Thursday, May 21, 2009

Is Obama Continuing Gitmo Brutality?

May 21, 2009, 7:45 a.m.

Jeremy Scahill Charges Obama Continues Gitmo "Thug Squad"
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Is there a “Little Known Military Thug Squad Still Brutalizing Prisoners at Gitmo Under Obama”?

Jeremy Scahill charged as much when Amy Goodman interviewed him for "Democracy Now" on May 19, 2009. Jeremy Scahill: “Little Known Military Thug Squad Still Brutalizing Prisoners at Gitmo Under Obama”.

These charges are serious enough that the Obama administration needs to either (a) come forward with credible evidence as to why they are not true, or (b) if true, provide some explanation as to why this deliberate brutalization is continuing on President Obama's watch.

President Obama has made a great deal of his desire to close the Gitmo prison camp. He will even be speaking on the subject today. He has said we will no longer engage in torture. As a result, either (a) those who brief him on such matters have some explaining to do as to why he was not told of this American "thug squad," or (b) if he was, why he has done nothing to stop it.

What Scahill is alleging goes well beyond mere "waterboarding." His article, on which the interview is based, is Jeremy Scahill, "Little Known Military Thug Squad Still Brutalizing Prisoners at Gitmo Under Obama," AlterNet, May 15, 2009.

Here are excerpts from a transcript of Amy Goodman's interview (available in full from the "Democracy Now" link, above):


While there’s been a lot of focus on torture under the Bush administration, what about under President Obama? In a new article, investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill writes the Obama administration is continuing to use a notorious military police unit at Guantanamo that regularly brutalizes unarmed prisoners, including gang-beating them, breaking their bones, gouging their eyes, dousing them with chemicals.

This force, officially known as the Immediate Reaction Force, has been labeled the “Extreme Repression Force” by Guantanamo prisoners, and human rights lawyers call their actions illegal, Jeremy writes.

Jeremy Scahill is an award-winning investigative journalist, author of the bestselling book Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. His writing and reporting is available at . . .

Describe what you call as this “little known military thug squad.”

JEREMY SCAHILL: . . . [W]hile much of the focus has been on the tactical use of torture at Guantanamo, almost no attention had been paid to a parallel force that was torturing prisoners in a variety of ways, including waterboarding them, and that is this riot squad of sorts that you referred to called the Immediate Reaction Force. The prisoners and their lawyers at Guantanamo call it the “Extreme Repression Force.”

And basically what this is is a thug squad that is used to mercilessly punish prisoners who show the slightest bit of resistance or who do things that technically they’re not supposed to do, infractions like having two Styrofoam cups in their cell instead of one.

Guards will call in this goon squad. They come in with their Darth Vader outfits, and they literally gang-beat prisoners. There are five men, generally, that are sent in. Each of them is assigned to one body part of the prisoner: the head, the left arm, the right arm, the left leg, the right leg. They go in, and they hogtie the prisoner, sometimes leaving them hogtied for hours on end. They douse them with chemical agents. They have put their heads in toilets and flushed the toilets repeatedly. They have urinated on the heads of prisoners. They’ve squeezed their testicles in the course of restraining them. They’ve taken the feces from one prisoner and smeared it in the face of another prisoner.

And while Barack Obama, almost immediately upon taking office, issued an executive order saying he was going to close down Guantanamo within a year and that he was going to respect the Geneva Convention while his administration reviewed Guantanamo, this force has continued to operate and torture prisoners under the Obama administration.

In fact, in February of this year, about a month after Obama was inaugurated, there were sixteen prisoners on a hunger strike at Guantanamo. The . . . Immediate Reaction Force was used to go in and violently shove massive tubes down their noses into their stomachs. . . . They would use no anesthetics or any painkillers, shove this massive tube by force down their nose into their stomach and then yank it out. . . . [M]any have passed out from the sheer pain of this operation.

This force has received almost no scrutiny in the US Congress or the US media and operates at this moment.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you know about this?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I discovered these teams, because I’ve been covering the investigation being done by Judge Baltasar Garzon in Spain into the Bush torture system. What’s interesting is that the most aggressive investigation at this point into the Bush war crimes is being done an ocean away in Madrid.

And I came across a story of a prisoner named Omar Deghayes, and he is one of the four people that is cited directly in the Spanish investigation as having been tortured by the United States. . . . Omar Deghayes was . . . repeatedly abused by one of these squads. . . . I started to look into it and realized that there has been a multi-year pattern of abuse on the part of this team.

And yet, the only time when it’s really made any kind of a flash in the corporate media was when a US soldier, a young guy named Sean Baker, who was a Gulf War vet, was participating in a training exercise in Guantanamo in January of 2003, where he was ordered, he says, by his superiors to dress up in an orange jumpsuit and play the part of a restive or combative detainee at Guantanamo. . . . He describes them just mercilessly beating him, . . . even after he then said, “I’m a US soldier! I’m a US soldier!” . . .

That young man, Sean Baker, has permanent brain damage, suffers from multiple seizures, and had actually sued Rumsfeld and other officials because of his treatment. . . . As Scott Horton, a military and constitutional law expert I talked to, said, you know, this is one US soldier who received this kind of treatment; imagine what happens to these detainees. . . .

[D]despite Obama’s rhetoric about how he’s going to reform the military tribunal system, we understand that it’s all cosmetic changes. The fact is, torture continues at Guantanamo. . . .

[T]he status quo alive and well, and it’s very, very damaging to the US Constitution, international law and the lives of these prisoners who remain in legal limbo.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy, this force, known as the Immediate Reaction Force, or Emergency Reaction Force, IRF or ERF, are they being filmed when they go into these cells?

JEREMY SCAHILL: . . . I’ve been reading the now-declassified Standard Operating Procedures for Guantanamo that were written by Major General Geoffrey Miller, the man . . . who is believed to have started all of this . . . and then Gitmo-ized Abu Ghraib . . ..

In the Standard Operating Procedures that General Miller issued in 2003, he said that all of the IRF teams, when they would go in to restrain a prisoner, that they had to videotape the operation . . ..

So, Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights asks a very simple question: “Where are the tapes?” Presumably, if the Standard Operating Procedures were followed, we could see . . . the breaking of noses and other body parts on the part of prisoners. But in order to do that, we would have to have an administration that was going to come completely clean with the crimes of the past and make these videos available, along with the thousands of photos that show the systematic abuse of US prisoners.

But what we see at every turn is the Obama administration, backed up by the Wall Street Journal editorial board, backed up by the neoconservatives, backed up by the hawkish Republicans, on one side, and then the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and social justice and antiwar activists and human rights advocates, on the other side. This is a sad reality in America today, where you have a president that campaigned on a change that we can believe in continuing the most repressive policies of the Bush administration.
Obviously, I have no personal knowledge of any of this. I am unaware of any independent, confirming sources of Scahill's charges. Nor have I read, however, the response of anyone who is challenging what he is saying.

All I'm saying by repeating some of his allegations in this blog, is that when an independent, investigative reporter with Scahill's credentials makes them I think they are serious enough that they can't simply be left out there with no response.

I'm waiting.

* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source -- even if I have to embed it myself. -- Nicholas Johnson

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1 comment:

John Barleykorn said...

You would have loved how we handled the Germans and Japanese after WWII. Of course...there was always the Russians.

Its part of the human condition.