Breaking: Pentagon Hiding Torture Evidence from Obama

(If I were president, I’d be pissed. – promoted by Magnifico)

In a shocking revelation just posted at UK Guardian, Binyam Mohamed’s attorney Clive Stafford Smith, who is also director of the legal charity Reprieve, reports that “substantial parts” of a memo, attached to a letter to Barack Obama, documenting evidence of Mohamed’s torture at the hands of CIA agents and their extraordinary rendition proxies, were blanked out so the president could not read them. Who did that?

US defence officials are preventing Barack Obama from seeing evidence that a former British resident held in Guantánamo Bay has been tortured, the prisoner’s lawyer said last night, as campaigners and the Foreign Office prepared for the man’s release in as little as a week….

Stafford Smith tells Obama he should be aware of the “bizarre reality” of the situation. “You, as commander in chief, are being denied access to material that would help prove that crimes have been committed by US personnel. This decision is being made by the very people who you command.”

Smith’s letter to Obama can be read here (PDF).

Scott Horton at Harpers reviewed the known and published history of Binyam Mohamed in a column today criticizing the Obama administration’s decision to use “state secrets privilege” in arguments before the Ninth District Court of Appeals in order to dismiss a lawsuit by Mohamed and four others against Jeppesen Dataplans, Inc., the aircraft company that worked with the CIA on the latter’s extraordinary rendition program.

Binyam Mohamed is a 30-year-old Ethiopian who was granted political asylum in Britain in 1994. In 2002, he was seized by Pakistani authorities and turned over to American intelligence officials in connection with the Bush Administration’s extraordinary renditions program. He was shuttled between CIA-operated facilities in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Morocco. During this period of American-sponsored detention, according to court papers, Binyam Mohamed was “routinely beaten, suffering broken bones and, on occasion, loss of consciousness. His clothes were cut off with a scalpel and the same scalpel was then used to make incisions on his body, including his penis. A hot stinging liquid was then poured into open wounds on his penis where he had been cut. He was frequently threatened with rape, electrocution, and death.” He is now reported to be close to death in a prison cell in Guantánamo.

In his letter to Obama, dated February 9, 2009, Smith wrote (I have transcribed from the PDF — and a big H/T to skdadl at FDL/Emptywheel):

Dear President Obama:

I am writing with great urgency concerning the rendition and torture of a Guantanamo Bay prisoner represented by our charity. His name is Binyam Mohamed, and he is a British resident.

You will doubtless have been informed about Mr. Mohamed’s torture — he was abused in truly medieval ways over a period of more than two years in Pakistan (at the behest of the US), then again in Morocco (where he had been rendered by the CIA), and then in the Dark Prison in Kabul.

There has been a firestorm in the media of our closest ally, the United Kingdom because, according to two British judges, the Bush Administration “threatened” to withdraw national security cooperation with the UK if the judges ordered the release of materials concerning the torture of Mr. Mohamed in US custody.

The British judges bowed to this ‘threat’– but suggested at the end of their judgment that your administration might reconsider the position taken by your predecessors….

Since we, at Reprieve, are US lawyers with appropriate security clearances, we have access to this classified material. We have therefore assembled a memorandum that collates the evidence of torture in question. It is attached.

… for now, to deal with the British judges’ request, we are submitting this information to you with no reference to any agent’s name, or even the location of the abuse. Thus, as the British judges suggested, there is nothing in the memo that divulges material that should be considered classified.

We are submitting this letter and attachment to the Privilege Review Team established by the Department of Defense to deal with these issues….

If the DOD is unwilling to forward this material to you, then we will send you only what we are allowed to send you — which will be a copy of this letter and a redacted version of the memo illustrating the extent to which it has been censored.

And the memo was censored. I can’t reproduce it here, but you can see it at the link above. But I can tell you that everything is blacked out after the header, a full two pages worth of black paragraphs. The recipient to the memo is also redacted. The title of the memo is “Re: Torture of British resident Binyam Mohamed by US personnel.”

What the hell is going on here? Is Obama in charge of the military or not? The Guardian article explains:

It is understood US defence officials might have censored the evidence to protect the president from criminal liability or political embarrassment.

Understood by whom?

This news comes only days after some other news from Guantanamo throws some doubt over who exactly is in control of U.S. military detainee and torture policy.

In an article today, Andy Worthington asks “Who’s Running Guantanamo?”

On Jan. 20, the answer to that question seemed    obvious. In his inaugural speech, with George W. Bush standing just behind him, President Obama pointedly pledged to “reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals” – a clear indication that, as he promised in a speech in August 2007, he would dismantle the extralegal aberrations of the Bush administration’s “War on Terror”….

President Obama requested the military judges at Guantánamo to call a halt for four months to all proceedings in the military commissions at Guantánamo….

The day after, he signed his first executive orders, stating that Guantánamo would be closed within a year, upholding the absolute ban on torture, ordering the CIA to close all secret prisons, establishing an immediate review of the cases of the remaining 242 prisoners in Guantánamo, and requiring Defense Secretary Robert Gates to ensure, within 30 days, that the conditions at Guantánamo conformed to the Geneva Conventions….

Worthington goes on to describe a struggle within the Pentagon to defy Obama’s stay on prosecutions as it pertained to Saudi prisoner Abdul Rahim al-Nashiri. Ultimately, the convening authority of the military commissions at Guantanamo dismissed charges against al-Nahiri, though he is charges can be re-filed again later.

As Bush appointees and Cheney proteges muck around the Pentagon and the Naval Base at Guantanamo, Guantanamo prisoner Binyam Mohamed’s attorney, Lieutenant Colonel Yvonne Bradley, reports deteriorating conditions at that facility, with “savage beatings,” forced extractions from inmate cells, and forced feedings in an effort to quash a mass hunger strike among inmates. Over 20% of all inmates at the facility are currently on hunger strike.

Worthington concludes:

… although Bradley’s account indicates that the crisis in Guantánamo is such that ongoing discussions about implementing the Geneva Conventions should be replaced by urgent intervention to address the prisoners’ complaints (and alleviating the chronic isolation in which most of the prisoners are held would be a start), the conditions in Guantánamo have been met with a resolute silence from the Pentagon and the White House.

Will it really take another death in Guantánamo – the sixth – to provoke a response?

We must start asking some serious questions about how the transfer of power is really going. To what degree is the Pentagon and CIA, or elements within these organizations, obedient to the command of the putative commander-in-chief? What will Obama do, if anything, about such blatant flouting of authority? The press has already had public reports of ongoing abuse at Guantanamo, and yet the White House remains silent. What did Obama think when he saw the redacted memo addressed to… him? What are we to make of this?

Besides the injustice and substantial issues involved in the Binyam Mohamed case, something bigger seems at stake here. The stink around this case grows and grows larger and larger with every day. With the passage of the stimulus bill (for better or worse), let us hope more attention will be drawn to what is going on with national security, as the government scrambles, or so it seems, to cover up crimes of hideous magnitude.

Also posted at Invictus


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    • Valtin on February 12, 2009 at 12:51 am

    and who knows where it will all lead?

  1. Let the Sun shine in.  Let the Sun shine in.

    • dkmich on February 12, 2009 at 12:19 pm

    Obama’s cabinet is proof of that. Another sham is the Dem’s support for EFCA.  Until the limit H1-B and stop off shoring, unions can’t do squat no matter how big.   All the company has to do is say, “take it or I’m closing and leaving; and you can shove your jobs”.  

    Nothing is any different.  I want to take my family and leave the country.  Whatever this country was, it is no more.  

  2. of which the public awareness is approaching 0, from negative numbers. A continuing coup. That is not meant to be hyperbole. Until enough Americans admit that there is a very real coup going on, there will be no hope.

    The corporate/military world and the bush appointees are just continuing the agenda cheney/bush started. I don’t know if Obama can even conceive of the obstructionism he is encountering as being emblamatic of a coup. Obama is a very nice idealistic man, with a wonderful family… a very small pool full of very hungry sharks.

    I would hope that Obama can fully conceive of the darkness that seethes through the minds of these lifers in the War Party. I would like to think that as he becomes aware of the depth of the struggle he is in, he can electrify enough people to rise to the occasion to take the country back…..but…he might be too naive.

    Thanks for the diary Valtin, it confirms some thoughts, and depresses the hell out of me.

  3. How does a letter addressed to Obama (via Fax) get redacted before he’s even sees it.  That reeks to high heaven.

    Cheney has a new home just 10 minutes walking distance from the CIA Headquarters.

    Gen. Petraeus lied and spread to media about three optional withdrawal dates from Iraq. (He’s also running on the GOP Presidential ticket for 2012.)

    KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton, built and maintains Guantanamo, so how easy would it be for stepped up abuse of detainee treatment to happen quickly, without Obama’s knowledge even?

    So the stench is growing greater by the day.

    The ONLY way that I see to even begin to come to grips with this is to begin investigations by a Special Prosecutor.

    On a good note, from Marjorie Cohn:

    . .  . . Two and a half weeks before Obama’s representative appeared in the Jeppesen case, the new President had signed Executive Order 13491. It established a special task force “to study and evaluate the practices of transferring individuals to other nations in order to ensure that such practices comply with the domestic laws, international obligations, and policies of the United States and do not result in the transfer of individuals to other nations to face torture or otherwise for the purpose, or with the effect, of undermining or circumventing the commitments or obligations of the United States to ensure the humane treatment of individuals in its custody or control.”

    This order prohibits extraordinary rendition. It also ensures humane treatment of persons in U.S. custody or control. But it doesn’t specifically guarantee that prisoners the United States renders to other countries will be free from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment that doesn’t amount to torture. It does, however, aim to ensure that our government’s practices of transferring people to other countries complies with U.S. laws and policies, including our obligations under international law. . . . .

    In his confirmation hearing, Attorney General Eric Holder categorically stated that the United States should not turn over an individual to a country where we have reason to believe he will be tortured. Leon Panetta, nominee for CIA director, went further last week and interpreted Order 13491 as forbidding “that kind of extraordinary rendition, where we send someone for the purposes of torture or for actions by another country that violate our human values.”

    But alarmingly, Panetta appeared to champion the same standard used by the Bush administration, which reportedly engaged in extraordinary rendition 100 to 150 times as of March 2005. After September 11, 2001, President Bush issued a classified directive that expanded the CIA’s authority to render terrorist suspects to other States. Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the CIA and the State Department received assurances that prisoners will be treated humanely. “I will seek the same kinds of assurances that they will not be treated inhumanely,” Panetta told the senators. . . .

    Panetta made clear that the CIA will continue to engage in rendition to detain and interrogate terrorism suspects and transfer them to other countries. “If we capture a high-value prisoner,” he said, “I believe we have the right to hold that individual temporarily to be able to debrief that individual and make sure that individual is properly incarcerated.” No clarification of how long is “temporarily” or what “debrief” would mean. . . .

    The U.S. government should disclose the identities, fate, and current whereabouts of all persons detained by the CIA or rendered to foreign custody by the CIA since 2001. Those who ordered renditions should be prosecuted. And the special task force should recommend, and Obama should agree to, an end to all renditions.

    (emphasis mine)

    (PS.  DS has picked you up again here)

  4. Unredacted documents reveal prisoners tortured to death

    In a press release, the ACLU summarized the documents as detailing, “[An] investigation of two deaths at Bagram. Both detainees were determined to have been killed by pulmonary embolism caused as a result of standing chained in place, sleep depravation and dozens of beatings by guards and possibly interrogators. (Also reveals the use of torture at Gitmo and American-Afghani prisons in Kabul).

  5. …redacted letter, but one which has “UNCLASSIFIED” stamped twice on each page.  Ergo: blacked-out pages are unclassified.  Right?  

  6. to know.

    I suspect his administration will use needing to “fix” the economy as an excuse not to delve into any investigations.

    Bush had terrorism, Obama will be the “economy” president because he knows that will play better than chasing justice. And hate to say this if I was losing my job and losing my home which at least at this moment in time I am not I would be pooh poohing such a quest and Obama is counting on that sentiment to counter and pressure blogs might generate to go deeper.

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