December 11, 2014 archive

Naming The Torturers

James Elmer Mitchell (aka Grayson Swigert) and John Bruce Jessen (aka Hammond Dunbar) are the names of the chief designers of the United States program of torture run by the CIA.

While not responsible for the decision by the United States government to violate its Constitutional and International Treaty obligations (that came directly from the White House, specifically Richard Bruce Cheney aka “Dick” Cheney), they were admittedly responsible for selecting the tortures to be used, oversaw the implementation of those tortures, and actively tortured themselves.

For this they received $81 Million of a $180 Million contract from the United States Government.

These facts are undisputed.

What you may not know that is that James Mitchell was already employed by the CIA’s Office of Technical Services in 2002, from which he was selected to develop the United States Torture Program.  As masters of CIA triva like Valtin remember, this was the same division of the CIA responsible for the MKULTRA program.

MKULTRA was the code name given to an illegal and clandestine program of experiments on human beings, made by the CIA – the Intelligence Service of the United States of America. Experiments on humans were intended to identify and develop drugs and procedures to be used in interrogations and torture, in order to weaken the individual to force confessions through mind control. Organized through the Scientific Intelligence Division of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the project coordinated with the Special Operations Division of the U.S. Army’s Chemical Corps. The program began in the early 1950s, was officially sanctioned in 1953, was reduced in scope in 1964, further curtailed in 1967 and officially halted in 1973. The program engaged in many illegal activities; In particular it used unwitting U.S. and Canadian citizens as its test subjects, which led to controversy regarding its legitimacy. MKUltra used numerous methodologies to manipulate people’s mental states and alter brain functions, including the surreptitious administration of drugs (especially LSD) and other chemicals, hypnosis, sensory deprivation, isolation, verbal and sexual abuse, as well as various forms of torture.

SSCI Report Reveals CIA Torture Program Originated in Same Department as MKULTRA

By: Jeff Kaye, Firedog Lake

Thursday December 11, 2014 12:47 am

The sheer brutality of the program’s use of torture is overwhelming, from the use of forced enemas on detainees – the CIA called it “rectal hydration” and “rectal feeding” – to intense use of solitary confinement, threats to kill prisoners’ families, homicide, and more. Revelations from this report will continue to be reported and absorbed into the world’s understanding of the criminal extent of the U.S. torture program for months or years to come.

But one revelation has gone notably unreported. The man associated with implementing the most brutal part of the interrogation program was drawn out of the same division of the CIA that some decades ago had been responsible for the notorious MKULTRA program. As a CIA history of OTS (.PDF) explains, MKULTRA “involved Agency funding for the testing and use of chemical and biological agents and other means of controlling or modifying human behavior” (p. 19)

On April 1, 2002, a cable was sent from OTS at the request of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center and ALEC Station, which was the group within CIA supposedly hunting down Osama bin Ladin, discussing the possible use of “novel interrogation methods” on Abu Zubaydah.

The new proposed interrogation strategy proposed “several environmental modifications to create an atmosphere that enhances the strategic interrogation process.” The cable continued, “[t]he deliberate manipulation of the environment is intended to cause psychological disorientation, and reduced psychological wherewithal for the interrogation,” as well as “the deliberate establishment of psychological dependence upon the interrogator,” and “an increased sense of learned helplessness.”

(I)t seems more likely, for reasons that will be further explored below, that the program was initiated by OTS itself, and constituted at least in part an experimental program. What exactly the experiment consisted is not totally clear. But it may have involved the use of wireless or other medical devices to measure biological markers of “uncontrollable stress,” in an effort to establish a scientific calibration of torture and overall behavioral or mental control of prisoners. That such a “mind control” effort would originate or be carried out by the same institution that spent millions of dollars on the MKULTRA program is not difficult to believe.

OTS has been part of the CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology (DS&T) since the early 1970s. It was transferred from the Directorate of Plans (clandestine operations, renamed around that time, the Directorate of Operations). OTS had earlier gone under other names itself, including Technical Service Staff and Technical Services Division. OTS and its predecessors had been involved in arranging the technical aspect of covert operations, including audio surveillance, forgery, secret writing, spy paraphenalia, sophisticated electronics, and assassination devices.

Then, there was the massive MKULTRA project, which had other names as well, and was coordinated in various ways with similar military programs. MKULTRA had well over a hundred “subprojects,” and contracted with many of the U.S.’s top universities and medical and psychological researchers. (For listing of subprojects see here and here.)

MKULTRA research is probably best known for its use of hallucinogens, like LSD, which were sometimes used on unsuspecting civilians, and resulted in damaged lives and even deaths. Sometimes derided as subject matter for conspiracy theorists, MKULTRA and assorted programs was all-too-real. While the vast majority of its documentation was destroyed by CIA leaders with the program was exposed in the early 1970s, what we do know it terrifying.

No Statute of Limitations on Torture

UN Official: Prosecute “Systematic Crimes and Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law”

By Jim White, emptywheel

Published December 10, 2014

Ben Emmerson is the UN’s Special Rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights. His statement released yesterday in response to the SSCI torture report points out the clear responsibilities that the US has under the Convention Against Torture and other international human rights laws to prosecute not only those who carried out torture, but those who designed the torture program and gave orders for its implementation.

So we know that crimes have been committed. Further, the committee also knows who is responsible for those crimes. What to do about it?

Emmerson doesn’t say that those responsible for the crimes should be brought to justice. He says outright that they MUST be brought to justice. Emmerson further points out that being authorized at a high level in the government gives no protection. Further, he notes a “conspiracy” to carry out the crimes.

Obama, Holder and Durham simply cannot grant immunity for these crimes. International law forbids it. More specifically, the Convention Against Torture, to which the US is a signatory, prohibits it. Similarly, the Convention on Enforced Disappearances also comes into play in the crimes committed by the US and also prevents the granting of immunity that Obama has tried to orchestrate.

Emmerson specifically calls out those who planned and authorized the torture as deserving the “heaviest penalties”.

And they need to be careful. Even though they are facing no punishment in the US for their crimes, these criminals can face prosecution should they travel abroad because torture is a crime subject to universal jurisdiction. Under universal jurisdiction, other countries would normally defer to the US for prosecution of crimes carried out by citizens of the US. However, once it is clear that no such prosecutions will take place, other countries are free to act.

Although I’d like to see them inside cells of much smaller dimensions, it appears that for now those who designed the CIA torture program and ordered its implementation are now imprisoned within the borders of the US because they are at risk of real prosecution while traveling outside the borders.

Overseas, Torture Report Prompts Calls for Prosecution


DEC. 9, 2014

“The individuals responsible for the criminal conspiracy revealed in today’s report must be brought to justice, and must face criminal penalties commensurate with the gravity of their crimes,” Mr. Emmerson said in a statement posted on the website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“The fact that the policies revealed in this report were authorized at a high level within the U.S. government provides no excuse whatsoever,” he said. “Indeed, it reinforces the need for criminal accountability.”

Other international law experts and rights advocates who have long supported an accounting for the C.I.A.’s behavior concurred with that assessment.

Jordan J. Paust, a professor at the University of Houston Law Center, said the report “adds another layer of proof of serial international criminality that was manifestly authorized” during President George W. Bush’s two terms in office.

In a commentary on, Professor Paust said both the Convention Against Torture and the 1949 Geneva Conventions require the United States to prosecute or extradite any person “reasonably accused of having criminal responsibility” for the documented instances of torture.

Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement on the organization’s website that the Senate report “should forever put to rest C.I.A. denials that it engaged in torture, which is criminal and can never be justified.”

He added, “Unless this important truth-telling process leads to prosecution of officials, torture will remain a ‘policy option’ for future presidents.”

“The Gestapo called it ‘Verscharfte Vernehmung,'” wrote one blogger, Ian Geldard. “Exactly the same term ‘enhanced interrogation’ used by the C.I.A.”

Did CIA interrogation methods break the law?

by Amel Ahmed, Al Jazeera

December 9, 2014 11:56AM ET

Despite Obama’s repeated assurances that CIA officials who applied harsh interrogation methods under the Bush administration will not be prosecuted, experts say U.S. law does not necessarily foreclose such claims.  

“We don’t have to go through international courts to obtain justice. Federal courts have U.S. jurisdiction over its own citizens, even if the conduct in question occurred abroad,” said Elizabeth Holtzman, a former congresswoman and a co-author of “Cheating Justice: How Bush and Cheney Attacked the Rule of Law, Plotted to Avoid Prosecution – and What We Can Do about It.”

The same criminal laws used to prosecute individuals on U.S. soil for committing offenses such as murder, assault, and battery can be applied to torture cases that occurred overseas, say experts.

Such criminal offenses are outlined in Title 18 of the U.S. Code, the criminal code for federal crimes.

Defenders of the program and the memos that authorized them argue that U.S. criminal laws do not apply outside of U.S. territory – and the CIA interrogations in question occurred at secret black sites overseas. But the 4th Circuit Court in 2006 rejected the extraterritoriality argument in United States v. Pessaro, the first and only case in which a person connected with the CIA was convicted in connection to the “war on terrorism” that began after the Sept. 11 attacks.

In his defense, Pessaro relied on some of the authorizations in the torture memos, which included the argument that U.S. nationals can’t be tried for conduct committed on foreign soil. But the court found that two laws expanded the territorial jurisdiction of U.S. federal courts, thus allowing for criminal prosecution of torture acts committed abroad.

The Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act of 2000 (MEJA) asserts federal district court jurisdiction over civilians accompanying the armed forces overseas, including military contractors. MEJA’S broad territorial definition was made possible through a 2001 amendment to the Patriot Act.

Title 18 of the Patriot Act expanded the court’s territorial jurisdiction to cover certain U.S. government installations located abroad. It also removed the statute of limitations on prosecution for any terrorist offense that led to the death or serious bodily injury of any person.

“Despite what Obama and Bush have said, the fact is that anyone who created a risk of death or serious bodily injury can face potential prosecution for the rest of their lives,” Holtzman said.

This jurisdictional amendment was tested for the first time in Passaro. The 4th Circuit Court held that the premises of Asadabad, Afghanistan, where the offense occurred, constituted a U.S. military mission, rendering it within the criminal jurisdiction of a district court.

The 2009 Federal anti-torture statute offers further pathways for legal action in response to harsh interrogation methods used by the CIA, in part because it permits claims for mental suffering inflicted on detainees.

The law was enacted as part of U.S. efforts to comply with the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). The CAT, ratified by the U.S. in 1994, mandates all parties to the treaty to “take effective legislative, administrative, judicial, or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.”

The statute can be applied to anyone, U.S. citizen or otherwise, who commits an act of torture outside the U.S, said Holtzman. And its definition of torture includes any act committed by a person acting under the color of law that is intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain upon another person within his custody.

This includes threats of imminent death and the intentional or threatened infliction of severe physical pain, according to Holtzman.

Violation of the anti-torture statute is punishable by up to 20 years in prison, or execution, if the torture resulted in a victim’s death. And as a result of Title 18 of the Patriot Act, there is no statute of limitations for any act that resulted in the death or serious bodily injury of any person.

The War Crimes Act (WCA) is a federal statute that makes it a felony for any U.S. national to violate the Geneva Convention by engaging in murder, torture, or inhuman treatment, according to Holtzman.

The statute applies to those who carried out, authorized or who were aware of but failed to stop such acts, Holtzman said.

Under a theory of law known as universal jurisdication, if a country is unwilling or unable to prosecute certain egregious offenses such as torture, war crimes, or genocide, then foreign jurisdictions may step in and prosecute those cases, according to Dixon of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

The principle of universal jurisdiction has been used to pursue war crimes allegations against senior Bush administration officials in a number of European countries, Dixon said.

In one of the more prominent cases invoking universal jurisdiction, Italy in 2009 convicted 26 CIA agents in absentia for their role in the 2003 abduction in Milan of Egyptian cleric Abu Omar. The case marked the first court decision ever to challenge the U.S. practice of “extraordinary rendition,” under which suspects were abducted and sent to countries whose security services were less restrained in their use of techniques amounting to torture.

The Italian court’s ruling means those 26 CIA operatives remain subject to arrest should they travel to Europe, Dixon said.

The principle of universal jurisdiction forms the basis of two international legal frameworks that provide for the prosecution of individuals accused of authorizing or committing acts of torture.

The Geneva Conventions, enacted shortly after World War II and ratified by nearly every country in the world, are a set of legal protections that safeguard civilians, soldiers, and prisoners during wartime.

The provision known as Common Article 3 prohibits torture, cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment of prisoners of war (POWS). In addition, article 17 bars physical or mental torture that is inflicted to secure information or a confession from prisoners. Countries that violate the Geneva Conventions can be prosecuted for war crimes, according to Pitter.

The U.N. Convention Against Torture is an international human rights treaty meant to prevent torture and cruel, inhuman degrading treatment. The treaty, which the U.S. helped to draft, requires countries to pass legislation to prevent torture within their borders, said Pitter. It also prohibits countries from transporting people to any country where there is reason to believe they will be tortured.

On This Day In History December 11

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

December 11 is the 345th day of the year (346th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 20 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1946, In the aftermath of World War II, the General Assembly of the United Nations votes to establish the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), an organization to help provide relief and support to children living in countries devastated by the war.

After the food and medical crisis of the late 1940s passed, UNICEF continued its role as a relief organization for the children of troubled nations and during the 1970s grew into a vocal advocate of children’s rights. During the 1980s, UNICEF assisted the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in the drafting of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. After its introduction to the U.N. General Assembly in 1989, the Convention on the Rights of the Child became the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history, and UNICEF played a key role in ensuring its enforcement.

Of the 184 member states of the United Nations, only two countries have failed to ratify the treaty–Somalia and the United States. Somalia does not currently have an internationally recognized government, so ratification is impossible, and the United States, which was one of the original signatories of the convention, has failed to ratify the treaty because of concerns about its potential impact on national sovereignty and the parent-child relationship.

In 1953, UNICEF became a permanent part of the United Nations System and its name was shortened from the original United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund but it has continued to be known by the popular acronym based on this old name. Headquartered in New York City, UNICEF provides long-term humanitarian and developmental assistance to children and mothers in developing countries.

UNICEF relies on contributions from governments and private donors and UNICEF’s total income for 2006 was $2,781,000,000. Governments contribute two thirds of the organization’s resources; private groups and some 6 million individuals contribute the rest through the National Committees. UNICEF’s programs emphasize developing community-level services to promote the health and well-being of children. UNICEF was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1965 and the Prince of Asturias Award of Concord in 2006.

Most of UNICEF’s work is in the field, with staff in over 190 countries and territories. More than 200 country offices carry out UNICEF’s mission through a program developed with host governments. Seven regional offices provide technical assistance to country offices as needed.

Overall management and administration of the organization takes place at its headquarters in New York. UNICEF’s Supply Division is based in Copenhagen and serves as the primary point of distribution for such essential items as vaccines, antiretroviral medicines for children and mothers with HIV, nutritional supplements, emergency shelters, educational supplies, among others. A 36-member Executive Board establishes policies, approves programs and oversees administrative and financial plans. The Executive Board is made up of government representatives who are elected by the United Nations Economic and Social Council, usually for three-year terms.

Following the reaching of term limits by Executive Director of UNICEF Carol Bellamy, former United States Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman became executive director of the organization in May 2005 with an agenda to increase the organization’s focus on the Millennium Development Goals. She was succeeded in May 2010 by Anthony Lake.

UNICEF is an inter-governmental organization and thus is accountable to governments.

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The Breakfast Club (Schiaparelli Was Right?)

breakfast beers photo breakfastbeers.jpgWell, not exactly.

Giovanni Schiaparelli, an Italian Astronomer, was the first to describe canals on Mars in 1877 and they soon fired the popular imagination.  Could they be a sign of life on Mars?  Now there were a lot of scientists who thought this was a load of hooey.  In the first place not all observers saw canals and in the second place no independent observer came up with exactly the same map of canals (at the time photography was not yet very advanced and Astronomers relied on hand drawn sketches).

Perhaps then the canals were seasonal, or indicated remaining damp sports where vegetation of some sort grew.

They saw some lighter or darker albedo features (for instance Syrtis Major) and believed that they were seeing oceans and continents. They also believed that Mars had a relatively substantial atmosphere. They knew that the rotation period of Mars (the length of its day) was almost the same as Earth’s, and they knew that Mars’ axial tilt was also almost the same as Earth’s, which meant it had seasons in the astronomical and meteorological sense. They could also see Mars’ polar ice caps shrinking and growing with these changing seasons. It was only when they interpreted changes in surface features as being due to the seasonal growth of plants that life was hypothesized by them.

Now one of the great proponents of the concept of Martian canals was Percival Lowell who, while a great designer and builder of observatories, was also a certifiable crackpot.  He wrote 3 books on Mars, Mars, Mars and Its Canals, and Mars As the Abode of Life, that last of which in particular posited that the vast network of canals were created and maintained by intelligent life forms.

Then again he also saw a great mountain on Venus which we now suspect was due to the optical limitations of his telescope and the near horizon position in which he made his observations.

About the only prediction he made that did pan out was his inference of Pluto from the orbits of Neptune and Uranus and while the observatory named after him was able to confirm the existence of an object in about the position he thought it was, modern scientists doubt that it has enough mass to have the effects he described and have observed several similar objects in the outer Solar System and so have demoted it to a mere dwarf planet.

The Martian canal theory was pretty thoroughly debunked by the early 1900s.  Experiments with amateur observers had shown the tendency to collect a series of point features into a line and as larger telescopes with better optics starting observing these features distinctly and recording them in photographs with long exposures and high quality it fell more out of favor among serious Astronomers.  An important nail in the coffin was the development of spectography which Alfred Russel Wallace used to prove that the surface of Mars was too cold for liquid water and there was no evidence of water vapor in its atmosphere.

Still, the notion of water on Mars had by that time a firm hold on the public through authors like H.G. Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs.  Indeed it was used as a plot element as late as 1950 in the work of C.S. Lewis, Robert Heinlein, and Ray Bradbury, all of whom should have really known better.

So, does the discovery of the fact that Mount Sharp is composed of distinct layers of sediment which could only have been laid down by a large body of water prove Schiaparelli was right?

Alas the last vestige of liquid water vanished from the surface of Mars before the genus homo was even sapiens and while the diversity of life on this planet does present several organisms that could survive Mars’ harsh climate they are mostly microbial.

NASA’s Curiosity rover finds evidence of 3.5B year old Water Lake in Gale Crater

By Alexander, Inferverse

On December 9, 2014

Mars may have once had a massive lake, according to recent data revealed by the Curiosity Mars rover. It has led scientists to believe that at one time Mars was much wetter than originally thought. Gale Crater is the location at which scientists believe a 96-mile-wide crater existed.

Dr. Michael Meyer, of NASA noted that “The size of the lake in Gale Crater and the length of time and series that water was showing up implies that there may have been sufficient time for life to get going and thrive.” The scientists noted sandstone deposits were pointed in the direction of Mount Sharp, which would indicate that at one time water flowed toward the center of the crater.

The deposits are the first solid sign that scientists have had in some time that Mars very likely could have had a large body of water. This will give scientists new evidence and new leads to look at moving forward beyond this mission.

Nasa’s Mars Curiosity rover finds that 96-mile-wide crater once held lake


Monday 8 December 2014 15.22 EST

Billions of years ago, a lake once filled the 96-mile-wide crater being explored by Nasa’s Mars rover Curiosity, bolstering evidence that the planet most like Earth in the solar system was once suitable for microbial life, scientists said on Monday.

Scientists discovered stacks of rocks containing water-deposited sediments inclined toward the crater’s centre, which now sports a three-mile (5km) mound called Mount Sharp. That would mean that Mount Sharp did not exist during a period of time roughly 3.5 billion years ago when the crater was filled with water, Curiosity researchers told reporters during a conference call.

“Finding the inclined strata was … a complete surprise,” said lead scientist John Grotzinger, with the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

“Sedimentary geology … is the cutting edge for trying to understand the Earth. When oil companies collect seismic surveys across places, they are looking for inclined strata because then you get geometry that tells you where the rocks are that you’re looking for,” he added.

The new studies, which have not yet been published, point to a series of wet and dry times at Gale Crater, challenging a previously held notion that Mars’s period of warm climate was early and relatively short-lived, scientists said.

“All that driving we did … just didn’t get us to Mount Sharp. It gave us the context to appreciate Mount Sharp,” Grotzinger said of the rover, which has travelled about five miles (8km) since landing on Mars in 2012.

The law that entropy always increases holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations – then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation – well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.

Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (1927)

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