellectually and legally impossible to not consider the tapes to be evidence, and as they almost certainly exhibit torture to some degree and to some part they would almost certainly be exculpatory evidence, in the cases of Abu Zubaydah and al-Nashiri themselves. The United States government continues to detain these individuals and they have charges that will putatively be brought against them in some forum (civil or tribunal), Habeas rights and/or indefinite detention review processes that will occur in the future.

In short, there exist not just the potential, but the necessity, of future proceedings, and agents of, or on behalf of, the United States government have destroyed material, and almost certainly exculpatory, evidence. Crimes have been committed. At a bare root minimum, it is crystal clear Jose Rodriquez has clear criminal liability; there are, without question, others culpable too. What is the status?

If the DOJ does not intend to proceed in any fashion on these clear crimes, please provide me with some intellectually consistent explanation for why the US government is covering up, and refusing to prosecute, the criminal acts of its own employees and agents.

Thank you.


If there is any worthwhile or meaningful response, I will advise.

Bull Durham Update: Torture Tape Investigation Winding Down Again

Take this with a grain of salt, because we have heard it before, but there is a new story out that John Durham is winding down his torture tape investigation. Carrie Johnson and Julie Tate at the Washington Post are out this afternoon with an article intimating the investigation appears to be “nearing a close” and, as predicted here, there appears to be little, if anything, useful going to come from it. A false statements charge against a single secondary CIA official appears to be all that is potentially in the offing, and even that is shaky:

Assistant U.S. Attorney John H. Durham, who is leading the investigation, recently bestowed immunity from prosecution on a CIA lawyer who reviewed the tapes years before they were destroyed to determine whether they diverged from written records about the interrogations, the sources said. That could signal that the case is reaching its final stages. Durham has been spotted at the Justice Department headquarters in the District over the past few weeks, in another signal that his work is intensifying.

The agency lawyer, John McPherson, could appear before a grand jury later this month or in April, according to the sources, who spoke anonymously because the investigation continues. CIA lawyers have been essential to understanding the episode because they offered advice to agency personnel about the handling of the tapes and whether they should have been included when agency records were turned over in other court cases. McPherson is not believed to be under criminal jeopardy but he had previously hesitated to testify, the sources said.
Investigators now are turning their attention to the grand jury testimony last year by another agency official, the sources said. Lawyers point out that prosecutors routinely search for discrepancies in grand jury testimony as part of any broad investigation.

Jose A. Rodriguez, the former chief of the CIA’s directorate of operations, triggered the destruction of the 92 tapes in November 2005. But he has not offered any testimony to prosecutors. But an official who worked alongside him did appear before the grand jury for more than a day and that testimony is being scrutinized closely by prosecutors, the sources said. The Washington Post was asked not to publish the name of the official, who is undercover. The official’s attorney declined comment Wednesday.

If the reporting is accurate, there are several things of interest here. First off, there is little, if any, accountability in the offing. False statements against a secondary official giving closed door testimony is not going to take us rule of law adherents where we want to go. And if this official is indeed covert, the odds of charges really being pursued are not very good; not to mention that any prosecution, even if it were pursued, would be fastidiously kept narrow and Read more

Torture Tape Destruction Accountability: How It Is Done

images5thumbnail1.thumbnail1When the government possesses videotape evidence of the torture of subjects under its dominion and control, there is only one reason to destroy the tapes. That reason is not because they possess no evidentiary value; in fact it is the direct opposite, it is because they are smoking guns. Videotapes are definitive for one of the two sides; they either prove the subject was tortured, or they prove that he was not.

Either way, videotapes of detainee treatment are of paramount evidentiary value where there are allegations of torture. It would be insane to argue that such tapes have “no possible evidentiary value”; yet that is exactly what the United States government has officially claimed as their rationale with respect to the infamous destruction of the “torture tapes” depicting the treatment of detainees Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. The tapes were wantonly destroyed by the CIA in 2005, news of the destruction became public via a December 6, 2007 article in the New York Times and the DOJ specially assigned a prosecutor, John Durham, at the end of December 2007.

In the nearly two years that have elapsed since the appointment of Durham, he and the crack US Department of Justice have apparently not been able to find anything wrong with the destruction of the torture tapes. But, once again, US Federal courts have demonstrated the dithering perfidy of the Executive Branch, whether it be that of George W. Bush or, in many key Constitutional respects, his clone, Barack Obama.

From the Kansas City Star:

A Missouri prison inmate claims he was restrained for 17 hours without breaks to get a drink of water or use the bathroom.

But videotape that could prove or disprove Darrin Scott Walker’s allegations of abuse cannot be found.

And a federal judge this week concluded that prison officials intentionally destroyed the tape “in a manner indicating a desire to suppress the truth.”

U.S. District Judge Richard Dorr made the ruling in a lawsuit Walker filed alleging that he was subjected to cruel and unusual punishment.

The case is Darrin Scott Walker v. Michael Bowersox, and is filed in the Western District of Missouri (WDMO) in Case No. 05-3001-CV-S-RED. Here is a copy of Judge Dorr’s Order.

First off, it should be noted that as bad as the alleged torture of Walker is, it is nowhere near the the sadistic and egregious conduct performed upon Zubayduh and al-Nashiri. Secondly, in Walker, the court was confronted with a tape that was “lost”, maybe taped over. In the cases of Zubayduh and al-Nashiri, the US government, with malice aforethought, wantonly and intentionally physically destroyed the evidence; light years worse conduct than that in Walker. Yet Judge Dorr blistered the state for its acts in destruction of evidence:

For all of the following reasons, this Court agrees with Walker that the videotape was intentionally destroyed in a manner indicating a desire to suppress the truth. The prison had adopted a policy that required episodes on the restraint bench be videotaped. The Defendants offered no explanation of what happened to the tape, other than the fact the tape could have been taped over, which indicates intentional destruction. The videotape was delivered to a responsible person for safekeeping by people who believed the videotape should have been kept in case of litigation. The Defendants were on notice to keep the videotape because prison officials knew Walker was considering a lawsuit the night of the incident. Lastly, the loss or taping over of the videotape was not a first time incident.

You have to wonder what Judge Dorr would think of the acts of Jose Rodriquez, the CIA and the highest levels of authority in the Executive Branch in destroying the “torture tapes” if this was his opinion in Walker. Dorr went on to hold that there should be a presumption that the destroyed tape was negative to the interests of the government in Walker and cited strong authority for said holding.

The Walker v, Bowersox case, and the strong foundation it is based on, just adds to the curiosity of the lack of ability of John Durham to find addressable conduct in the case of the torture tapes. Granted, one is a civil rights lawsuit, and one is a criminal investigation for obstruction, but the theory of culpability is the same.

Hey John Durham, where are you and what say you? Or are we just going to be peddled a bunch of Bull by Durham?

A Peek into the Torture Tape Investigation

As the NYT and AP have reported, the CIA says none of its records were responsive to the Court order in the Hani Abdullah case.

A records search by the Central Intelligence Agency has found no evidence that the agency violated a judge’s order when, in 2005, it destroyed videotapes that showed harsh interrogations, the C.I.A. said in a court declaration this week.

Since the CIA is still reviewing its records, though, that declaration may or may not be conclusive.

But the CIA’s declaration is far more interesting for what it says about John Durham’s Torture Tape investigation than what it says about Hani Abdullah’s civil suit against George Bush. Comparing the two declarations submitted in response to Abdullah’s suit with an earlier declaration the CIA submitted in response to the ACLU’s FOIA suggests that John Durham may have reason to suspect that some records pertaining to the torture tapes were destroyed in the Office of Inspector General.

First of all, consider who wrote the two declarations submitted Wednesday by the CIA. First, there’s Robert Dietz, who conducted a general search of the CIA’s operational files. Here’s how Dietz describes his expertise in this matter:

I am the senior councilor to the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. I joined the CIA in Autumn of 2006. Although I am a lawyer by training, I am not serving in a legal capacity and I am not part of the Office of General Counsel. In my position, I report to the Director of the CIA and receive assignments from him. For example, I have chaired an Agency Accountability Board, and I have recently concluded a management review of the Office of the Inspector General. In December 2007, in connection with the public disclosure that the CIA had destroyed certain videotapes, the Director asked me to chair the so-called Tapes Coordination Group ("TCG"). This Group’s assignment is to respond to requests for information from Acting United States Attorney John Durham, specially appointed prosecutor investigating the destruction of the tapes, and similar requests by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Dietz is not a lifetime CIA employee. Rather, he appears to have come in when Michael Hayden took over as Director. That means he had nothing to do with the destruction of the torture tapes. But it also likely means he’s a Hayden loyalist, there to protect Hayden.

Most interesting, Dietz reveals he was in charge of the "management review of the Office of the Inspector General." I find that interesting, not least, because the spat between OIG and Hayden (or rather, and the rest of the CIA) relates to OIG’s report finding CIA’s interrogation methods constituted cruel and inhuman treatment.

Read more

AG Claims Clear Evidence of Legal Liability Does Not Constitute a Basis for Investigation

In two striking exchanges yesterday, Sheldon Whitehouse tried to get AG Mukasey to explain why DOJ was not conducting an investigation into the activities portrayed on the torture tapes. Whitehouse wondered whether DOJ had refrained from investigating the underlying conduct because those who engaged in the torture had authorization to use it. That amounts to the Nuremberg Defense, Whitehouse insisted correctly. In response, Mukasey suggested there simply was no reason to do an investigation. DOJ had never seen any facts, Mukasey claimed, that would warrant an investigation.

Whitehouse: Process question. In terms of advisory responsibilities, not going to investigate. You’ve disclosed waterboarding not part of CIA interrogation regime. Still leaves open torture statute whether there are concrete facts or circumstances, given that that evaporates, whatever it is it is. I’m trying to determine if that is taking place (the analysis), if you’re waiting for Durham’s investigation to look more into what happened. Or if there has been a policy determination made, that bc there has been a claim of authority, there will be no investigation. What is the process for coming to this decision.

MM: Facts come to the attention to the Department that warrant investigation.

But that’s not true, of course. We know DOJ received the results of the IG’s report on the CIA’s interrogation techniques.

OIG notified DOJ and other relevant oversight authorities of the review’s findings.

And we know that that report stated that the conduct depicted on the tapes amounted to cruel and inhuman treatment.

A classified report issued last year by the Central Intelligence Agency’s inspector general warned that interrogation procedures approved by the C.I.A. after the Sept. 11 attacks might violate some provisions of the international Convention Against Torture, current and former intelligence officials say. Read more

Judge Hellerstein Calls the CIA on its BS

Wow. Judge Hellerstein is not amused with the CIA’s assertion that the torture tapes–which IG staffers flew to Thailand to view as part of their investigation into CIA interrogation methods–were not part of their investigation. Nor does he buy the assertion that the "special review" is not an investigation. He basically called Bull on the CIA’s assertions in about six different ways.

The judge, Alvin K. Hellerstein of Federal District Court in Manhattan, said from the bench that he was stunned that the C.I.A. investigators had not kept records about the tapes, which were destroyed in 2005, even though the tapes were an important part of an internal C.I.A. review into interrogation methods.

“I’m asked to believe that actual motion pictures, videotapes, of the relationship between interrogators and prisoners were of so little value” that was no record of them was kept in C.I.A. investigative files, Judge Hellerstein said during a hearing over a freedom of information request involving the tapes.

“I just can’t accept it. If it came up in an ordinary case, it would not be credible,” the judge said, adding, “It boggles the mind.”

In fact, Judge Hellerstein even suggested what I did: that the CIA intentionally did not put any mention of the torture tapes in their IG report as a way to shield them from FOIA.

Judge Hellerstein raised the possibility that C.I.A. officials had intentionally not placed the tapes in the investigative files so as to avoid a freedom of information request.

“It seems to me that you were gulled,” he told Mr. Skinner, “and that the court was gulled.”

Gotta love a good skeptical judge. Read more