Saturday, April 19, 2008


There have been new revelations about the extent to which torture is permitted in both Israel and the US. In the first set of reports below, the Public Committee against Torture in Israel (PCATI) has revealed that the Israeli security service (Shin Bet) harms or threatens to harm the relatives of prisoners in order to extract confessions from the prisoners themselves. In some cases, the relatives are physically tortured. The accusations of torture are bad enough, but harming or threatening to harm uninvolved noncombatants for the political end of extracting a confession appears to fall under standard definitions of terrorism. The details are given in the first two pieces below, an article from Ha'aretz and a press release from the PCATI.

In the second set of reports, President Bush has admitted on ABC news that he and his top advisors knew about and approved of specific details and techniques for the interrogation of al-Qaeda suspects, techniques (such as water-boarding – "the water torture") that the ACLU (in the third report below) does not hesitate to call torture.

The US reports attest, more than anything else, to the climate (or at least feeling) of impunity that surrounds top government officials. As ABC points out, such operations in the US have traditionally been attributed to a "rogue agency" working without explicit authorization. Regardless of how believable such stories were, at least they showed that top officials felt a need to dissociate from the operations. This appears to be no longer the case (although the ACLU is working to restore a sense of shame: their report below has a link where you can help take action).

Moreover, all these reports demonstrate a sort of ratchet effect at work: in neither the US nor Israel is it particularly shocking or news-worthy that torture itself is occurring. That is a given. Rather, the only news in these news reports is the extent to which the torture is occurring: the new techniques being used, the new laws being broken, new information about who has authorized it. There is nothing new about the fact of torture itself, and perhaps that is the most shocking aspect of these reports.

Judith Norman & Alistair Welchman


Rights group: Shin Bet uses relatives to extract prisoners' confessions
By Shahar Ilan, Haaretz Correspondent

The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel has accused the Shin Bet security service of using relatives of individuals under interrogation to extract confessions.

In a report to be submitted Sunday to the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, the organization says the Shin Bet makes unjustified arrests of family members, or creates the pretense of such arrests to pressure suspects.

The report further states that such methods are used against individuals who are already subjected to severe physical torture. In at least one case, the report states that the pressure led to suicide attempts by the individual under interrogation.

Attorney Aviel Linder, who compiled the report, noted that a series of international treaties prohibit psychological torture, including threatened or actual harm to family members. The report details six cases between 2007 and 2008, but says it knows of dozens of others.

According to the findings, it is a common method of interrogation to psychologically abuse a detainee using family members, and that in most cases the interrogation was not a matter of a "ticking bomb." The report states that an interrogation using such harsh and improper means casts aspersions on the confession's veracity.

In one case, the report states, "The Shin Bet threatened a subject named Said Diab that if he did not cooperate, his mother would be arrested. The next day he was brought to look through a peephole at his mother being aggressively questioned and crying." In the end, the committee says, the mother was indicted on a marginal charge to justify the false arrest.

In another case, a couple, Jaser Abu-Omar and Hulah Zitawi, was arrested and held in extended detention while subjected to harsh physical torture, without letting them know the fate of their two daughters, aged two and six months.

According to Zitawi, "They said my daughters were now orphans, without a father or a mother. They showed me a picture of me with my little daughter in my arms and they said I should pity her. The picture killed me. I wept until I could no longer stand it. They said that I would not see her again until she was a teenager and she would not recognize me. That was the picture that broke me."

In a response to the committee, dated July 2007, the attorney general's office said: "In general, if a relative of a detainee is not in detention, and there is no legal reason to arrest the relative, the detainee should not be given the impression that the relative has been arrested."

Nevertheless, the committee claims that the method is still being used.

The chairman of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, MK Menahem Ben-Sasson (Kadima), said, "It should not be forgotten that we are engaged in a war against terror. This reality does not authorize irrevocable physical harm, but it does require other actions - as needed, in a proportional and reasonable response."


"Family Matters, Using Family Members to Pressure Detainees
Under GSS Interrogation"

New Report by the Public Committee Against torture in Israel (PCATI) to be launched today in the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee:

The GSS illegally exploits family members causing severe harm to
detainees and their families

The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel's report published today reveals that Israel's General Security Service (GSS) exploits family members of Palestinian detainees in order to apply illegal psychological pressure on them and to force them to confess. Demonstrating a heightened level of concern surrounding the findings of the report, which show the continued use of interrogation methods that have been condemned as torture or ill treatment under international law, Knesset Constitution Law and Justice Committee Chairperson, Professor Menachem Ben Sasson, has agreed to PCATI's request to discuss the report in a special committee session, today at 13:30 in the Knesset. The extraordinary nature of this act is further demonstrated by Professor Ben Sasson's calling on the GSS to respond to the report during the hearing.

The illegal exploitation of family members, who, in most instances, are not suspects themselves, has on many occasions caused severe psychological suffering to interrogees and to their innocent relatives. In more extreme cases, this method takes the form of psychological torture of a detainee rendering him a victim of a cruel psychological manipulation via the illegal exploitation of a close relative. In one such case, detailed in the report, the pressure caused by this form of abuse led the detainee to attempt suicide on several occasions.

The report "Family Matters, Using Family Members to Pressure Detainees Under GSS Interrogation", written by Attorney Aviel Liner, details a sampling of six cases involving the exploitation of family members. Some of the cases describe a "charade" presented before the detainee showing him that his loved ones are under detention and, like the interrogee, undergoing severe physical torture. In other cases, family members were, in fact, arrested and sometimes tortured, although they were not suspected of any offence whatsoever, all for the purpose of applying pressure on a relative undergoing interrogation. One of the cases outlined in the report concerns a detained couple held for an extended period of time, subjected to severe physical torture, and, in addition, refused knowledge of the fate of their young daughters, aged two and a half and 6 months, who were used as bargaining chips by the GSS.

The report reveals that torture in the State of Israel – both physical and psychological – continues even after the High Court of Justice ruling of 1999. PCATI emphasizes in the report that, even if severe suspicions exist against an interrogee, the use of family members as a form of pressure must be prohibited. The exploitation of family members and the psychological abuse of an interrogee and his family are forbidden and unacceptable in a democratic society based on the rule of law and the values of human dignity. Moreover, an interrogation that employs such harsh and illegal means raises doubts as to the accuracy of the confessions and information received from the detainee.

In July 2007, following a complaint submitted by PCATI the Attorney General's office replied and stated that "…as a rule, in a situation where the detainee's relative is not in detention, and there is no legal pretext for detaining him, it is prohibited to present the detainee with a scenario according to which it appears that his relative is in detention," seemingly banning this practice. In spite of this, PCATI has found that the practice of detaining family members in order to use them against detainees under interrogation continues.

The report concludes with recommendations concerning both legislation and the supervision of the GSS that will contribute to preventing the use of this deplorable method.

The report is available in Hebrew on PCATI's website
The report will be published in English by the end of this week. A final working draft is available upon request.

For additional details please call:

Yoav Loeff, Public Outreach Coordinator
The Public Committee Against torture in Israel (PCATI)
Tel: +972-2-6429825 ext. 117, Mobile: +972-54-3368434
PCATI website:

To take action go to:

Bush Admits To Knowledge of Torture Authorization by Top Advisers (4/12/2008)
ACLU Calls for Independent Counsel to Investigate Administration's Approval of Torture and Abuse
CONTACT: (202) 675-2312,; (917) 251-8654 or

WASHINGTON – In a stunning admission to ABC news Friday night, President Bush declared that he knew his top national security advisers discussed and approved specific details of the CIA's use of torture. Bush reportedly told ABC, "I'm aware our national security team met on this issue. And I approved." Bush also defended the use of waterboarding.

Recent reports indicate that high-level advisers including Dick Cheney, Condoleeza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell and George Tenet were part of the National Security Council's "Principals Committee" that met regularly and approved the CIA's use of "combined" "enhanced" interrogation techniques, even pushing the limits of the now infamous 2002 Justice Department "torture memo." These top advisers reportedly signed off on how the CIA would interrogate suspects – whether they would be slapped, deprived of sleep or subjected to simulated drowning.

"We have always known that the CIA's use of torture was approved from the very top levels of the U.S. government, yet the latest revelations about knowledge from the president himself and authorization from his top advisers only confirms our worst fears," said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. "It is a very sad day when the president of the United States subverts the Constitution, the rule of law, and American values of justice."

Romero added, "It is more important than ever that the U.S. government, when seeking justice against those it suspects of harming us, adhere to our commitment to due process and the rule of law. That's why the ACLU has taken the extraordinary step to offer our assistance to those being prosecuted under the unconstitutional military commissions process. We unfortunately can't erase or make up for what has already happened, but at least we can attempt to restore some of the values and some semblance of due process that the Bush administration has squandered in the name of national security."

The American Civil Liberties Union is calling on Congress to demand an independent prosecutor to investigate possible violations by the Bush administration of laws including the War Crimes Act, the federal Anti-Torture Act, and federal assault laws.

"No one in the executive branch of government can be trusted to fairly investigate or prosecute any crimes since the head of every relevant department, along with the president and vice president, either knew or participated in the planning and approval of illegal acts," said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "Congress cannot look the other way; it must demand an independent investigation and independent prosecutor."

Fredrickson added, "Congress is duty-bound by the Constitution not only to hold the president, vice president, and all civil officers to account, but it must also send a message to future presidents that it will use its constitutional powers to prevent illegal, and immoral conduct."

The ACLU's letter calling for an independent prosecutor for torture crimes and any criminal cover up is available at:

Information on the ACLU's Freedom of Information Act lawsuit revealing information on the U.S.'s treatment of detainees is available online at:

To take action go to:


ABC News
Bush Aware of Advisers' Interrogation Talks
President Says He Knew His Senior Advisers Discussed Tough Interrogation Methods
April 11, 2008—

President Bush says he knew his top national security advisers discussed and approved specific details about how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the Central Intelligence Agency, according to an exclusive interview with ABC News Friday.

"Well, we started to connect the dots in order to protect the American people." Bush told ABC News White House correspondent Martha Raddatz. "And yes, I'm aware our national security team met on this issue. And I approved."

As first reported by ABC News Wednesday, the most senior Bush administration officials repeatedly discussed and approved specific details of exactly how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the CIA.

The high-level discussions about these "enhanced interrogation techniques" were so detailed, these sources said, some of the interrogation sessions were almost choreographed -- down to the number of times CIA agents could use a specific tactic.

These top advisers signed off on how the CIA would interrogate top al Qaeda suspects -- whether they would be slapped, pushed, deprived of sleep or subjected to simulated drowning, called waterboarding, sources told ABC news.

The advisers were members of the National Security Council's Principals Committee, a select group of senior officials who met frequently to advise President Bush on issues of national security policy.

At the time, the Principals Committee included Vice President Dick Cheney, former National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as CIA Director George Tenet and Attorney General John Ashcroft.

As the national security adviser, Rice chaired the meetings, which took place in the White House Situation Room and were typically attended by most of the principals or their deputies.

The so-called Principals who participated in the meetings also approved the use of "combined" interrogation techniques -- using different techniques during interrogations instead of using one method at a time -- on terrorist suspects who proved difficult to break, sources said.

Contacted by ABC News, spokesmen for Tenet and Rumsfeld declined to comment about the interrogation program or their private discussions in Principals meetings. The White House also declined comment on behalf of Rice and Cheney. Ashcroft could not be reached.

ABC News' Diane Sawyer sat down with Powell this week for a previously scheduled interview and asked him about the ABC News report.

Powell said that he didn't have "sufficient memory recall" about the meetings and that he had participated in "many meetings on how to deal with detainees."

Powell said, "I'm not aware of anything that we discussed in any of those meetings that was not considered legal."

In his interview with ABC News, Bush said the ABC report about the Principals' involvement was not so "startling." The president had earlier confirmed the existence of the interrogation program run by the CIA in a speech in 2006. But before Wednesday's report, the extraordinary level of involvement by the most senior advisers in repeatedly approving specific interrogation plans -- down to the number of times the CIA could use a certain tactic on a specific al Qaeda prisoner -- had never been disclosed.

Critics at home and abroad have harshly criticized the interrogation program, which pushed the limits of international law and, they say, condoned torture. Bush and his top aides have consistently defended the program. They say it is legal and did not constitute torture.

In interview with ABC's Charles Gibson last year, Tenet said: "It was authorized. It was legal, according to the Attorney General of the United States."

The discussions and meetings occurred in an atmosphere of great concern that another terror attack on the nation was imminent. Sources said the extraordinary involvement of the senior advisers in the grim details of exactly how individual interrogations would be conducted showed how seriously officials took the al Qaeda threat.

It started after the CIA captured top al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah in spring 2002 in Faisalabad, Pakistan. When his safe house was raided by Pakistani security forces along with FBI and CIA agents, Zubaydah was shot three times during the gun battle.

At a time when virtually all counterterrorist professionals viewed another attack as imminent -- and with information on al Qaeda scarce -- the detention of Zubaydah was seen as a potentially critical breakthrough.

Zubaydah was taken to the local hospital, where CIA agent John Kiriakou, who helped coordinate Zubaydah's capture, was ordered to remain at the wounded captive's side at all times. "I ripped up a sheet and tied him to the bed," Kiriakou said.

But after Zubaydah recovered from his wounds at a secret CIA prison in Thailand, he was uncooperative. "I told him I had heard he was being a jerk," Kiriakou recalled. "I said, 'These guys can make it easy on you or they can make it hard.' It was after that he became defiant."

The CIA wanted to use more aggressive -- and physical -- methods to get information. The agency briefed high-level officials in the National Security Council's Principals Committee, led by then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and including then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, which then signed off on the plan, sources said. It is unclear whether anyone on the committee objected to the CIA's plans for Zubaydah.

The CIA has confirmed Zubaydah was one of three al Qaeda suspects subjected to waterboarding. After he was waterboarded, officials say Zubaydah gave up valuable information that led to the capture of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammad and fellow 9/11 plotter Ramzi bin al-Shibh.

Mohammad, who is known as KSM, was also subjected to waterboarding by the CIA.

In the interview with ABC News Friday, Bush defended the waterboarding technique used against KSM.

"We had legal opinions that enabled us to do it," Bush said. "And no, I didn't have any problem at all trying to find out what Khalid Sheikh Mohammed knew."

The president said, "I think it's very important for the American people to understand who Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was. He was the person who ordered the suicide attack -- I mean, the 9/11 attacks."

At a hearing before a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay March 10, 2007, KSM, as he is known, said he broke under the harsh interrogation. COURT: Were any statements you made as the result of any of the treatment that you received during that time frame from 2003 to 2006? Did you make those statements because of the treatment you receive from these people?

KSM: Statement for whom??

COURT: To any of these interrogators. ?

KSM: CIA peoples. Yes. At the beginning, when they transferred me...?

Lawyers in the Justice Department had written a classified memo, which was extensively reviewed, that gave formal legal authority to government interrogators to use the "enhanced" questioning tactics on suspected terrorist prisoners. The August 2002 memo, signed by then head of the Office of Legal Counsel Jay Bybee, was referred to as the so-called "Golden Shield" for CIA agents, who worried they would be held liable if the harsh interrogations became public.

Old hands in the intelligence community remembered vividly how past covert operations, from the Vietnam War-era "Phoenix Program" of assassinations of Viet Cong to the Iran-Contra arms sales of the 1980s were painted as the work of a "rogue agency" out of control.

But even after the "Golden Shield" was in place, briefings and meetings in the White House to discuss individual interrogations continued, sources said. Tenet, seeking to protect his agents, regularly sought confirmation from the NSC principals that specific interrogation plans were legal.

According to a former CIA official involved in the process, CIA headquarters would receive cables from operatives in the field asking for authorization for specific techniques. Agents, worried about overstepping their boundaries, would await guidance in particularly complicated cases dealing with high-value detainees, two CIA sources said.

Highly placed sources said CIA directors Tenet and later Porter Goss along with agency lawyers briefed senior advisers, including Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld and Powell, about detainees in CIA custody overseas.

"It kept coming up. CIA wanted us to sign off on each one every time," said one high-ranking official who asked not to be identified. "They'd say, 'We've got so and so. This is the plan.'"

Sources said that at each discussion, all the Principals present approved. "These discussions weren't adding value," a source said. "Once you make a policy decision to go beyond what you used to do and conclude it's legal, [you should] just tell them to implement it."

Ashcroft was troubled by the discussions. He agreed with the general policy decision to allow aggressive tactics and had repeatedly advised that they were legal. But he argued that senior White House advisers should not be involved in the grim details of interrogations, sources said.

According to a top official, Ashcroft asked aloud after one meeting: "Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly."

The Principals also approved interrogations that combined different methods, pushing the limits of international law and even the Justice Department's own legal approval in the 2002 memo, sources told ABC News.

At one meeting in the summer of 2003 -- attended by Cheney, among others -- Tenet made an elaborate presentation for approval to combine several different techniques during interrogations, instead of using one method at a time, according to a highly placed administration source.

A year later, amid the outcry over unrelated abuses of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, the controversial 2002 legal memo, which gave formal legal authorization for the CIA interrogation program of the top al Qaeda suspects that was leaked to the press. A new senior official in the Justice Department, Jack Goldsmith, withdrew the legal memo -- the Golden Shield -- that authorized the program.

But the CIA had captured a new al Qaeda suspect in Asia. Sources said CIA officials that summer returned to the Principals Committee for approval to continue using certain "enhanced interrogation techniques."

Rice, sources said, was decisive. Despite growing policy concerns -- shared by Powell -- that the program was harming the image of the United States abroad, sources say she did not back down, telling the CIA: "This is your baby. Go do it."

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