UK To Spend Millions Compensating Victims Tortured By U.S. Authorities

November 17, 2010

LONDON, UK – Bidding to restore the reputations of MI5 and MI6 and to rebuild damaged intelligence links with the United States, the British government said on Tuesday that it had agreed to pay compensation running into millions of dollars to 15 former detainees at Guantánamo Bay and one man still held there who have accused Britain’s intelligence agencies of colluding in their torture in the American-run detention system.

The government move followed years of lawsuits by the former detainees in which British officials have been required to hand over to the courts here intelligence information that came from the United States, prompting high-level American warnings that future intelligence cooperation might be curbed.

The domestic and overseas British spy agencies have seen their own operations dragged into the headlines, with dozens of officers engaged full time preparing to defend the lawsuits.

Against that background, the government of Prime Minister David Cameron chose to “draw a line” under the affair, in the words of the justice minister, Kenneth Clarke, who announced the compensation deal for the 16 men, all of whom are British citizens or legal residents here.

Although Mr. Clarke withheld financial details, saying he was honoring a demand by the former detainees, he said the payments would “save public money” by avoiding years of litigation that could have cost $50 million to $80 million.

Mr. Clarke said the deal “involves no concession of liability” in respect of the torture accusations, and “no withdrawal of the allegations” made by the former detainees. They have said in their lawsuits that agents of MI5 and MI6 worked closely with the C.I.A. and other American agencies involved in their interrogation, and must have known about the torture and mistreatment. They said they suffered so-called stress techniques like sleep deprivation; subjection to extremes of noise: heat and cold, beatings and death threats.

MI5 and MI6 have said that they rigorously opposed torture, but Scotland Yard has been weighing criminal charges against at least one MI6 officer.

In the House of Commons, the deal was greeted with a mixture of reluctant acceptance and outrage, with one Labour Party backbencher saying that “ordinary decent people will be thinking the world’s gone mad,” with the government paying more to the former detainees than to victims of terrorist attacks in Britain, and Dennis Skinner, another prominent Labour gadfly, shouting “money for old rope!”

Mr. Clarke, a 70-year-old lawyer who held many of the top cabinet posts in previous Conservative governments, admitted to a personal unease at the prospect of paying large sums of taxpayers’ money to individuals who were held for years in Guantánamo and other detention centers around the world under suspicion of being linked to terrorist plots against the United States.

He described the deal as one that “everybody is uncomfortable with, and many will dislike,” and added that many people in Britain might conclude that the government was rewarding individuals who were “advancing frivolous claims” against the British secret agencies “and getting away with murder.” Still, he said, the government had concluded that it was “better to draw a line under these cases and move on,” freeing MI5 and MI6 to get on with their work and safeguarding Britain’s “very, very important” intelligence ties with the United States.

Much of the criticism in Parliament focused on the government’s refusal to say exactly how much money was involved in the compensation settlements. Mr. Clarke offered no argument when opposition members said that the estimate of the legal costs saved by the settlement, and estimates of the compensation package running as high as $80 million that appeared in Britain’s morning newspapers, sourced to unnamed officials, were a pointer to the amounts involved. For the government, he said, it was a question of “how many tens of millions were we prepared to spend to engage in interminable litigation?” The settlement with the detainees came only weeks after Sir John Sawers, the head of MI6, insisted that his operatives did not use or collude in torture. In the most declaratory statement anyone from the agency has made, Sir John called torture “illegal and abhorrent under any circumstances, and we have nothing whatsoever to do with it.”

Mr. Clarke used similar words to disavow any British involvement in torture, calling it “a serious criminal offense,” whether committed at home or abroad. “And we will not condone it,” he said.

The path to Tuesday’s settlement in Britain opened in July when Mr. Cameron approved negotiations on a deal. That followed a court order demanding the disclosure of a reported 500,000 confidential documents, prompting Mr. Cameron to say that reviewing the documents would take up huge amounts of time at Britain’s intelligence agencies. Mr. Cameron also announced the appointment of an independent inquiry into the accusations of MI5 and MI6 collusion with the C.I.A. and other foreign organizations in the torture of terrorism suspects.

Mr. Cameron said a retired appeals court judge, Sir Peter Gibson, would lead a three-member panel to review actions by the security services that have led to a dozen cases before British courts in which former detainees have charged that the British agencies of knew — or should have known — that the detainees were being mistreated.

It was men at the heart of those cases who made the deal with the government that was announced on Tuesday, ending the lawsuits and assuring the government that it would not have to disclose any more secret documents.

The former detainees who will be beneficiaries of the government payout include Jamil el-Banna, Moazzam Begg, Richard Belmar, Omar Deghayes, Binyam Mohamed, Martin Mubanga and Bishar al-Rawi. Some of them, especially Mr. Mohamed and Mr. Begg, have become well-known in a broad human rights debate in Britain. Several of the men, including Mr. Mohamed, spent years under investigation by American investigators, accused of plotting attacks against the United States, only to be released back to Britain when the cases were dropped.

One of the 16 men on the compensation list, Shaker Aamer, who remains at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, after nine years of detention, has alleged that MI5 officers were present when he was beaten by American investigators in Afghanistan.

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Feds Lose Key Witness In 1st Civilian Trial Of Guantanamo Bay Torture Prison Detainee

October 6, 2010

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – The judge in the first civilian trial of a Guantanamo Bay detainee barred the prosecution’s star witness Wednesday from testifying, dealing a major setback to the government’s effort to build criminal cases with evidence obtained through harsh CIA interrogations overseas.

U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan said the witness could not take the stand because investigators learned of his existence through coercive questioning of the defendant, terrorism suspect Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, at a secret CIA camp.

“The court has not reached this conclusion lightly,” Kaplan wrote. “It is acutely aware of the perilous nature of the world in which we live. But the Constitution is the rock upon which our nation rests. We must follow it not when it is convenient, but when fear and danger beckon in a different direction.”

The ruling stunned prosecutors, who asked for and received an immediate delay in the case while they decide whether to appeal. It also re-energized the debate over whether terrorism suspects captured overseas should be prosecuted in civilian courts and whether the American justice system is up to the task.

Despite the setback, Attorney General Eric Holder said at a Washington news conference that he remains confident the Justice Department can successfully prosecute Ghailani in civilian court. He noted there have been over 300 successful prosecutions in civilian courts in terrorism cases.

The delay came during the final selection of jurors in the case against Ghailani, a Tanzanian charged in the 1998 bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa. The twin attacks killed 224 people, including a dozen Americans.

The man who was supposed to be the government’s star witness, Hussein Abebe, said he sold explosives to Ghailani that were used in the bombing. But defense lawyers said prosecutors never would have learned about Abebe if Ghailani had not divulged his identity while undergoing harsh interrogations at a secret overseas CIA camp in 2004.

Ghailani’s attorney, Peter E. Quijano, praised the judge’s ruling.

“It is the Constitution that won a great victory today,” Quijano said. “This case will be tried upon lawful evidence, not torture, not coercion.”

Michael Farkas, a former Army judge advocate and now a civilian attorney, said the ruling shows why those backing military tribunals for Guantanamo detainees contend that “civilian criminal courts are no place for war criminals.” He said the military rules of evidence do not give defendants some of the protections they are afforded in the civilian justice system.

“In a military tribunal, this witness would not have been precluded,” Farkas said.

Anthony S. Barkow, executive director of the Center on the Administration of Criminal Law at the New York University School of Law, called the ruling “a significant blow” to prosecutors. But he noted that Ghailani was indicted before they learned about the witness, and he said they presumably have ample evidence without him.

The ruling “will certainly be cited in arguments relating to future decisions as to where to try these cases,” said Barkow, a former federal terrorism prosecutor in New York City who later observed Guantanamo proceedings for a human rights group.

Human Rights First’s Daphne Eviatar, who is monitoring the trial for the organization, said Kaplan’s ruling recognizing that “evidence derived through torture is inadmissible only strengthens the view that civilian federal courts, not military commissions, can best handle difficult terrorism cases.”

Ghailani was smiling after the judge ruled.

There was little controversy when Ghailani was brought to New York for trial in 2009, but the subject of where to try Guantanamo Bay detainees became heated after Holder announced last November that the professed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others would be tried blocks from where the World Trade Center stood. Holder later said he was reconsidering.

Ghailani is accused of being a bomb-maker, document forger and aide to Osama bin Laden. He is charged with conspiring in the 1998 bombings in Tanzania and Kenya.

Prosecutors had repeatedly called Abebe’s testimony vital to their case.

But the judge said Abebe was identified and located as a “close and direct result of statements made by Ghailani” while in CIA custody. He noted the government had decided not to contest the details of Ghailani’s treatment while in CIA custody and had told the judge to assume that everything Ghailani said while in CIA custody was coerced.

Though many of the details about his treatment have been kept secret, the defense divulged during a pretrial hearing that he was subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques for 14 hours over five days. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the CIA used 10 harsh methods, including waterboarding, a form of simulated drowning, against select detainees.

The judge previously rejected a defense request to throw out the charges because of Ghailani’s treatment at the hands of the CIA.

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Los Angeles County California Gets Free Laser Based Weapon To Use On Jail Imates

August 23, 2010

CASTAIC, CALIFORNIA – Guards at the Los Angeles County jail complex in Castaic will start using a newfangled weapon that produces a deep burning sensation — which is not to be confused with a “warm fuzzy feeling” — in whomever it is aimed at.

The 7 1/2-foot-tall “Assault Intervention Device,” which sheriff’s deputies demonstrated Friday at the Pitchess Detention Center, emits an invisible beam that causes an unbearable sensation, reported the Daily News.

The device will be mounted near the ceiling in a unit housing about 65 inmates, sheriff’s Cmdr. Bob Osborne of the sheriff’ Technology Exploration Program told the newspaper.

“We hope that this type of technology will either cause an inmate to stop an assault or lessen the severity of an assault by them being distracted by the pain as a result of the beam,” said Osborne. “So that we have fewer injuries, fewer assaults, those kinds of things.”

Deputies have tested the device on themselves and say the invisible beam is painful — especially when it’s not expected.

“I equate it to opening an oven door and feeling that blast of hot air, except instead of being all over me, it’s more focused,” said Osborne.

The pain stops when you move out of the beam’s path, which people do instinctively.

The device, developed by Raytheon, is controlled by a joystick and computer monitor and emits a beam about the size of a CD up to distances of about 100 feet.

The energy traveling at the speed of light penetrates the skin up to 1/64 of an inch deep. No one can stand being in the beam’s path for more than about three seconds, Mike Booen of Raytheon told the Daily News.

The device is being evaluated for a period of six months by the National Institute of Justice for use in jails nationwide.

Sheriff’s deputies are getting to try it out for free.

About 3,700 inmates are housed at Pitchess, where 257 inmate-on-inmate assaults occurred in the first half of the year.

Do you think this is a controversial weapon with the potential for major misuse and abuse, or is it just another way to restore order in our prisons?

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100’s Of Millions Of US Taxpayer Dollars Wasted On Bush’s Tortue Prisons And Guantanamo Bay Base

June 6, 2010

GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA — At the U.S. naval station here, a handsome electronic sign hangs between two concrete pillars. In yellow enamel against a blue metal backdrop is a map of Cuba, the “Pearl of the Antilles,” above flashing time and temperature readings.

“Welcome Aboard,” the sign says.

The cost of the marquee, along with a smaller sign positioned near the airfield: $188,000. Among other odd legacies from war-on-terror spending since 2001 for the troops at Guantanamo Bay: an abandoned volleyball court for $249,000, an unused go-kart track for $296,000 and $3.5 million for 27 playgrounds that are often vacant.

The Pentagon also spent $683,000 to renovate a cafe that sells ice cream and Starbucks coffee, and $773,000 to remodel a cinder-block building to house a KFC/Taco Bell restaurant.

The spending is part of at least $500 million that has transformed what was once a sun-beaten and forgotten Caribbean base into one of the most secure military and prison installations in the world. That does not include construction bonuses, which typically run into the millions.

Also not included are annual operating costs of $150 million — double the amount for a comparable U.S. prison, according to the White House. Add in clandestine black-budget items, such as the top-secret Camp 7 prison for high-value detainees, aptly nicknamed Camp Platinum, and the post-Sept. 11, 2001, bill for the 45-square-mile base easily soars toward $2 billion.

The Obama administration wants to close the detention operation and relocate it to a prison in Illinois, but the prospect of seeing the final detainees depart seems increasingly like a long-term project. If the president does succeed, the Pentagon will leave behind a newly remodeled military encampment, along with numerous questions about whether the cost of creating what then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld once called the “least worst place” for suspected terrorists was worth the price.

In the first public accounting of how much has been spent on the base since the first detainees arrived in January 2002, The Washington Post obtained from the military a line-by-line breakdown of capital expenditures, ranging from the mundane to the exotic.

Overall, the prison camp operation that hugs the Caribbean coastline cost about $220 million to build over several years, a price that does not include Camp 7, which holds 16 of the most notorious detainees, including Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks. And $13 million was spent to construct a courthouse complex that appears custom-designed for Mohammed and his four co-defendants.

But as spending accelerated over the years, and more and more construction and renovation contracts were awarded, the number of detainees steadily declined, from a peak of 680 in May 2003 to 181 now.

Many of the projects itemized in the breakdown are reminders of suburban America — familiar settings re-created in a Caribbean hothouse to comfort the military personnel and contractors who run detainee operations.

Millions went to build artificial-turf football and baseball fields that professional players would envy, surrounded by a cluster of facilities, including a running track, a skate park, an outdoor roller hockey rink and batting cages.

[Story Continues On Original Site Below]

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Criminal Bush Officials Imune After Kidnappings And Torture

May 18, 2009

WASHINGTON, DC – The Supreme Court rejected on Monday a lawsuit by a Pakistani man against a former U.S. attorney general and the FBI director claiming abuse while he was imprisoned in New York after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

By a 5-4 vote, the U.S. high court overturned a ruling that Javaid Iqbal, who was held more than a year after the attacks, could sue former Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller.

The decision appeared to be narrow, limited to the facts of the case, although it could be cited as precedent in other lawsuits.

The civil case involves different legal issues than the recent demands by human rights groups to hold former Bush administration officials accountable for what they describe as torture of terrorism suspects.

Iqbal, a Muslim, said in the lawsuit that he had suffered verbal and physical abuse, including unnecessary strip searches and brutal beatings by guards. He said he had been singled out because of unlawful ethnic and religious discrimination.

Writing for the Supreme Court’s conservative majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said Iqbal’s lawsuit failed to plead sufficient facts to state a claim for purposeful, unlawful discrimination.

Kennedy also ruled there was insufficient evidence that Ashcroft and Mueller had deprived Iqbal of his clearly established constitutional rights.

AFTER SEPTEMBER 11

In the weeks after the September 11 attacks, U.S. authorities detained 762 noncitizens, almost all Muslims or Arabs. Many of those held at the federal prison in Brooklyn suffered abuse, the U.S. Justice Department’s inspector general has found.

The Bush administration said that Ashcroft and Mueller have immunity, that they should not be held personally liable and that the lawsuit against them should be dismissed.

Ashcroft and Mueller argued they have qualified legal immunity because any misconduct was done by lower-level officials and they had no personal involvement in or knowledge of the alleged abuse.

The issue before the Supreme Court involved only whether Iqbal’s lawsuit against Ashcroft and Mueller could continue and did not address his claims of mistreatment against other lower-ranking current and former government officials.

Iqbal sued about 30 other current or former U.S. government officials, including the warden at the detention facility and the director of the federal Bureau of Prisons. He seeks unspecified damages.

Iqbal was arrested for having false Social Security papers. He pleaded guilty in 2002, was released in 2003 and deported to Pakistan. The lawsuit was filed in 2004.

The U.S. government paid $300,000 to settle with Iqbal’s co-plaintiff and fellow detainee Ehab Elmaghraby, an Egyptian.

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Criminal Bush Officials Imune After Kidnappings And Torture

May 18, 2009

WASHINGTON, DC – The Supreme Court rejected on Monday a lawsuit by a Pakistani man against a former U.S. attorney general and the FBI director claiming abuse while he was imprisoned in New York after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

By a 5-4 vote, the U.S. high court overturned a ruling that Javaid Iqbal, who was held more than a year after the attacks, could sue former Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller.

The decision appeared to be narrow, limited to the facts of the case, although it could be cited as precedent in other lawsuits.

The civil case involves different legal issues than the recent demands by human rights groups to hold former Bush administration officials accountable for what they describe as torture of terrorism suspects.

Iqbal, a Muslim, said in the lawsuit that he had suffered verbal and physical abuse, including unnecessary strip searches and brutal beatings by guards. He said he had been singled out because of unlawful ethnic and religious discrimination.

Writing for the Supreme Court’s conservative majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said Iqbal’s lawsuit failed to plead sufficient facts to state a claim for purposeful, unlawful discrimination.

Kennedy also ruled there was insufficient evidence that Ashcroft and Mueller had deprived Iqbal of his clearly established constitutional rights.

AFTER SEPTEMBER 11

In the weeks after the September 11 attacks, U.S. authorities detained 762 noncitizens, almost all Muslims or Arabs. Many of those held at the federal prison in Brooklyn suffered abuse, the U.S. Justice Department’s inspector general has found.

The Bush administration said that Ashcroft and Mueller have immunity, that they should not be held personally liable and that the lawsuit against them should be dismissed.

Ashcroft and Mueller argued they have qualified legal immunity because any misconduct was done by lower-level officials and they had no personal involvement in or knowledge of the alleged abuse.

The issue before the Supreme Court involved only whether Iqbal’s lawsuit against Ashcroft and Mueller could continue and did not address his claims of mistreatment against other lower-ranking current and former government officials.

Iqbal sued about 30 other current or former U.S. government officials, including the warden at the detention facility and the director of the federal Bureau of Prisons. He seeks unspecified damages.

Iqbal was arrested for having false Social Security papers. He pleaded guilty in 2002, was released in 2003 and deported to Pakistan. The lawsuit was filed in 2004.

The U.S. government paid $300,000 to settle with Iqbal’s co-plaintiff and fellow detainee Ehab Elmaghraby, an Egyptian.

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Torture And Abuse Worsen At Guantanamo Since Obama Took Office

March 8, 2009

GUANTANAMO, CUBA – A freed Guantanamo prisoner has said conditions at the US detention camp in Cuba have worsened since President Barack Obama was elected, claiming guards wanted to “take their last revenge”.

Binyam Mohamed, the first detainee to be transferred out of Guantanamo Bay since Obama took office, also said British agents “sold me out” by cooperating with his alleged torturers, in his first interview since release which was published Sunday.

Mohamed, a 30-year-old Ethiopian-born former British resident, gave further details of what he has called the “medieval” torture he faced in Pakistan and Morocco, as well as in a secret CIA prison in Kabul and at Guantanamo.

“The result of my experience is that I feel emotionally dead,” he told the Mail on Sunday newspaper. “It seems like a miracle my brain is still intact.”

Far from improving, Mohamed said conditions at Guantanamo have worsened since Obama was elected in November.

The US president had promised during his campaign to shut down the Guantanamo prison and two days after taking office announced it would close this year.

“Since the election it’s got harsher,” Mohamed told the newspaper. “The guards would say, ‘yes, this place is going to close down,’ but it was like they wanted to take their last revenge.”

He also claimed the Emergency Reaction Force at Guantanamo, a team which he said punishes inmates in their cells and once almost gouged his eyes out when he declined to give his fingerprints, is now being used more often.

Mohamed said he was beaten at Guantanamo and also described mistreatment at other detention centres.

He said his chest and penis were slashed with razors while he was held in Morocco.

In Afghanistan, he said he lived in constant darkness for five months and “came close to insanity” after being forced to listen to the same album by rapper Eminem at a deafening volume for a solid month.

He flew back to Britain last month, tasting freedom for the first time since 2002 when he was arrested in Pakistan on suspicion of attending an Al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan and plotting to build a radioactive “dirty bomb”.

But the United States never charged him, and British police also questioned him on his return and let him go free.

In the newspaper interview, Mohamed gave further details of his claim that British officials had colluded in his alleged torture.

He said while he was in Morocco in 2002, his Moroccan interrogators “started bringing British files to the interrogations… it was obvious the British were feeding them questions about people in London.

“When I realised that the British were cooperating with the people torturing me, I felt completely naked,” he said. “They sold me out.”

He said he subsequently made false confessions about one plot to build a “dirty” nuclear bomb and another to blow up apartments in New York linked to alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

The paper also quoted two telegrams, shown to Mohamed by his military lawyer, from Britain’s MI5 security service to the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in November 2002. They allegedly detail specific questions that the British wanted to be put to Mohamed.

“We note that we have also requested that briefs be put to Binyam Mohamed and would appreciate a guide from you as to the likely timescale for these too,” one is quoted as saying.

“We fully appreciate that this can be a long-winded process but the urgent nature of these enquiries will be obvious to you.”

In response to the claims, Britain’s Foreign Office released a statement saying: “We abhor torture and never order it or condone it…

“In the case of Binyam Mohamed, an allegation of possible criminal wrong-doing has been referred to the Attorney General. We need now to wait for her report.”

Mohamed is undergoing therapy to come to terms with his experiences.

Looking to the future, he said he wanted to stay in Britain, which is currently considering whether to let him remain. “It’s the only place I can call home,” he said.

In an editorial, this week’s Independent on Sunday said his case was “only the most dreadful of many instances where the British government’s policy seems to have been to turn a blind eye”.

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