Obama continues torture regime

Saturday, May 23, 2009 - 10:00

"I believe that we must reject torture without equivocation because it does not make us safe, it results in unreliable intelligence, it puts our troops at risk, and it contradicts core American values", US President Barack Obama said while campaigning for the White House in March last year.

"When I am president, the American people and the world will be able to trust that I will outlaw torture."

Since moving into the White House, it has increasingly become clear that his attitude has shifted. Not only has Obama refused calls to prosecute those who ordered torture under the Bush administration, but the same torture methods are being continued.

Details have emerged of the shocking extent to which torture has been carried out by the US military via an investigation carried out by Judge Baltasar Garzo in the Criminal Court of Spain.

Garzo said declassified documents written by legal advisers to the Bush administration "have revealed what was previously a suspicion: the existence of an authorised and systematic programme of torture and mistreatment of persons deprived of their freedom."

Garzo has promised to investigate the "perpetrators, the instigators, the necessary collaborators and accomplices" to the torture.

The Spanish judicial system is considering laying charges against six Bush administration officials for their role in torture.

Garzo's investigation has provided sickening details into the role played by a terror squad named the Immediate Reaction Force (IRF), a squad described by investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill in a May 15 Alternet article as "a notorious, but seldom discussed, thug squad deployed by the U.S. military to retaliate with excessive violence to the slightest resistance by prisoners at Guantanamo".

Though the existence of the IRF has been known for some time, its actual role and involvement in torture has barely rated a mention by major press outlets or any government body investigating torture.

Scahill reported that Scott Horton, a New York human rights lawyer, said the IRF "was designed to disabuse the prisoners of any idea that they would be free from physical assault while in U.S. custody".

Horton said: "They were trained to brutally punish prisoners in a brief period of time."

Michael Ratner, Center for Constitutional Rights president, called the IRF the "Blackshirts of Guantanmo". He said: "IRFs can't be separated from torture. They are a part of the brutalization of humans treated as less than human."

Testimonies from former inmates at the US military run prison camp at Guantanamo Bay show the role of the IRF in torture.

Omar Deghayes is a law student detained in Afghanistan soon after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, transferred to Guantanamo the following year. The Spanish investigation said: "The IRF team sprayed Mr. Deghayes with mace; they threw him in the air and let him fall on his face."

Deghayes is blind in the right eye due to such treatment.

A March 2005 memo from a lawyer who visited Deghayes in Guantanamo described the torture carried out by the IRF: "Omar was shackled by three American soldiers in their black Darth Vader Star Wars uniforms. The first was going to punch Omar, but before he could, the second kneed Omar in the nose, trying to break it.

"The third queried this, and the second said, 'If his nose is broken, that's good. We want to break his fucking nose'."

A US soldier who was ordered to play an uncooperative prisoner in an IRF training exercise, said: "They grabbed my arms, my legs, twisted me up and, unfortunately, one of the individuals got up on my back from behind and put pressure down on me while I was face down.

"Then he ... reached around and began to choke me and press my head down against the steel floor. After several seconds, 20 to 30 seconds, it seemed like an eternity because I couldn't breathe.

"When I couldn't breathe, I began to panic and I gave the code word I was supposed to give to stop the exercise … That individual slammed my head against the floor and continued to choke me. Somehow I got enough air."

Scahill said the soldier "was soon diagnosed with traumatic brain injury. He began suffering seizures."

The Spanish investigation revealed: "Up to 15 people attempted to commit suicide at Camp Delta due to the abuses of the IRF officials."

All attempts from civil libertarians and lawyers for the release of the tapes and photographs of such incidents have been denied, for obvious reasons.

Such abuses have not stopped under Obama. A lawyer for some Guantanamo inmates, Ahmed Ghappour, told Reuters on February 25 that since Obama's January inauguration there has been "a ramping up in abuse" including "beatings, the dislocation of limbs, spraying of pepper spray into closed cells, applying pepper spray to toilet paper and over-force feeding detainees who are on hunger strike".

Guantanamo detainee Mohammad al-Qurani managed to call Al Jazeera, an April 15 AlJazeera.net report said. Al-Qurani described beatings he had received since Obama took office and said: "Since Obama took charge, he has not shown us that anything will change."

When Al-Qurani refused to leave his cell in protest, he said: "They had a thick rubber or plastic baton they beat me with. They emptied out about two canisters of tear gas on me.
"They then beat me again to the ground, one of them held my head and beat it against the ground. I started screaming to his senior 'see what he's doing, see what he's doing' [but] his senior started laughing and said 'he's doing his job'."

The role of the IRF is being continued under Obama. The February 1 Los Angelese Times not only reported that the infamous policy of "rendition", whereby someone is arrested and sent to a third country to be tortured, would be continued under Obama, but that it could be expanded.
In occupied Afghanistan, prisoners are still being held indefinitely and without charge by the US military — including in the Bagram detention centre in which torture is a regular practice.

On May 15, Obama announced that he would to re-instate the military tribunals introduced under Bush to "judge" Guantanamo detainees. This reversed his January decision to close them.

The attitude of the Obama administration was summed by an official who told the LA Times: "Obviously you need to preserve some tools — you still have to go after the bad guys."

The New York Times said on April 21 that Obama's National Intelligence Director, Admiral Dennis Blair, stated in a memo: "High value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the al Qa'ida organization."

"Those methods" refers to the practice of torture used under Bush.

The Obama administration also expressed its agreement with a recent court decision that detainees in Guantanamo lack the constitutional right not to be tortured as they are not "persons" under US law.

The re-installment of military tribunals raises doubts that Obama will follow through on his promise to close down the Guantanamo Bay detention centre by January 2010.

Democratic Senator Jim Webb and some Republicans have called on Obama to delay the closure, with Republican senator Mitch McConnell noting that Obama has "changed his mind about a number of things".

This may well help explain why Obama is also fighting the public release of hundreds of photos that show the torture of prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq by the US military, as well as why Obama is refusing to prosecute Bush administration officials responsible for torture.

The same sort of abuses of human rights are occurring under Obama, with little indication it will end.

When it comes to torture and prisoner abuse, Obama isn't offering "change we can believe in" — he is barely offering change at all.

From GLW issue 796