Guantánamo's Frequent Flyer Program

Last week's Supreme Court rebuke of the Bush administration's attempt to preserve Guantánamo as a lawless place, a place where human beings are less worthy of protection under U.S. law than iguanas, brought newfound hope that this travesty of justice would finally come to an end. Unfortunately, this was not the case, as this week the military commission hearings resumed in what appears to be a signal from the Pentagon that it is business as usual at Guantánamo. It was during these hearings that we learned more about Guantánamo's frequent flyer program.

No, this program is not the airline rewards program for the very limited number of commercial flights to Guantánamo, the place chosen by the Bush administration to evade the Constitution and ignore international law. It is a program whereby detainees are constantly and systematically moved from cell to cell to disrupt their ability to sleep. This program is a form of mental torture in direct violation of the U.S. Constitution, the Torture Act, the War Crimes Act, and the U.N. Convention Against Torture.

There were two frequent flyer programs employed at Guantánamo under which prisoners were systematically deprived of sleep. As it turns out, there were official and unofficial frequent flyer programs. The official program (PDF) was authorized to be used against prisoners at Guantánamo (PDF) who were believed to have intelligence information. This program was reportedly eliminated in March 2004. The unofficial program was used as a disciplinary method by guards and military personnel at Guantánamo.

The unofficial frequent flyer program was the focus of one of many motions filed and argued yesterday at Mohammed Jawad's military commission. Mr. Jawad is an Afghan who was a minor when he was captured in December 2002 after allegedly throwing a grenade that injured two U.S. soldiers and an Afghan interpreter. Mr. Jawad arrived at Guantánamo in January 2003 and despite his status as a minor, the fact that the U.S. government has never made any connection between Mr. Jawad and either al Qaeda or the Taliban, and a statement by the former Commanding General of Joint Task Force-Guantánamo, Maj. Gen. Jay W. Hood (who stopped the official frequent flyer program), that Mr. Jawad was of no intelligence value, Mr. Jawad remains at Guantánamo and has been subject to torture, including the frequent flyer program. Referring to the program, Mr. Jawad stated during his hearing yesterday that "day and night they were shifting me from one place to another…nobody answered why they were giving me this punishment." Mr. Jawad's attorney, Major David J. R. Frakt, recounting Mr. Jawad's experience with the frequent flyer program in May 2004, stated yesterday that over the course of 14 days Mr. Jawad was moved to a different cell 112 times, each time he was shackled and unshackled. Major Frakt argued late into the night yesterday on a motion to dismiss the charges against his client due to the use of torture. He gave an historic closing argument that should be taught in every military academy across the country. What makes this abuse of Mr. Jawad's basic human right to be free from torture even more indefensible is that on Christmas Day 2003, Mr. Jawad attempted suicide at Guantánamo. With full knowledge of the poor state of Mr. Jawad's mental health, the U.S. personnel carried out these horrific acts.

Beyond the details of specific torture techniques employed at Guantánamo, this week also brought about new revelations as to where the torture orders originated. We learned of new evidence as to the complicity of high ranking officials, now commonly referred to as Bush's "torture team", and of the authorization of torture and other abusive techniques. In addition, we learned that Bush's "torture team" ignored fierce objections and reservations from military lawyers across the armed services.

I will write again, and in more detail, about yesterday's 14 hours of hearings at the military commission, including the first appearance as a witness of Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Hartmann, the Legal Advisor to the Convening Authority in the Department of Defense Office of Military Commissions. Brig. Gen. Hartmann testified on the motion to dismiss on basis of unlawful command influence. These hearings, which I believe will not withstand constitutional scrutiny after the Supreme Court's decision last week, have long been tainted and have lost all legitimacy in the eyes of the World.

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I apologize for taking up so much space here, but I have written multiple times to the New York Times about Scott Shane's article headlining the June 22 Times. It is a torture enabling work, and it's ethics must be challenged. I hope the ACLU will write the New York Times and demand an explanation.


My letter:

Dear Clark Hoyt,

My letter yesterday, along with my letters to the editor, and to Scott Shane himself, have apparently fallen on deaf ears. I am writing another today, to you, to ask you again to do something about the article. If you do not see the ethical and journalistic problems with the article, and the position it puts the New York Times in as an enabler of torture, perhaps if I write enough to you, you will. I am also preparing a blog piece on the article, and will attempt to get as much traction as possible with human rights groups, in a further effort to pressure the New York Times into re-evaluating their journalistic decisions. I would appreciate it if you take the matter up with Jill Abramson, and any others involved in your news page decision making.

P1: Let's begin at the beginning. Moving Mr. Mohammed (KSM) to Poland is an extraordinary rendition to a CIA black site. All the paragraph talks about is the evil of KSM and Muslim extremists, it makes no note that these sites are illegal under international law, and that Poland and many other countries are facing criticism for maintaining them.

P2: Then we hear about "knuckledraggers" ha, ha, ha, the people who perform the actual waterboarding. Performing waterboarding, from its actual performance by said knuckledraggers, to the people who ordered it, to the people who authorized it, and all the people who participated and acquiesced to it, is torture. There is no mention of that fact anywhere at all in Mr. Shane's article. As torture, it is banned unequivocally by international law.

P3: Wonder of wonders, Mr. Martinez "astonishes" his fellow CIA officers that he can get information by rapport building. No mention of the infighting that had been going on since the capture of Ibn Shaykh al Libi between the FBI and the CIA and military about just this subject. There were people who knew that rapport building worked before anyone had been "astounded" yet. And they have asserted, under oath, that they believed that KSM would require no harsh treatment at all, only rapport building.

P7: "[C]ritics who accuse the agency of torture"? The article rests on the fact, no longer any kind of assumption anymore, that KSM was waterboarded. It is also known he was subjected to intense sensory deprivation for a period that has been listed as about a month and a half. Sensory deprivation produces profound hallucinations and alteration of the psyche in days. Gee, us "critics". Who is Mr. Shane defending and why?

P8: Hollywood cliche of Fox's "24". Would be nice to mention here that tactics used in "24" were input to a team putting together a list of techniques for approval in the fall of 2002 at Guantanamo Bay. If that were mentioned, then it would be necessary to discuss the impact of media portrayal of torture on the actual practice of torture by the U.S. forces and CIA itself. And that would lead to a discussion of how glowing articles like Mr. Shane's enable torture and protect it, allowing it to continue. Even one day of extra torture due to your positive portrayal in this article is a travesty and a huge ethical problem for the New York Times.

P8: Also in this paragraph, are a list of techniques the CIA is using. Cold temperatures, sleeplessness (nice euphemism, the term is "sleep deprivation", usually), pain (oh, you mean slappings, shakings, beatings, and stress positions? Which ones? Palestinian hangings? Crushing testicles? standing and short shackling?), fear (which fear? fear of death? fear of death of a relative?). Mr. Shane scrupulously avoids the term torture, or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. He speaks of "tormenters" when he should be saying "torturers". This isn't balance, it's euphemism. And it's very enabling, like the expression "enhanced interrogation". The crimes in this short paragraph are all worth 20 years minimum under the U.S. Torture Act, but Scott Shane won't tell the reader anything of the sort, it's great, isn't it, that KSM is being interrogated, sells papers, doesn't it?

P9: Interrogation debate? Now the New York Times has crossed the line. This is a discussion of torture, pure and simple, and it is not a debate. Prohibition of torture is jus cogens law, like the prohibition of genocide. Would the Times like to treat it's readers to calling people who support genocide (oh, say, Holocaust deniers, maybe) participants in an ethnic solution debate? Mr. Shane needs a full course in civic responsibility.

P10: As usual, access to stuff you can wow your readers with in front page travesties like Mr. Shane's article is much more important than the underlying morals and ethics. The agency didn't want to interfere with the military trials of Mr. Mohammed? How about the expose itself that the New York Times is publishing, which further on down the article seeks to push the CIA insistence that all the confessions Mr. Mohammed made are valid? Are the military commissioners sequestered? Because if they are not, the NYT has argued for the guilt of Mr. Mohammed, and it has done so based on information derived from torture. And if it influences even one commissioner, that's a violation of the U.N. Convention Against Torture.

P11: Tantalizing description of the CIA detention program? You mean titillating, don't you? It's fun to read about the secret goings on of a black site. So what if those sites are illegal, they violate international law, and your paper, by making them sound okay, is advocating their continued use.

P13: Here is one of those paragraphs that show just how shoddy and narrow New York Times journalism, with it's constant preoccupation with all things Middle East, really is. KSM is from Pakistan, guys. English is spoken there. His ungrammatical English, mentioned later in the article, is recognized as the South Asian dialect of the language. But you guys wouldn't know that, to the NYT and the Bush administration, all Muslims are Arabs.

P15: Wow. The word torture finally makes the article. But it never says the CIA used torture, or that torture is wrong. Only that the fact that techniques were borrowed from Soviet torture hurt the CIA's reputation.

P17: This sentence speaks for itself: "By then, whether it was a result of a fear of waterboarding, ...or the demoralizing effects of isolation... But the paragraph generally approves of the result. Another international war crime, another paragraph extolling the results.

P30: Gee, which Johns Hopkins surgeon? Because making someone healthy for the purposes of making them endure torture is a crime, and Physicians for Human Rights rightfully call for the decertification of such doctors. You have a full page editor's note on why you made Deuce Martinez's name public, complete with discussions about how he isn't the victim of a crime and all, and this doctor gets a secret pass? Why? Don't want to interfere with KSM's trial or something? Unethical to the core.

P32: Paragraph speaks for itself. A description of tactics and SERE, and not a single mention that these methods are tortures.

P33: The methods are unwise? Complicate the prosecutions? Darken the reputation of the United States? Scott Shane dances on the head of a pin to avoid the obvious: These methods are illegal, and are examples of one of the most heinous crimes on the face of the planet. A crime that by this point in the article, one gets the impression that the New York Times fully endorses when applied to people the New York Times has decided are bad enough to deserve it. So much for jus cogens law, so much for international prohibitions, so much for the high moral stances the paper takes when talking about other jus cogens crimes, like slavery and genocide. You people just aren't opposed to using it when the person it's used on is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and no doubt, because of your influence, your readership feels likewise. Does this ring any bells? This is how atrocities start. Read a solid history of the Holocaust if you don't believe this. It starts with approval of the masses, and that starts with endorsements in the press. You are enabling torture in this article, full complicity, by this point.

P34: Again, "harsh treatment" used to describe (from your prior list) waterboarding, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, extreme close confinement (isolation), pain, fear. Enable torture by never calling it torture.

P36: At least John Kiriakou came to believe torture should not be used, and called it torture. He believed it justified at the time, and Scott Shane lets that pass without comment. The Convention Against Torture specifically bans excuses like "desperate time", what Mr. Kiriakou is admitting to is an international war crime, the system described is "systematic" and there are punishments like life imprisonment for setting up such systems. But we'll just glibly quote the musings of a field agent and let it go at that.

P37: "Aware that they were on tenuous legal ground"? A doctor on hand? Doctors on hand do not make techniques legal, they make doctors complicit. Everything was approved. Perhaps if the New York Times hadn't been silent and played "Not Invented Here" with the ABC story, at this point it would have been appropriate to mention that the approvals were coming from the Situation Room at the White House. And it might have been at least just a little appropriate to mention that the tenuous legal ground wasn't. It was torture, and the legal ground wasn't at the top of the slippery slope, it was at the bottom.

P38: "tough treatment". Nuf said. more euphemisms, more enabling.

P40: Stunning revelation. Waterboarding: KSM, Ramzi bi al-Shibh, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Mohammed al-Qahtani. What's wrong with this list? It exposes Michael Hayden as having lied under oath in front of the Senate, since he said waterboarding had only been used on 3 people. But what's a little lie among torturers?

P49: "...--various harsh techniques, including waterboarding, used about 100 times over a period of two weeks -- prompting worries that officers might have crossed the boundary into illegal torture." Scott Shane's most brilliant paragraph! Might have crossed the boundary? Mr. Shane delivers this without comment. 1 incident of waterboarding, 1 use of deprivation techniques constitute torture. It doesn't become torture by using it 100 times, it was torture the first time. What is wrong with Scott Shane's sense of right and wrong here?

P56: Mr. Mohammed becomes depressed, and rants about his conditions. Have Scott Shane read the new PHR report on 11 detainees. When he is finished, ask again about that depression. That's part of the symptomology of long term effects of torture and CIDT. It proves it's illegality. It also introduces major questions on whether Mr. Mohammed at this point can have a fair trial. But Scott is a movie critic in this article, reporting on how exciting it all is, not on the deep underlying questions of who we are as a society when a major news outlet endorses torture.

P57: Another glib recitation of a war crime. Letters to the Red Cross go to CIA psychologists. Oh, and by the way, those psychologists are participating in an interrogation that includes torture. No comment from the morally compromised Mr. Shane.

P60: I suppose that technically the 9/11 report is not testimony in trial, although it has been cited. If it has 60 references to information obtained by torture, this is yet another violation of the Convention Against Torture, but by this time this article is so compromised it would be fantasy to think Mr. Shane could have thought about this.

P62-63: The New York Times now gives credibility to a CIA allegation based on information obtained through torture. An allegation that Daniel Pearl's wife angrily dismissed when she was "informed" by the U.S. government of it, she called it a lie, a word you, Mr. Hoyt, find too harsh to put in print. This paragraph becomes a citation that can be used throughout the government and in other articles that contrary to what has been definitively said by experts, torture works, and we are a safer country because of it. This paragraph makes the New York Times a full enabler to future torture by the United States, and not one single word of doubt.

P67: Since these names, Mitchell and Jessen, rarely make it into print in mainstream journalism, your readers deserve more background here, not just the bland, almost approving, "new employer" status. These two psychologists are at the center of a major dispute in the American Psychological Association over that society's refusal to condemn the practice of torture and forbid its members from being complicit. These two psychologists are people that most of the human rights/torture community would like to see put under oath to testify about how they created and "fine-tuned" torture techniques to maximize effectiveness, make them more difficult to detect, and seek to avoid prosecution under the anti-torture statutes and international law. Mr. Martinez keeps the company of major torture figures from Guantanamo. But that's just an employer for the government, and the article ends giving the reader the impression that his safety is in good hands because there are people in the U.S. government who torture bad guys.

Please give me a response, Mr. Hoyt. I've laid the whole case out in some detail, I'm sure I can find even more detail if you want it. Your article was unethical, immoral, and to the extent that public opinion guides the behavior of the government in a democracy, it was an enabling of torture, a heinous crime. Your paper should answer in full as to why it chose to beautify a horrible crime.

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