I was the only person associated with the CIA’s torture program who was prosecuted and imprisoned. I never tortured anybody. But I was charged with five felonies, including three counts of espionage, for telling ABC News and the New York Times that the CIA was torturing its prisoners, that torture was official U.S. government policy, and that the policy had been approved by the president himself. I served 23 months in a federal prison. It was worth every minute. There is certainly no easy fix to this situation. The New York Times reported in March 2022 that prosecutors had opened talks with attorneys representing Khalid Shaikh Muhammad and four co-defendants to negotiate a plea agreement that would drop the death penalty in exchange for sentences of life without parole and promises that the men would be allowed to remain in Guantanamo.
Now comes yet another little-noted report on the continuing excesses and inhumanity at Guantánamo Bay, the post-9/11 American military prison that only two decades ago set the standard for war crimes—a standard that is now being eclipsed by the war in Ukraine. The report’s author is Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin, the United Nations special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, a law professor at the University of Minnesota and the Queens University in Belfast, and an experienced human rights investigator. She based her report on a four-day visit to the island prison last February.
Fort Benning, the infamous Georgia U.S. military base, is once again in the news, changing its name to Fort Moore, thereby ditching its Confederate name. Yet none of the media covering the rebranding – not The New York Times, the Associated Press, CNN, ABC, CBS News, USA Today nor The Hill – mentioned the most controversial aspect of the institution. Across Latin America, the very name of Fort Benning is enough to strike terror into the hearts of millions, bringing back visions of massacres and genocides. This is because the fort is home to the School of the Americas (now known as Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation or WHINSEC), a shadowy academy where around 84,000 Latin American soldiers and police officers have been taught on the U.S. dime on how to kill, torture and how to stamp out political activists.
UN special rapporteur Fionnuala Ní Aoláin on Monday, June 26, asked the US authorities to shut down the infamous Guantanamo Bay prison and apologize for the torture of inmates. She asked that all persons responsible for such abuses in the last 20 years be held accountable. Ní Aoláin was addressing a press conference in New York on the occasion of UN’s International Day in Solidarity with the Victims of Torture. She also released her report on Guantanamo Bay prepared after visiting the prison earlier this year. “The US government must urgently provide judicial resolution, apology and guarantees of non-repetition,” Ní Aoláin said, claiming that the establishment was in violation of international human rights laws.
Solitary confinement is the practice of isolating a prisoner from all human contact for an extended period of time. It is often used as a form of punishment or to control behavior, but it can have serious negative effects on mental health. Most countries around the world limit the time that a prisoner can spend in solitary to 15 days. The United States doesn’t. There are scores of prisoners across the U.S. who have been in solitary for years and, in some cases, decades. It should be clear to everybody — the courts, the states, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons — that solitary only worsens already bad situations. It shouldn’t be in use.
In early March, Asia Times reported that the Ukrainian government under Volodymyr Zelensky had signed a deal with newly arrived Chechen fighters from Syria to establish an all-Chechen brigade reporting directly to the Ministry of Defense. Many of the Chechens in Syria had been part of ISIS and other al-Qaeda offshoots like Jabhat al-Nusra, with Chechen commander Abu Omar al-Shishani serving as ISIS Minister of War. The Chechens wanted to directly fight the Russians with whom they have been at war for more than 300 years—and to fight against Chechen forces on the Russian side led by Ramzan Kadyrov, who switched sides after brokering a deal with Russia in 2006.
Monthly vigils — or even weekly vigils — for the closure of Guantánamo were a noticeable feature of the London protest scene for many years, while British prisoners were still held there, although, with the release of Shaker Aamer, the prison’s last British resident, in October 2015, it became impossible to sustain the impetus, and the Trump years, of course, were bleak for protestors, because Trump had tweeted, even before he took office, that “there must be no more releases from Gitmo,” and he was largely true to his word, releasing only one man in his nearly 1,500 days in office.
On February 2, U.S. prisoner and former al Qaeda courier Majid Khan was released from the Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp in Cuba after more than sixteen years of imprisonment. “We are very pleased with Majid’s release,” says J. Wells Dixon, a senior staff attorney at the New York City-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). “Majid’s transfer to Belize is the culmination of nearly twenty years of work by the CCR and the law firm Jenner & Block,” Dixon tells The Progressive “Our only regret is that he was not released sooner.” On October 7, 2001, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the United States, together with Great Britain, launched “Operation Enduring Freedom,” the war in Afghanistan and the beginning of the “global war on terror.”
Sacramento, California – Opponents of solitary confinement said late this week it’s “disappointing” California Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed the “Mandela Act,” a measure that would prevent “the torture of Black and Brown people in jails, prisons and immigration detention facilities.” AB 2632, the California Mandela Act on Solitary Confinement authored by Assemblymember Chris Holden (D-Pasadena), would have placed “comprehensive limits on the use of solitary confinement in jails and prisons, and is the first bill in the nation to also cover private immigration detention facilities. The legislation would have banned the use of solitary confinement against pregnant people, individuals with certain disabilities, as well as individuals under 26 and over 59, said advocates, defining “solitary confinement” as holding a person in a cell with severe restrictions on physical movement and minimal or zero contact with people for more than 17 hours a day.
Beit Hanina, Occupied Jerusalem – The United States House of Representatives submission to Israel and Zionism is both pathetic and enraging. This total submission to the will and interests of the Zionist movement and the State of Israel does not serve the interests of the American people, and only goes to support a state that has been recognized as a racist, violent apartheid regime. As one Palestinian said to me recently, U.S. foreign aid for Israel goes towards my oppression and the killing of my people. Nowhere is Congress’ blind support for Israel more heinous, more horrifying and more outrageous than the lack of support for the bill proposed by Representative Betty McCollum and known as, “Defending The Human Rights Of Palestinian Children And Families Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act”, or HR 2590.
A righteous tidal wave of anger followed people seeing the nine-minutes-plus videotaped police lynching of George Floyd in Minneapolis late May 2020. Racist monuments glorifying the slave-owning Confederacy came tumbling down, especially in the Deep South. These acts to take down the statues were part of historic mass protests that swept the country during the summer of 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Two years earlier the monument paying homage to J. Marion Sims, once praised as the “father of modern gynecology,” was removed from Central Park in New York City, following many years of protest. What led to the removal was a growing understanding and anger that Sims, a 19th century gynecologist in Montgomery, Alabama, used enslaved Black women as guinea pigs, experimenting on them with new medical techniques without using anesthesia or obtaining their consent.
A C.I.A. whistleblower languishes awaiting trial in a federal prison under inhumane conditions and almost nobody is paying attention. Joshua Schulte is a former C.I.A. hacker, one of those computer geniuses whose job it is to work his way into the computer systems of our country’s enemies in support of some of the most highly-classified operations the C.I.A. carries out. The government believes that Schulte was a malcontent who released to WikiLeaks in 2017 the equivalent of 2 billion pages of top secret C.I.A. data with code names like Brutal Kangaroo, AngerQuake and McNugget. These programs, collectively known as Vault 7, were custom-made techniques used to compromise Wifi networks, hack into Skype, defeat anti-virus software and even hack into smart TVs and the guidance systems in cars.
It is easy to forget why Julian Assange has been on trial in England for, well, seemingly forever. Didn’t he allegedly sexually assault two women in Sweden? Isn’t that why he holed up for years in the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid facing charges? When the bobbies finally dragged him out of the embassy, didn’t his dishevelled appearance confirm all those stories about his lousy personal hygiene? Didn’t he persuade Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning to hack into the United States military’s computers to reveal national security matters that endangered the lives of American soldiers and intelligence agents? He says he is a journalist, but hasn’t the New York Times made it clear he is just a “source” and not a publisher entitled to first amendment protection?
It was very difficult to watch some of my former colleagues file into the front rows in full support of the nomination of a torturer to head the CIA. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California), who had published a damning report on CIA torture in Dec. 2014, lost her nerve and let Haspel off the hook when she asked her if she had overseen the interrogation of al-Nashiri. Haspel: it’s classified. And, in fact, the answer was successfully kept out of the media until now, with Mitchell’s testimony. Intelligence Committee Chair, Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) waxed eloquent, telling Haspel: “You are without a doubt the most qualified person the president could choose to lead the CIA and the most prepared nominee in the 70-year history of the agency. You have acted morally, ethically and legally over a distinguished 30-year career.” See what I mean by getting sick to my stomach?
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has framed his country’s war against Russia as a battle for democracy itself. In a carefully choreographed address to US Congress on March 16, Zelensky stated, “Right now, the destiny of our country is being decided. The destiny of our people, whether Ukrainians will be free, whether they will be able to preserve their democracy.” US corporate media has responded by showering Zelensky with fawning press, driving a campaign for his nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize and inspiring a flamboyant musical tribute to himself and the Ukrainian military during the 2022 Grammy awards ceremony on April 3. Western media has looked the other way, however, as Zelensky and top officials in his administration have sanctioned a campaign of kidnapping, torture, and assassination of local Ukrainian lawmakers accused of collaborating with Russia.