In four years of researching and writing about Guantánamo, I have become used to uncovering shocking information, but for sheer cynicism, I am struggling to think of anything that compares to the revelations contained in the unclassified ruling in the habeas corpus petition of Fouad al-Rabiah, a Kuwaiti prisoner whose release was ordered last week by Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly (PDF). In the ruling, to put it bluntly, it was revealed that the US government tortured an innocent man to extract false confessions and then threatened him until he obligingly repeated those lies as though they were the truth.
The background: lies hidden in plain sight for five years
To establish the background to this story, it is necessary for me to return to my initial response to the ruling a week last Friday, before these revelations had been made public, when, based on what I knew of the case from the publicly available documents, I explained that I was disappointed that the Obama administration had pursued a case against al-Rabiah, alleging that he was a fundraiser for Osama bin Laden and had run a supply depot for al-Qaeda in Afghanistan’s Tora Bora mountains, for two particular reasons.
The first was because a CIA analyst had interviewed al-Rabiah at Guantánamo in the summer of 2002 and had concluded that he was an innocent man caught at the wrong time and in the wrong place; and the second was because, although al-Rabiah had said that he had met bin Laden and had been present in the Tora Bora mountains, he had provided an innocent explanation for both occurrences. He had, he said, been introduced to bin Laden on a trip to Afghanistan to investigate proposals for a humanitarian aid mission, and he had been at Tora Bora — and compelled to man a supply depot — because he was one of numerous civilians caught up with soldiers of al-Qaeda and the Taliban as he tried to flee the chaos of Afghanistan for Pakistan, and had been compelled to run the depot by a senior figure in al-Qaeda.
These appeared to be valid explanations, especially as al-Rabiah, a 42-year old father of four children, had no history of any involvement with militancy or terrorism, and had, instead, spent 20 years at a management desk job at Kuwait Airways, and had an ownership interest in some health clubs. Moreover, he had a history of legitimate refugee relief work, having taken a six-month approved leave of absence from work in 1994-95 to do relief work in Bosnia, having visited Kosovo with the Kuwaiti Red Crescent in 1998, and having made a trip to Bangladesh in 2000 to delivery kidney dialysis fluid to a hospital in the capital, Dhaka.
As a result, it appeared to me a week last Friday that Judge Kollar-Kotelly granted al-Rabiah’s habeas petition because neither his meeting with bin Laden nor his presence in Tora Bora indicated that he was either a member of, or had supported al-Qaeda or the Taliban.
However, now that Judge Kollar-Kotelly’s ruling has been issued, I realize that the account given by al-Rabiah during his Combatant Status Review Tribunal at Guantánamo in 2004 — on which I based my account of his activities — was a tissue of lies, and that the truth, hidden for over six years, is that, like torture victims groomed for show trials throughout the centuries, he made up false stories under torture, and repeated them obediently, fearing further punishment and having been convinced that he would never leave Guantánamo by any other means.
An introduction to the torture revelations, and an endorsement of al-Rabiah’s explanations about his time in Afghanistan
In her ruling, Judge Kollar-Kotelly methodically dissected the government’s case to reveal the chilling truth. After noting, initially, that the “evidentiary record” was “surprisingly bare,” because the government “has withdrawn its reliance on most of the evidence and allegations that were once asserted against al-Rabiah, and now relies almost exclusively on al-Rabiah’s ‘confessions’ to certain conduct,” she added, with a palpable sense of disbelief:
Not only did al-Rabiah’s interrogators repeatedly conclude that these same confessions were not believable — which al-Rabiah’s counsel attributes to abuse and coercion, some of which is supported by the record — but it is also undisputed that al-Rabiah confessed to information that his interrogators obtained from either alleged eyewitnesses who are not credible and as to whom the Government has now largely withdrawn any reliance, or from sources that never even existed … If there exists a basis for al-Rabiah’s indefinite detention, it most certainly has not been presented to this Court.
In dealing with al-Rabiah’s background, and his reasons for traveling to Afghanistan, Judge Kollar-Kotelly was required to consider his own assertion that, after a preliminary ten-day visit in July 2001 to identify areas where humanitarian aid might be delivered, he returned in October 2001 “to complete a fact-finding mission related to Afghanistan’s refugee problems and the country’s non-existent medical infrastructure,” against the government’s claim that he was “‘not an aspiring aid worker caught up in the front lines of the United States war against al-Qaeda’ but instead was someone who traveled to Afghanistan in October 2001 as a ‘devotee of Osama bin Laden who ran to bin Laden’s side after September 11th.’”
Concluding that “The evidence in the record strongly supports al-Rabiah’s explanation,” Judge Kollar-Kotelly noted that he had officially requested leave prior to his departure, and quoted from two letters sent to his family. In the first, on October 18, 2001, he explained that “for ten days he assisted with the delivery of supplies to refugees and that he was able to take video ‘reflecting the tragedy of the refugees,’ but that he was unable to leave Afghanistan through Iran (the route he took to enter the country) because the borders had been closed.” As a result, he “wrote in his letter that he and an unspecified number of other persons decided ‘to drive four trucks to Pakistan making our way to Peshawar,’” and he also asked his brother to notify his boss at Kuwait Airlines that he was having difficulties returning to Kuwait on time.
After noting that “The evidence in the record establishes that al-Rabiah did, in fact, travel across Afghanistan towards Peshawar, ultimately getting captured (unarmed) by villagers outside of Jalalabad … on approximately December 25, 2001” (with Maher al-Quwari, a Palestinian who also ended up in Guantánamo), Judge Kollar-Kotelly quoted from a second letter sent to his family, in which — ironically, in light of what was to come — he wrote that he was “detained by the American troops and thanks to God they are good example[s] of humanitarian behavior.” He added that he was “detained pending verification of [his] identity and personality,” and that the “investigation and verification procedures may last for a long time due to the great number of detained Arabs and other persons” who had been fleeing the situation in Afghanistan, which “turned upside down between one day and night and every Arab citizen has become a suspect.”
Discrediting the government’s unreliable witnesses
Moving on to the government’s key allegations — about Osama bin Laden and Tora Bora — Judge Kollar-Kotelly dismissed the allegations regarding al-Rabiah’s supposed activities in Tora Bora, which were made by another prisoner who claimed that he “was told that al-Rabiah was in charge of supplies at Tora Bora,” by noting that, “Although his allegations are filled with inconsistencies and implausibilities, the Government continues to rely on him as an eyewitness.” She also noted that, although the witness had identified al-Rabiah as the man under discussion, from his kunya (nickname), Abu Abdullah al-Kuwaiti, the government had conceded that another Abu Abdullah al-Kuwaiti, an actual al-Qaeda operative named Hadi El-Enazi, was present in Tora Bora, and also noted that an interrogator had expressed doubt about the supposed eyewitness at the time (much of the ruling is redacted, but this seemed to involve a claim that al-Rabiah’s oldest son was with him in Afghanistan, when this was demonstrably not the case).
Judge Kollar-Kotelly also dismissed two other sets of allegations by the supposed eyewitness. Noting further “inconsistencies and impossibilities” in his accounts, she stated that “the Court has little difficulty concluding that [his] allegations are not credible,” and explained that, to reach this conclusion, she had also drawn on statements provided by al-Rabiah’s lawyers, which further undermined his reliability, “based on, among other things, undisputed inconsistencies associated with his allegations against other detainees,” and his medical records, which obviously indicated mental health problems (although the description was redacted). “At a minimum,” she added, “the Government would have had to corroborate [his] allegations with credible and reliable evidence, which it has not done.”
Osama bin Laden, it then transpired, appeared in allegations made by a second prisoner, who “alleged that al-Rabiah attended a feast hosted by Osama bin Laden,” where he “presented bin Laden with a suitcase full of money.” This source also alleged that al-Rabiah “served in various fighting capacities in the Tora Bora mountains,” and that he “funneled money to mujahadeen in Bosnia in 1995.”
After noting that the government had dropped “almost all” of these allegations, except for the one relating to Bosnia, Judge Kollar-Kotelly stated, witheringly, “the only consistency with respect to [these] allegations is that they repeatedly change over time.” For particular condemnation, she singled out one claim that the feast had taken place in August 2001 (when al-Rabiah was in Kuwait, before his return to Afghanistan in October 2001), amongst other more outlandish claims, including an absurd allegation that al-Rabiah had trained the 9/11 hijackers.
As with the first supposed eyewitness, Judge Kollar-Kotelly noted that there were “multiple exhibits in the record demonstrating [his] unreliability as a witness” (although, sadly, the exact number of prisoners against whom he had made verifiably false allegations was redacted), and concluded that, although the many “inconsistencies and impossibilities” in his statements “raise, at a minimum, a serious question about [his] mental capacity to accurately make allegations against al-Rabiah,” the government “did not address them at the Merits Hearing” in August.
After dismissing a third supposed eyewitness, because he had withdrawn his allegation (which was redacted) several months after making it, Judge Kollar-Kotelly dismissed a fourth, even though it was “undisputed” that al-Rabiah actually had contact with him in Afghanistan. Despite redactions, it seems that this man was Maher al-Quwari, and that his statement involved second-hand hearsay about al-Rabiah being seen with a gun. While this was sufficiently weak for the judge not to accept it without further corroboration, she also made a point of discounting it because the supposed witness only “made this allegation while he was undergoing a cell relocation program at Guantánamo called the ‘frequent flier program,’ which prevented a detainee such as [redacted] from resting due to frequent cell movements.”
While the description of a “cell relocation program” sounds relatively benign, Judge Kollar-Kotelly made a point of noting that it was, in fact, a program of sleep deprivation, adding that, “According to a report published by the Senate Armed Services Committee concerning the treatment of detainees in United States custody, sleep deprivation was not a technique that was authorized by the Army Field Manual.” Although she also noted that “sleep deprivation became authorized at Guantánamo by the Secretary of Defense on April 16, 2003, the guidance issued by the Commander of USSOUTHCOM on June 2, 2003 prohibited the use of sleep deprivation for more than ‘four days in succession,’” whereas the supposed witness’s “allegation against al-Rabiah was made after one week of sleep deprivation in the program, and he did not repeat this allegation either before or after the program.”
False confessions obtained through torture
Despite ruling out all of the government’s supposed eyewitnesses, and noting that the government had withdrawn “most of its reliance on these witnesses” by the time of the Merits Hearing, Judge Kollar-Kotelly added that “it is very significant that al-Rabiah’s interrogators apparently believed these allegations at the time they were made, and therefore sought to have al-Rabiah confess to them” — despite the well-chronicled unreliability of the first two supposed witnesses, the withdrawing of the statement made by the third, and the fact, easily perceived by the judge, that the fourth made his statement only after being subjected to sleep deprivation that exceeded established guidelines and that was, therefore, not only unreliable, but also abusive.
The judge also noted the significance of the evidence in the record indicating that al-Rabiah “subsequently confided in interrogators [redacted] that he was being pressured to falsely confess to the allegations discussed above,” and also the significance of the fact that, although “al-Rabiah’s interrogators ultimately extracted confessions from him,” they “never believed his confessions based on the comments they included in their interrogation reports.”
After noting — again with a palpable sense of incredulity — that “These are the confessions that the Government now asks the Court to accept as evidence in this case,” Judge Kollar-Kotelly proceeded to demolish them all, breaking them down into three periods: the first, when “there were no allegations directed toward al-Rabiah and al-Rabiah provided no confessions”; the second, when the supposed eyewitnesses “made their now-discredited allegations and al-Rabiah was told of the allegations against him, but al-Rabiah nevertheless made no confessions”; and the third (which, shockingly, continued “until the present”), when “al-Rabiah confessed to the now-discredited allegations against him, as well as to other ‘evidence’ that interrogators told him they possessed, when, in fact, such evidence did not exist.”
In the first phase, Judge Kollar-Kotelly noted that there was no indication “that interrogators believed al-Rabiah had engaged in any conduct that made him lawfully detainable,” and explained that, “To the contrary, the evidence in the record during this period consists mainly of an assessment made by an intelligence analyst that al-Rabiah should not have been detained.” As discussed in my previous article, this analyst was “a senior CIA intelligence analyst, who, almost uniquely, was also an Arabic expert,” but although I wrote that “it amaze[d] me that no one in the Justice Department, under President Obama, investigated the CIA analyst’s report,” the truth, as revealed in the unclassified ruling, is even bleaker.
It transpires that Justice Department officials had read the report, but tried to discredit the analyst’s verdict, “arguing that it represented the opinion of only one analyst,” ignoring his well-chronicled expertise, and obliging the judge to point out that, “according to the Government’s own evidence, ‘[i]ntelligence analysts undergo rigorous tradecraft training [and] employ specific analytical tools to assist them in sorting and organizing various pieces of information,” and are also “trained to recognize and mitigate biases, not only in the information presented to them, but their own cognitive biases as well.”
In the second phase, despite extensive redactions to the ruling, it is clear that al-Rabiah was repeatedly interrogated, although he “express[ed] frustration to FBI agents that he was repeatedly asked, among other questions, whether he had ever seen Osama bin Laden, and remark[ed] that his answer was ‘no’ and would continue to remain ‘no.’” What happened next, in a “new three-pronged approach,” is unknown, as the details are severely redacted, but it “did not result in any confessions. Al-Rabiah repeatedly denied the allegations against him.”
After this, apparently following some kind of advice given to the lead interrogator (by an unknown party whose identity and suggestions were redacted), the interrogators “began using more aggressive interrogation tactics.” Again, the details are redacted, but enough information is available from passages that were not redacted earlier in the ruling to indicate that these “tactics” included sleep deprivation (the “frequent flier program”), which, as I explained in my previous article, led three British men released in March 2004 — the so-called “Tipton Three,” whose story was dramatized in the film “The Road To Guantánamo” — to explain that al-Rabiah was moved every two hours, over an unspecified period of time (but one that clearly exceeded the four-day recommendation by a substantial margin), leaving him “suffering from serious depression, losing weight in a substantial way, and very stressed because of the constant moves, deprived of sleep and seriously worried about the consequences for his children.”
Possibly in reference to the use of sleep deprivation (although it could also have been another “enhanced interrogation technique”), Judge Kollar-Kotelly explained that, “Once it became authorized, it could not be used on a detainee until ‘the SOUTHCOM Commander ma[de] a determination of “military necessity” and notif[ied] the Secretary [of Defense] in advance’ of its use,” and also made a point of noting that “the Government was unable to produce any evidence that [the interrogator] obtained authorization to use the [redacted] technique with al-Rabiah despite requests by the Court at the Merits Hearing for such evidence.”
Although the other techniques are not described, they undoubtedly included some or all of the following — prolonged isolation, the use of extreme heat and cold, short-shackling in painful stress positions, forced nudity, forced grooming, religious and sexual humiliation, and the use of loud music and noise — because this whole package of techniques, including sleep deprivation, was approved for use at the highest levels of the Bush administration, as a Senate Committee explained in the detailed report in April this year that was cited by the judge (PDF). The program was based on reverse engineering techniques taught in US military schools (the SERE program — Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) to train recruits to resist interrogation if captured by enemy forces.
These techniques were acknowledged to be illegal and, moreover, were intended to produce false confessions, but this did not prevent senior Bush officials from pushing for their implementation, and, in al-Rabiah’s case, they duly led to his conversion from an innocent man who refused to falsely confess to allegations produced by unreliable witnesses into a modern-day version of the victims of the Spanish Inquisition, the seventeenth century “witches” of Salem and elsewhere, the victims of Stalin’s show trials, or the captured US pilots on whom the North Koreans had practiced the techniques adopted by the SERE schools: a broken man prepared not only to falsely confess to any lies put before him, but also prepared to learn these confessions and repeat them as his masters saw fit.
As the ruling makes clear, between redactions, “The following day marked a turning point in al-Rabiah’s interrogations,” and “From that point forward, al-Rabiah confessed to the allegations that interrogators described to him.” Despite the extensive redactions, the following passage from the ruling makes clear the full horror of his confessions:
Al-Rabiah’s confessions all follow the same pattern: Interrogators first explain to al-Rabiah the “evidence” they have in their possession (and that, at the time, they likely believed to be true). Al-Rabiah then requests time to pray (or to think more about the evidence) before making a “full” confession. Finally, after a period of time, al-Rabiah provides a fill confession to the evidence through elaborate and incredible explanations that the interrogators themselves do not believe. This pattern began with his confession that he met with Osama bin Laden, continued with his confession that he undertook a leadership role in Tora Bora, and repeated itself multiple other times with respect to “evidence” that the Government has not even attempted to rely on as reliable or credible.
In the following pages of the ruling, which are again fill of redactions, it is nevertheless possible to glimpse the progress of this game that was not only grim and cynical, but also potentially deadly (because, as a prisoner put forward for a trial by Military Commission, it was always possible that the government would have pressed for the death sentence had al-Rabiah been convicted).
For page after page the distressing truth peeks out: al-Rabiah “did not know what to admit” when his interrogators explained that his “full confession did not incorporate a description concerning a suitcase full of money that he allegedly gave bin Laden”; they “began to question the truthfulness of his confessions almost immediately”; they “began ‘grilling’ al-Rabiah concerning [redacted]”; al-Rabiah “was interrogated [redacted] during which he made a full confession regarding his activities at Tora Bora”; interrogators “pressed for additional details concerning Tora Bora”; they “became increasingly convinced that his confessions [redacted]”; they “concluded in one interrogation report [redacted]”; “One week later, his interrogator concluded [redacted]”; “After several additional interrogation sessions, al-Rabiah’s interrogators concluded simply [redacted].”
Readers can fill in the gaps through the judge’s response to the redacted passages. “Incredibly,” she wrote, “these are the confessions that the Government has asked the Court to accept as truthful in this case.”
Al-Rabiah explains his cooperation with the interrogators; threats and punishment described
Judge Kollar-Kotelly then dismissed further allegations, which again, were mostly redacted but included the following ironic gem: “The Government has not even attempted to explain how someone with no known connection to al-Wafa [a Saudi charity regarded, during Guantánamo’s “witch-hunt” phase, with particular suspicion] and who had never even been to Afghanistan longer than a few weeks could ascend to such an honored position, and no credible explanation is contained in the record.”
She then moved on to al-Rabiah’s own explanations of how he came to make false confessions, noting that he had stated that, shortly after his arrival at Guantánamo, “a senior [redacted] interrogator came to me and said, ‘There is nothing against you. But there is no innocent person here. So, you should confess to something so you can be charged and sentenced and serve your sentence and then go back to your family and country, because you will not leave this place innocent.”
This is deeply disturbing, of course, as it indicates that at least one senior interrogator recognized that the Bush administration’s refusal to recognize that there were innocent men at Guantánamo — and it has been clear for many years that hundreds of innocent men were held, who had no connection whatsoever to any form of militancy, let alone terrorism — had set in motion a system in which, whether voluntarily or not, all the innocent men at Guantánamo were expected to make false confessions, either so that they could continue to be labeled as “enemy combatants” on release, to maintain the illusion that Guantánamo was full of “the worst of the worst,” or, as in al-Rabiah’s case, so that they could be tricked and transformed into terrorist sympathizers and facilitators.
For some (and it has been confirmed by a former interrogator that at least 100 prisoners in Guantánamo were subjected to SERE-derived “enhanced interrogation”), confessions clearly came easily, and without the use of abuse or torture, but for others, including al-Rabiah, “pressure” was involved. Judge Kollar-Kotelly drew on a declaration from March this year, in which he explained that his confessions arose out of “scenarios offered … by [his] interrogators … which [he] believed to be the story they wanted [him] to tell and which [he] felt pressured to adopt” (emphasis added). As he also explained:
[M]y interrogators told me they knew I had met with Osama bin Laden, that other detainees had said I met with Osama bin Laden, that there was nothing wrong with simply meeting Osama bin Laden, and that I should admit meeting him so I could be sent home … In about August 2004, shortly before my CSRT hearing [the tribunal at which al-Rabiah repeated his approved confessions in detail], my interrogators told me the CSRT was just a show that would allow the United States to “save face.” My interrogators told me no one leaves Guantánamo innocent, and told me I would be sent home to Kuwait if I “admitted” some of the false things I had said in my interrogations. The interrogators also told me that I would never go home again if I denied these things, because the United States government would never admit I had been wrongly held.
In a key passage, he spelled out what being “pressured” meant. As the judge explained, he stated that “he made his confessions to reduce the abuse meted out by his interrogators ‘to obtain confessions that suited what [they] thought they knew or what they wanted [him] to say.’ He maintained his confessions over time because ‘the interrogators would continue to abuse me anytime I attempted to repudiate any of these false allegations.’” As she also noted:
There is substantial evidence in the record supporting al-Rabiah’s claims. The record is replete with examples of al-Rabiah’s interrogators emphasizing a stark dichotomy — if he confessed to the allegations against him, his case would be turned over to [redacted] so that he could return to Kuwait; if he did not confess, he would not return to Kuwait, and his life would become increasingly miserable.
Through the veil of redactions, it is clear that al-Rabiah attempted, on more than one occasion, to withdraw his confessions, but that his interrogators threatened to withdraw something (food? comfort items?) as a result, and Judge Kollar-Kotelly also noted that punishment, as well as the threat of punishment, was meted out to him. “The record,” she wrote, “also supports al-Rabiah’s claims that he was punished for recanting.” Examples provided by the judge were redacted, but the following passage, in which she discussed further abuse as a result of the interrogators’ frustrations regarding al-Rabiah’s inability to invent a coherent false narrative, was not. She wrote:
The record contains evidence that al-Rabiah’s interrogators became increasingly frustrated because his confessions contained numerous inconsistencies or implausibilities. As a result, al-Rabiah’s interrogators began using abusive techniques that violated the Army Field Manual and the 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War. The first of these techniques included threats of rendition to places where al-Rabiah would either be tortured and/or would never be found.
These threats were made on at least four occasions, and, as the judge explained, “were also reinforced by placing al-Rabiah into the frequent flier program,” discussed above. It is also apparent that the threats continued throughout this period, as the judge also noted that “al-Rabiah’s interrogators continued to threaten him [redacted].”
After making a point that, as explained in the Army Field Manual, “prohibited techniques [are] not necessary to gain the cooperation of interrogation sources,” and, in fact, that the use of these methods is likely to “yield unreliable results, may damage subsequent collection efforts, and can induce the source to say what he thinks the interrogator wants to hear,” Judge Kollar-Kotelly added that, “Underscoring the impropriety of these techniques is the fact that [redacted], al-Rabiah’s lead interrogator, was disciplined for making similar threats during the same period toward a Guantánamo detainee who was also one of the alleged eyewitnesses against al-Rabiah … for which he was disciplined” (the details, predictably, were redacted).
Judge Kollar-Kotelly’s devastating conclusions
Judge Kollar-Kotelly added, pointedly, “These abusive techniques did not result in any additional confessions from al-Rabiah, although he continued to parrot his previous confessions with varying degrees of consistency,” and then reached her devastating conclusion:
The Court agrees with the assessment of al-Rabiah’s interrogators, as well as al-Rabiah’s counsel in this case, that al-Rabiah’s confessions are not credible. Even beyond the countless inconsistencies associated with his confessions that interrogators identified throughout his years of detention, the confessions are also entirely incredible. The evidence in the record reflects that, in 2001, al-Rabiah was a 43 year old who was overweight, suffered from health problems, and had no known history of terrorist activities or links to terrorist activities. He had no military experience except for two weeks of compulsory basic training in Kuwait, after which he received a medical exemption. He had never traveled to Afghanistan prior to 2001. Given these facts, it defied logic that in October 2001, after completing a two-week leave form at Kuwait Airlines where he had worked for twenty years, al-Rabiah traveled to Tora Bora and began telling senior al-Qaeda leaders how they should organize their supplies in a six square mile mountain complex that he had never previously seen and that was occupied by people whom he had never met, while at the same time acting as a supply logistician and mediator of disputes that arose among various fighting factions.
It remained only for Judge Kollar-Kotelly to replay some of the more obvious discrepancies in al-Rabiah’s “confessions” to demolish the government’s claims that they should be accepted as “reliable and credible,” and to refute the government’s argument that, “even if al-Rabiah’s confessions in 2003 were the product of abuse or coercion … the taint … would have dissipated” by the time of his CSRT in 2004, when he provided the painstakingly detailed and superficially plausible false confession that was the only publicly available account of his activities until Judge Kollar-Kotelly’s ruling was released.
Taking exception to the government’s argument “for both factual and legal reasons,” the judge took particular note of the role played by al-Rabiah’s lead interrogator, “who extracted al-Rabiah’s confessions and punished his recantations,” noting that he “continued to make ‘appearances’ at al-Rabiah’s interrogations at least as late as [redacted] — after al-Rabiah’s testimony in his CSRT proceedings.” She also explained, “Such ‘appearances’ appear to have been terrifying events for al-Rabiah given the description included in a [redacted] interrogation report” (the details of which were, again, redacted).
On a legal basis, she dismissed the government’s argument by explaining that, although “it is certainly true in the criminal context that coerced confessions do not necessarily render subsequent confessions inadmissible because the coercion can be found to have dissipated,” there needs to be evidence of “a ‘clean break’ between the coercion and the later confessions,” which is simply not available in al-Rabiah’s case. “If anything,” she concluded, “the evidence suggests that there was not a ‘clean break’ between the coercion and his later statements because there is evidence that [redacted] continued to appear at al-Rabiah’s interrogation sessions through at least September 2004” (the date redacted in the paragraph above).
As a final stab at the government, she mentioned a statement made by al-Rabiah in May 2005, and submitted to his first annual Administrative Review Board (the military panels that reviewed the bases for prisoners’ ongoing detention), which had not surfaced until the Merits Hearing, in which al-Rabiah attempted to set the record straight, “recant[ing] all of his previous confessions with the sole exception of one admission that he saw [but did not meet] Osama bin Laden during his July 2001 trip to Afghanistan.”
After dealing with a few more ingenious but flawed claims by the government, it remained only for Judge Kollar-Kotelly to recap the whole sorry saga, and to deliver the final words to restore Fouad al-Rabiah’s liberty:
During the merits Hearing, the Government expressly relied on “Occam’s Razor,” a scientific and philosophic rule suggesting that the simplest of competing explanations is preferred to the more complex … The Government’s simple explanation for the evidence in this case is that al-Rabiah made confessions that the Court should accept as true. The simple response is that the Court does not accept confessions that even the Government’s own interrogators did not believe. The writ of habeas corpus shall issue.
Judge Kollar-Kotelly’s ruling will, hopefully, be recalled in years to come as one of the most significant examples of a judge attempting to redress some of the most egregious injustices perpetrated in Guantánamo’s long, dark history. The shocking sub-text to this story is that al-Rabiah is not the only prisoner to have been brutalized into making false confessions, and then being required to repeat them. Ahmed al-Darbi, a Saudi put forward for a trial by Military Commission, made similar claims in a statement posted here, and, as I mentioned above, it is also clear that SERE-derived “enhanced interrogation techniques” were applied to at least 100 prisoners in Guantánamo between 2002 and 2004, above and beyond those like Mohammed al-Qahtani and Mohamedou Ould Slahi, whose stories are well-known. Many of these men — all the Europeans, other Arabs who had the misfortune to speak good English or to have visited the United States — have been released, their false confessions (like those made by the “Tipton Three” after months of abuse, before their lawyers proved one of them was working in a shop in England when he was supposedly videotaped at a training camp) filed away, used to justify their lifelong label as “enemy combatants,” but not leading, as with Fouad al-Rabiah, to a court appearance where the supposed evidence will ever be tested.
Al-Rabiah was fortunate to meet a judge with an inquiring and diligent mind, and an acute awareness of the many problems with the gathering and interpretation of information at Guantánamo, but others have not yet had an opportunity to do the same, and although further habeas petitions are forthcoming, and others are scheduled to face either trials by Military Commission or federal court trials, where similar patterns of false allegations followed by torture and false confessions may be detected, it troubles me that the 50 or so prisoners identified by officials last week as being candidates for indefinite detention — described by the New York Times as those who “are a continuing danger to national security but who cannot be brought to trial for various reasons, like evidence tainted by harsh interrogations” — may also have been caught up in a cynical cycle of false allegations, torture and false confessions.
As David Cynamon, one of Fouad al-Rabiah’s attorneys, explained to me in an email exchange:
To date, the debate about torture in the US has been skewed by the fact that the admitted victims of torture are also admitted al-Qaeda leaders, like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. This gives the Cheneys and Wall Street Journal types the argument that torture was justified to get valuable information from these hardened terrorists. I know this argument is wrong, but it’s being made, with some effect. But what happens when you declare the Geneva Conventions “quaint,” and lift all limits, is that pretty quickly the abusive interrogation techniques are not being limited to the KSMs but are being applied to innocent prisoners like Fouad al-Rabiah, who have no valuable intelligence because they have no connection with al-Qaeda or the Taliban. Instead, they are tortured in support of a cynical and misguided dictum that there can be no innocent men in Guantánamo.
It is hard to believe that the US could ever have sunk so low. And that the new Administration is keeping us down there. The Obama Department of Justice, with Attorney General Holder piously proclaiming that this Administration repudiates torture, and follows the rule of law, in fact is following the Bush playbook to the letter. In this case, the DoJ defended the abusive and coercive interrogation techniques used against Fouad. Thank God, though, that we have an independent judiciary. The importance of the writ of habeas corpus and independent judges has never been more clear.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009, and if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
As published on the Huffington Post, CounterPunch, Antiwar.com and ZNet. Cross-posted on The Public Record, Common Dreams, AlterNet and Truthout. Also mentioned by Alan Colmes at Liberaland, Andrew Sullivan on The Atlantic (with an interesting follow-up here) and Scott Horton at Harper’s.
For a sequence of articles dealing with the Guantánamo habeas cases, see: Guantánamo and the Supreme Court: the most important habeas corpus case in modern history and Guantánamo and the Supreme Court: What Happened? (both December 2007), The Supreme Court’s Guantánamo ruling: what does it mean? (June 2008), Guantánamo as Alice in Wonderland (Uighurs’ first court victory, June 2008), What’s Happening with the Guantánamo cases? (July 2008), Government Says Six Years Is Not Long Enough To Prepare Evidence (September 2008), From Guantánamo to the United States: The Story of the Wrongly Imprisoned Uighurs (October 2008), Guantánamo Uyghurs’ resettlement prospects skewered by Justice Department lies (October 2008), Guilt By Torture: Binyam Mohamed’s Transatlantic Quest for Justice (November 2008), After 7 Years, Judge Orders Release of Guantánamo Kidnap Victims (November 2008), Is Robert Gates Guilty of Perjury in Guantánamo Torture Case? (December 2008), A New Year Message to Barack Obama: Free the Guantánamo Uighurs (January 2009), The Top Ten Judges of 2008 (January 2009), No End in Sight for the “Enemy Combatants” of Guantánamo (January 2009), Judge Orders Release of Guantánamo’s Forgotten Child (January 2009), How Cooking For The Taliban Gets You Life In Guantánamo (January 2009), Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics (February 2009), Bad News And Good News For The Guantánamo Uighurs (February 2009), The Nobodies Formerly Known As Enemy Combatants (March 2009), Farce at Guantánamo, as cleared prisoner’s habeas petition is denied (April 2009), Obama’s First 100 Days: A Start On Guantánamo, But Not Enough (May 2009), Judge Condemns “Mosaic” Of Guantánamo Intelligence, And Unreliable Witnesses (May 2009), Pain At Guantánamo And Paralysis In Government (May 2009), Guantánamo: A Prison Built On Lies (May 2009), Free The Guantánamo Uighurs! (May 2009), Guantánamo And The Courts (Part One): Exposing The Bush Administration’s Lies (July 2009), Obama’s Failure To Deliver Justice To The Last Tajik In Guantánamo (July 2009), Obama And The Deadline For Closing Guantánamo: It’s Worse Than You Think (July 2009), How Judge Huvelle Humiliated The Government In Guantánamo Case (Mohamed Jawad, July 2009), As Judge Orders Release Of Tortured Guantánamo Prisoner, Government Refuses To Concede Defeat (Mohamed Jawad, July 2009), Guantánamo As Hotel California: You Can Check Out Any Time You Like, But You Can Never Leave (August 2009), Judge Orders Release From Guantánamo Of Kuwaiti Charity Worker (August 2009), Guantánamo And The Courts (Part Two): Obama’s Shame (August 2009), Guantánamo And The Courts (Part Three): Obama’s Continuing Shame (August 2009), No Escape From Guantánamo: The Latest Habeas Rulings (September 2009), First Guantánamo Prisoner To Lose Habeas Hearing Appeals Ruling (September 2009).
Also see: Justice extends to Bagram, Guantánamo’s Dark Mirror (April 2009), Judge Rules That Afghan “Rendered” To Bagram In 2002 Has No Rights (July 2009), Bagram Isn’t The New Guantánamo, It’s The Old Guantánamo (August 2009), Obama Brings Guantánamo And Rendition To Bagram (And Not The Geneva Conventions) and Is Bagram Obama’s New Secret Prison? (both September 2009).
This from The Talking Dog:
The only thing truly amazing about any of this is how, after all these years of media-conditioning and deep-frame maintenance, the actual revelations of the actual facts are going to sway almost no one from their pre-set opinions.
Those who favor torture because “it works” in fictional accounts on their favorite Fox TV show (count Supreme Court Justice Scalia in this group http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2007/06/scalia_and_tort.html ) will not care a jot that a federal judge has found that torture was used to draw false confessions from an innocent man; “he’s a damned terrorist and he deserved what he got” will be the likeliest response from this crowd. And those who paid attention to what is actually going on just can’t profess being shocked at anything (other than, perhaps, at the fact that the Obama Administration has seamlessly adopted the Bush Administration’s party line on the subject), because we were well aware that the nastiest torture of all isn’t the rack, the thumbscrew or the waterboard, but as duly perfected by the Soviets, Koreans and Chinese, it’s to isolate someone from all other human conduct without any sensory stimulations , and watch them go mad until they do whatever you want them too– in short, standard operating procedure at Guantanamo Bay. After no less than 3 rounds of landmark decisions from the Supreme Court, the courts can no longer avert their eyes from what the government has done here; and in cases like Rabiah’s, it’s just not a handsome picture.
What’s so interesting is both how much and how little are “out there”… and just how difficult it will be to win “hearts and minds” no matter how much “reality” is revealed. Rabiah isn’t likely going anywhere in the near future; after all the propaganda about how “dangerous” he is, politics may make it difficult to actually release him, even though he “won” in court.
Such is also part of the new “reality”.
Thanks, TD. Perceptive about the fixed us-and-them positions, although I always think that opening people’s eyes — even just one person at a time! — is a victory against Cheney’s “dark side.”
I also very much hope that your bleak conclusion is wrong, and that Fouad al-Rabiah will be home in a matter of weeks …
Call me optimistic this evening!
And this from Jeff Kaye:
This is explosive material, heart-rending and blood-boiling. You’ve done an excellent job and I will do what I can to further the story.
This material will also help us in our domestic fight against the torturing psychologist like Larry James.
And my reply:
Thanks, Jeff. I was really caught up in the narrative and it wasn’t until afterwards that I realized that it was crying out for a piece capturing how reverse engineering SERE techniques (derived from the techniques used by the Chinese on captured US pilots in the Korean War) only worked to turn the US into the Chinese, and the Guantanamo prisoners into the captured US pilots. If I had the time, I’d follow up, picking up on all the warnings made by all but the most deranged SERE enthusiasts in the Senate report, who foresaw that this would happen …
Over on the Huffington Post, WorkingClass wrote:
An innocent man was tortured to obtain false confessions. This is not shocking Andy. Its certainly not news to anyone paying attention the last seven years. This is what the United States government does. It tortures innocent people to obtain false confessions.
There will be people on this thread who will swear the judge is wrong and the prisoner in question is actually a terrorist. Dick (five deferments) Cheney will say the man is a threat to civilization and George (clown shoes) Bush will say he is the “worst of the worst”. They are all liars.
This was my reply:
What shocked me is that I first read Fouad al-Rabiah’s tribunal transcript over three years ago, and wrote his story, as he presented it, in my book “The Guantanamo Files,” because it seemed plausible. I had no inkling until last Friday that his elaborate stories were all fabrications, and was disturbed because it’s the first time such a clear example of a torture victim reading from a prepared script has emerged in the public eye. As I mentioned in the article, I’m sure there are other cases, but we haven’t seen them yet, and if some of them involve the 50 or so men that the administration says it wants to keep detained without putting on trial, because of difficulties with the evidence, then it’s crucial that all these cases end up in a habeas court.
The habeas cases are the last bulwark against the tyranny of random detentions in the “War on Terror,” and compared to the District Court judges, both the Obama administration’s Justice Department, which has no shame when it comes to presenting cases that can only bring scorn and derision upon itself, and the interagency Task Force, which operates in private and now seems to be reviewing cases as though deciding elimination rounds in “American Idol,” are, at best, inadequate, and at worst in thrall to Dick Cheney.
Sherry Lowrance wrote:
While this is shocking, it doesn’t surprise me given the scandalous behavior of the last 9 years. False confessions are simply part and parcel of torture. That is one practical reason why torture should not be done. Aside, of course, from the moral reasons. Even after all this news has come out, part of me simply cannot believe that the United States of America *tortures* — it is against everything we stand for. But one look at Bush and (especially) Cheney, and I remember the identity change that has taken place in the last 20-30 years. No longer is the US at the forefront of human rights law and practice. No longer does the United States stand up for what is right in the world. More often, we are seen standing up for the interests of the powerful (usually us), not the people and the underdog. We have lost our heritage. And it is a shame.
Another truly shocking Guantanamo story: ‘Former Gitmo detainee killed in shootout’:
Sometimes actions speak louder than words and many ex- Guantanamo inmates seem to seek out violent jihad. Many of the British returnees have failed to explain their presence in Afghanistan (to learn more about Islam, weddings etc). One famous inmate made out like he was mentally disabled, duping the Americans for years- he returned to his former proffession as a Taliban commander.
I dont doubt that many, if not the majority, were innocent and torture is inexcusable and counter productive re. intelligence. It’s a shame that the Guantanamo regime has made prosecution impossible.
Traditionally, in war time POW’s are held until the hostilities end, unless the POW is proved a non- combatant or a war criminal in which case they are released or prosecuted. Recent wars have had too few troops on the ground to process POW’s and by accident or by design many non threatening, retreating or surrendering enemy combatants are simply wiped out (Gulf war I and II) with the push of a button to no paticular outage- out of sight out of mind maybe.
To ignore the danger posed to innocent civilians around the world by some of these characters and the context of problems in processing irregular combatants, especially with too few troops, is dishonest. Gathering and logging evidence in a war zone is almost impossible.
I’m no fan of Bush, Cheyney and Rumsfeld and I despise torture wherever it occurs but Islamist terrorism and irregular warfare have thrown up unanticipated scenarios, grey areas and holes in international law.
I can’t agree with some of what you say, although I understand why you would want to draw my attention to that linked article. The fact is, however, that there is no evidence that “many ex- Guantanamo inmates seem to seek out violent jihad”; a more proportionate and accurate description would be “a few ex- Guantanamo inmates seem to seek out violent jihad.” See here for examples of the genuinely small numbers involved: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2009/06/06/new-york-times-finally-apologizes-for-false-guantanamo-recidivism-story/
I appreciate you writing the following: “I don’t doubt that many, if not the majority, were innocent and torture is inexcusable and counter productive re. intelligence.” I agree completely, and am glad that you also mention the importance of the Geneva Conventions. I do, however, believe that it’s still possible to run prisoner of war camps according to the Geneva Conventions and to screen prisoners on capture according to Article 5 competent tribunals (pioneered by the US from Vietnam until Cheney and Rumsfeld seized the reins), to separate soldiers from civilians (the non-combatants you’re talking about). Where I differ is on the topic of “war criminals.” I think you’re talking about terrorists, who are criminals, but not war criminals, but I agree about prosecutions. Maj. David Frakt is an expert on war crimes, and his explanation here is enlightening: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2009/08/08/david-frakt-military-commissions-a-catastrophic-failure/
Over on The Public Record, here’s a great comment from Dave “knowbuddhau” Parker:
Gut-wrenching. What really gets me is, the US leadership knew we were detaining and torturing innocents, and then went ahead anyway. But why should that get to me, when the whole enterprise was conducted by a regime that stole the insignia of office to begin with?
In that light, it’s the continuation by Obama of Bush policies, playing from the same infernal playbook of “full-spectrum dominance,” that really stops me cold. Is Obama even in command of the NSA, DOD, etc.? After all, they could assassinate him, but not he, them, right?
“Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive!”
Sir Walter Scott (1771 – 1832)
“I never would have agreed to the formulation of the Central Intelligence Agency back in forty-seven, if I had known it would become the American Gestapo.”
Pres. Harry S Truman (1884-1972), evidently not a student of Scott.
And again on the Huffington Post, alexa07 wrote:
I’m not religious, but bless you Andy Worthington for the work you do. Never has the case for the writ of habeas corpus been more clearly illustrated. President Obama, Michelle Obama please read this article! Judge Kollar-Kotelly is an angel. I hope that Fouad can go home to his family. What unnecessary & cruel injustices have been dealt to this man. I hope that the remainder of his life is better because he surely deserves it.
[...] Andy Worthington Featured Writer Dandelion Salad http://www.andyworthington.co.uk 30 Sept. [...]
This why we have an independent judiciary. Somebody has to be untouched by corruption. Somebody has to love the truth.
The arduous efforts of Mr. Worthington on this issue are to be commended. Unfortunately, as the truth continues to emerge from the dungeons of the Bush-Cheney years, we will encounter many repetitions of the experience of Mr. al-Rabiah.
In response to my reply at 6, WorkingClass wrote:
Thanks. Especially for the second paragraph. I admire your continuing efforts in what must be a horribly discouraging arena. Look at that headline again Andy. I just did. Can you see why I thought it looked like an “Onion” story?
And this was my reply:
Sadly I can, WorkingClass. So this is where we’ve ended up: the truth, the blunt awful truth about the scheming, arrogant, inept and cruel Bush administration officials who dreamed up this whole vile aberration, does indeed sound like a satire in “The Onion” …
And the Talking Dog checks in again:
I hope I’m wrong too, of course. However, Kuwait has hardly been a “lucky passport” thus far (we can ask Fawzi al-Odah himself about that one). The political embarrassment of holding him after the court’s decision may prompt his release…but let’s just say there’s a 2 in 3 chance it will not.
Of course, note the inherent silliness of it all– when one of your commenters notes the “jihadist returning to battlefield” canard involving, unsurprisingly, a Saudi who went through “jihad deprogramming” program, but Team O refuses to let out the Yemenis,many of whom it already acknowledges are either innocent or no threat, unless they go through the useless or worse Saudi program. The cost-benefit analysis between holding and releasing can always have the thumb on the side of “best be SURE and hold these probably innocent guys until death…” forgetting how many thousands of real, actual jihadists will be inspired by the heavyhanded injustice.
And on a cheerier note, Gore Vidal tells us http://women.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/women/the_way_we_live/article6854221.ece that my country is well along the path to dictatorship, so we have that to look forward to. Of course, those of us immersed in these issues have been observing that future for several years now, and wondering why no one else seems peculiarly outraged about it. I suppose I should watch more “reality television” so “I’ll understand” or something.
Thanks, TD, for the reminder of how difficult it is for any Yemenis to get out of Guantanamo (except in coffins). I was amazed that Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed was finally released, over four months after his habeas victory:
Glad you saw the Gore Vidal interview. A friend was reading me highlights in the coffee shop during a typically late lunch.
And as for you watching reality TV … I almost fell off my chair …
Also on the Huffington Post, Thabit wrote:
I am an American Vet , And i am a Muslim and I am Outraged . Why do you think we find such strong resistance to “our message” as americans when this goes on . If an american was treated this way you would be screaming to nuke the ones that did this to them But you wont “look back” for war crimes trials for Cheney Bush Rumsfeld Rice Powell their lawyers that wrote the supporting opinions and the chain of command from Gitmo up. And now muslims should believe you will deal in good faith . No Justice =No trust
Over on The Public Record, the ever-watchful arcticredriver added the following important information to the story:
Fouad Al Rabia and Abdullah Kamel Al Kandari’s CSRT dossiers were among the first I read back when the Associated Press first published them after winning their fight to acquire them through FOIA requests back in 2005.
I too was struck by the credibility of his account. I was struck by two pages of emails included in his CSRT dossier, from a Colonel David Taylor. Taylor’s memos to interrogators concerned their use of “Computerized Voice Stress Analysis”. CVSA is a form of lie detection — but not a reliable form — much less reliable than a traditional polygraph.
In Fouad’s testimony he described to the officers that this new, secret lie detection technique had been used on him, after traditional polygraphs showed he was telling the truth.
Taylor’s memos make clear that interrogators knew the CVSA technique was unreliable. They used it as a psychological ploy — to further frighten subjects they thought were lying. Taylor told interrogators they could continue to use the technique — informally. But they should then destroy the paperwork, because the subjects could call for the results if they ended up facing charges.
I did a google search on Colonel David Taylor after reading this memo. I found a Colonel David Taylor who had been a USAF personnel officer.
This is just as Stephen Abraham told Andy in his interview — Guantanamo was staffed by amateurs. Here we have the officer in charge of maintaining the intelligence files — and he is not an intelligence officer, he is a personnel officer.
A year or so after reading Fouad’s file I read a brief memo for the DIA, where they highlighted the successes of the Guantanamo interrogation efforts. Although they didn’t mention him by name Fouad’s confessions took up about ten percent of the memo, and they were described in very alarmist, most alarming terms.
This was my reply:
Thanks, arcticredriver, for your dedication to the Guantanamo stories. I now recall Fouad talking about the polygraphs, but the information about Col. Taylor is new to me — and important not only because of what it reveals about what you call an additional “psychological ploy — to further frighten subjects they thought were lying,” but also because of your discovery of Taylor’s lack of qualifications and his role as another willing but unqualified volunteer in a mission that had nothing to do with justice and truth, and was, instead, a mission staffed by underqualified or unqualified personnel fulfilling the requirements of a fixed ideology.
The interview with Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham that arcticredriver refers to is here (in two parts):
Over on Facebook, John H. Kennedy wrote:
Is it really so shocking that innocents were tortured in the Bush-Cheney Torture Conspiracy. The really shocking issue is that our Congressional Democrats, Obama and our AG are doing very little to Prosecute the Federal Crimes involved.
SIGN THE PETITIONS http://AngryVoters.Org
This was my reply:
As I keep mentioning, John, it’s not shocking per se that prisoners were tortured into making false confessions (it’s what any sane person would expect from a program that reverse engineered Communist torture techniques designed to produce false confessions from captured US pilots in the Korean War).
What makes Fouad al-Rabiah’s story so shocking… Read More, however, is that the account that has been publicly available since March 2006 sounded so plausible, and that it’s only now that the truth has emerged. Without habeas, we may never have known.
But you’re right about prosecutions, of course — and about the spinelessness of Obama and Holder. I understand the pragmatic reasons for not tearing apart US politics by doing the right thing, but I maintain that, if you compare Cheney’s crimes to those of Nixon, Tricky Dicky was LESS of a paranoid criminal control freak, but he didn’t get away with it.
And more from the Huffington Post:
It is blatantly obvious that those “Justice Department Officials” are incompetent. The case should never have gone before a judge. It is equally obvious that the boss of those officials is just as incompetent. And so on up the ladder. Does it all boil down somehow to an “unholy fraternity” of lawyers simply trying to defend the prestige of their profession? A travesty and a shame, all of it. If there is any consolation it is in that most honorable judge who refused to give them their pound of flesh.
Judge Kollar-Kotelly is an exemplary example of what American justice should be about — the truth.
It is heartbreaking to read of a man engaged in providing aid to victims of war, being tortured and held for years. I hope he sues the hell out of someone at the top levels . Is there any possibility of this happening? is there a fund in which we can donate to help him rebuild his life?
I hope he knows the American government is not representative of all Americans.
This was my reply:
Thanks for the comment. I’m sure Mr. al-Rabiah is well aware that the government is not representative of all Americans — through his civilian lawyers and his military defense lawyers at the very least, who have done such a fine job of exposing the truth in court.
Compensation is many years away — if it ever happens — but I expect that cases will eventually be filed. For now, however, I think the pressure is still on to get other men in Guantanamo their day in court, so they too can have the “evidence” against them tested by a judge.
This sounds exactly like the type of thing Cheney was avoiding in all his recent fear mongering. I wish I were as shocked as the author of this article. I find it morally reprehensible. But shocking? No. A depressing sign of what we can become accustomed to hearing after 8 years of the Bush administration.
Cheney has has fingerprints all over this. He is the one man most responsible for this criminal and morally reprehensible policy. Obama and AG Holder are required by law to prosecute Cheney. They don’t need to do ANY preliminary investigation since Cheney has repeatedly appeared on live television and bragged about his torture policy. Arrest him immediately and prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law!
Thank goodness for this judge and this writer. What a horrible commentary on what the torturers and the imprisoners have been doing in the name of America.
Excellent article. Very sad.
Also sad are those that will deny it to keep their ideology intact.
Disturbing beyond words !
college frat games …….
Thank you Andy
I wish to commend the author for his work in this area. When the truth about Guantanamo and renditions and disappearing people is fully told, Bush and Cheney will be recognized as throwbacks to the dark ages and their rule will be a black eye on America. It is simply incomprehensible that the world will turn to torture as a legitimate interrogation technique.
And it will be because of brave and hard working journalists like Andy Worthington.
This is neither shocking nor a surprise, this is what you get when you start torturing people, instead of interrogating them in a humane manner. I want to wake up and be one of the good guys, again.
Thanks for another excellent piece, Andy. The Obama administration should be ashamed for continuing to follow in the footsteps of the lawless Bush administration. History will not be kind to any of them and rightfully so.
And JustifiablyParanoid commented:
While I agree with you, I’m less concerned with history and more concerned with current affairs. If history judges those in power, it will also judge those of us who collectively allowed those in power to carry on with their malice.
When Bush set us on this crooked path, and Obama decided to follow it as if it could take him somewhere meaningful, he ignored everything about the laws of war, the treaties with our allies and enemies, and the precepts of civil law laid down over 700 years ago, by which our Founders chose to begin our nation. In short, that ignoramus from Yale decided that history would serve no place in guiding us through his term, … He’d start from scratch, with a bar room mentality, and a frat boy’s sense of intuition, … and a sidekick, Cheney, who, for all of his pasty, balding pudginess, … loved to talk about the “dark side”, … as if a real trip there would not fill his Depends to overflowing.
Obama seemed to have the good sense to walk away from the practices and techniques of those two predecessors, … but for whatever reason, seems not to be able to disentangle us, or himself, from Gitmo, or Black Sites, or even to stay the course in cleaning the CIA of the perpetrators of crimes, … for fear of bruising their morale.
The real trial for America is not whether we could fall into these sorts of traps, of moral depradation. Almost every nation has at some point. No, the trial is whether we can re-emerge as a nation that declines them once again, and leads by example away from them. Thus far we have failed, and Obama has failed to lead us
And AAKAlan wrote:
Our founding fathers were incredibly smart. More than two hundred years ago, they understood that Habeas Corpus would be the only protection for the individual against the state. It was the suspsension of Habeas Corpus that let Hitler kill millions of Jews, Gypsies and gays with impunity.
Our own government suspended Habeas Corpus surreptitiously, by creating an offshore prison and torture chamber. They knew exactly what they were doing. They knew they were breaking the Constitution, they knew they were breaking our laws, and Holder and Obama know it, too. That’s why they won’t bring those who broke our nation to justice – they intend to follow through on the same abject and cruel policies.
Shame on all of them.
We need a real Justice commission to force accountability on those who refuse to take responsibility for their reprehensible actions. If Obama won’t do it and Congress won’t do it, then we need to use the Judicial system to bring them to justice.
I really detest the America we have become under these S.O.B.s.
Only a few individuals like you, Andy, and Judge Kollar-Ketelly seem to be willing to save this democracy.
If I can help, please tell me how.
Following on from our exchange at 3 and 4 above, Jeff Kaye wrote:
I don’t know if you’ve been reading me lately, but I am very hot on the trail as to why they reverse-engineered the SERE techniques. Yes, it was in part to get the false confessions… but they could have gotten the false confessions via isolation and sleep deprivation and fear alone. (In fact, that’s about all they needed to get the false confessions from al-Rabiah.) The EITs were part of an experimental paradigm — literally a set of human experiments — and the experiments were first organized within the CIAs Office of Technical Services, the same part of CIA that ran MKULTRA and associated programs. I’ve been out front on this, but Physicians for Human Rights is right there with it, and now I know that the mainstream press is on it too. I spent 1/2 hour talking to a BBC reporter about it earlier this week… and they called me! I know the U.S. press is working on this too.
The false confessions story is huge, and I don’t think anyone has made it as clear as you that the confessions were made to create a cover story for the sloppy and careless and cruel gathering of prisoners at Guantanamo and elsewhere. The whole Al Qaeda thing could have been handled as police action, or small scale covert ops. What the U.S. did was really go over to the dark side, invading countries, letting those who wanted to practice torture and human experimentation of the most gross sort go hogwild.
You see, it makes no sense to go with SERE for false confessions alone. It never made sense to me (though obviously they did do that). SERE has been a laboratory for the U.S. for decades. I’ve written on this more than once, I had no idea until recently how much that was the case. I’m told by those who are supposed to know that more on this will break in the next weeks and months.
And my reply:
I’ve been trying to keep up!
What gets me is not that senior officials were after false confessions, as I find myself unable to buy into that, but that they decided to use SERE for real world interrogations, despite all the warnings in the Senate report. For me, the bottom line is that senior officials and psychiatrists/psychologists bought into the notion that violence was the only way to “break” prisoners who wouldn’t cooperate and that it all stemmed from that (though with unacknowledged sadism on the part of all concerned). Do tell me if you think I’ve missed something here.
Where you’ve opened a whole new can of worms is with the CIA history of involvement in human experimentation, which suggests that some of those involved in the program (deep in the CIA?) had an even deeper and darker motive, and I’m very glad to hear that reporters are starting to pick up on this.
And then Jeff wrote:
I’ve been reading Kollar-Kotely’s ruling, and as you’ve noted, even with redactions, it’s a shocking tale of a torture regime out of control. I was wondering if I could use your picture of al Rabiah from your website to go with an FireDogLake article.
I’m mainly going to highlight your points, with quotes and credit to you, and a few other commenters. My own contribution will be on the Army Field Manual angle. It’s the old AFM to which she refers, and was in force at the time of his interrogations. For one thing, thanks to her page number quotes, even though redacted, we can know they used the “Fear Up approach” on al Rabiah. But the biggest revelation I can add is that the “frequent flyer” sleep deprivation approach, forbidden by the old AFM is allowed in Appendix M, in a kind of modified form (must have 4 hrs continuous sleep in a 24 hour period, but doesn’t have to be the same 4 hours each night, and changes of location, noted in connection with the sleep instruction, are only said to need “oversight”; they are not limited). Furthermore, while threats, such as the threat of rendition made to al Rabiah, are forbidden in both old and new AFM, the prohibition in the new AFM is only made in connection with Enemy Prisoners of War, and while it’s not proactively made against those who don’t meet the govt’s bogus illegal enemy combatant category (for which Appendix M is reserved), the specificity of the threat prohibition leaves it open for misuse.
Anyway, great, great story, and you’ve given it legs. I saw that Alan Colmes, of all people, picked up your story from The Public Record.
This was my reply:
The photo’s from the Kuwaiti Freedom site established many years ago to campaign for the Kuwaiti prisoners, so please go ahead and use it — it’s in the public domain.
Excellent that you’re getting an opportunity to refer to Appendix M again. After hearing a few weeks ago that Bagram is again being used for renditions, it seems clear that all the elements of a supposedly legal and humane framework are in place for abuse and torture to continue. Where are the voices of reason advocating FBI interrogators and criminal trials?
Did you see my Bagram articles?
I was particularly concerned that the Geneva Conventions are not being reintroduced, and that the only explanation for this is that the military has now got so used to interrogating prisoners without rights that it believes it is justified in having unilaterally rewritten the Conventions.
And Jeff’s reply:
Obama/Gates are getting a nearly free ride from the press on Bagram.
As for FBI interrogators, they may be better than DoD, but they have shown a disturbing proclivity to engage in threats, as the narrative of many prisoners has shown. The AZ story is painted, too, as something cleaner for the FBI, but a close look at the events shows they were willing for months to be Mutt to DoD/CIAs Jeff. I know some FBI complained, and the story is nuanced. If I get time, I’ll write an article to make my case.
This from regular correspondent Charlie Ehlen:
Wow! This is blockbuster stuff!!!!!
I find it really amazing, thankfully so, that there IS a judge in America with this woman’s smarts and courage. Bravo for her. It is way past time for the truth to be told about the abuses being done BY the “good guys” (Americans).
Man, those who are obtaining the false confessions make me very ashamed to be an American.
Thank you for your long and excellent work uncovering these abuses. I just hope that my country (is it any more?) America, can and will recover from this sordid episode.
[...] A Truly Shocking Guantánamo Story: Judge Confirms That An Innocent Man Was Tortured To Make False C… – By Andy Worthington on Kuwaitis in Guantanamo – In four years of researching and writing about Guantánamo, I have become used to uncovering shocking information, but for sheer cynicism, I am struggling to think of anything that compares to the revelations contained in the unclassified ruling in the habeas corpus petition of Fouad al-Rabiah, a Kuwaiti prisoner whose release was ordered last week […] [...]
After this article was published on CounterPunch, I received the following message;
Your piece at Counterpunch, for all its predictablity in its logic and conclusions, has served to further enrage me. That the perpetrators of all the violence associated with the naked aggression unleashed in Iraq and Afghanistan (not to mention innumerable other instances) would employ such inhumane practices, as you chronicle, in the detention of “illegal combatants” is a logical progression. That they would then shamefacedly employ such transparently vacuous and (heavily redacted) arguments to justify their inhumanity defies comprehension.
What also enrages me is that so few of my fellow citizens take the time to analyze such erudite and well-documented exposes such as yours, such that we grope, as a nation, into the near future and beyond without a singular clue about the gravity and insidious
nature of what has been done and continues to be done in our name by such supposedly disparate entities as the Bush and Obama administrations. The brightest minds and the most reasoned arguments (such as yours) seem to have no effect on the tsunami of (self-induced and self-perpetuated) collective stupidity in which we, as a nation and as individuals, are engulfed. Please, sir, continue with your outstanding work. As a concerned observer, and sympathizer of what I perceive to be your message, you are a true inspiration. Thank you.
[...] A Truly Shocking Guantánamo Story: Judge Confirms That An Innocent Man Was Tortured To Make False Confessions http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2009/09/30/a-truly-shocking-guantanamo-story-judge-confirms-that-an… [...]
[...] Andy Worthington says he hasn’t seen a worse case then this in all his time who has been investigating Guantanamo for years: In four years of researching and writing about Guantánamo, I have become used to uncovering shockin… [...]
[...] On Friday (at half past midnight in the UK), I was delighted to prop up my wilting eyelids to talk to leading progressive radio host Jeff Farias about the latest disturbing developments in the Guantánamo story. The particular spur for the interview was the recent — and electrifying — District Court ruling in the habeas corpus petition of the Kuwaiti prisoner Fouad al-Rabiah, which I covered in detail in my article, “A Truly Shocking Guantánamo Story: Judge Confirms That An Innocent Man Was Tortured To Make False C….” [...]
[...] by withering criticism from the judges involved (see the cases of Abdul Rahim al-Ginco and Fouad al-Rabiah for the most severe [...]
[...] Judge Confirms That An Innocent Man Was Tortured To Make False Confessions 6 10 2009 Judge Confirms That An Innocent Man Was Tortured [...]
[...] who have not succumbed to a witless parroting of Dick Cheney’s hollow propaganda, and even though judges in US courts continue to demonstrate that, behind the hype and hyperbole, the majority of these men are not “terrorists” at [...]
Ivan Hecko wrote:
That story is really something getting rather too close to pre-war Germany. But if we look at it in wider context, it can even become “logical!”
You have probably not noticed that the FBI experts, on seeing the WTC buildings fall, assigned the codeword PENTTBOM to the case, which is an abbreviation of Pentagon Twin Towers Bombing (type that word into Google if you do not believe). So, logically the next step should have been a test of the presence of explosives in the ruins. To this day, such test, which could perhaps cost 50 USD, has not been officially performed. Instead we were presented with hundreds of pages of nonsense, which must have cost hundreds of thousands. I know of two unofficial tests on explosives in the WTC dust, both positive, one of them presented twice on Danish TV. Now to the context with your article.
If those buildings have not fallen down because of being hit by airplanes and the fire (minus WTC 7, no airplane here, no burning fuel, just office material in a corner), but have been destroyed by explosives, the whole business must have been organised by someone laying those explosives, wiring them, and coordinating this with the people hired to fly the planes. Logically, if those people wanted to show American citizens that they were attacked by the terrorists, they had to get hold of some (those outsourcing the hijacking of the planes — and not involved directly — presumably had immunity promise). So, they invaded Afghanistan, caught arbitrarily some people and then had to produce terrorists out of them.
My theory of the “history of present terrorism” is fully compatible with what you have found out. That indicates that the torture business is dangerous to poke into: If the “ruling people of the US” admit that all those people are innocent, more people will question the WTC demolition and all following events, with a possibility looming behind of “who is really ruling the US — looks a lot like a mafia”, “who is the real axis of evil”, and … Note that I said “ruling people of the US” because if the WTC was demolished by explosives, it would mean that US is NOT governed by its constitutional institutions (that is also why an official test for explosives will never be done). The unbelievable attitude of the whole US administration towards torture (with non-US citizens as objects of course) clearly indicates that this is (a part of) a very dangerous subject, and quite supports my theory (it is not really just mine of course, I have appropriated it for the purpose of this discussion).
thank you for the article,
best regards, Ivan
I also received the following message:
I don’t know why you would think it hard to believe that the U.S. could have sunk so low. After all you have written and all you have researched — I read almost all your articles in Counterpunch. “A truly shocking story” — well, it isn’t so shocking, really, is it? Do you still think the words that are bandied about are TRUE? Freedom — liberty — democracy etc.
I suggest watching “Body of Lies.” It is just a fictional movie, but it portrays the way the military and the CIA operate. F*** civilians, f*** the innocent translators, f*** almost everybody. What the heck IS their motivation? I guess that is the hardest for me to understand. Ultimate self-destruction, it would seem.
Don’t you ever wonder sometimes if Bin Laden is for real? Or is he just made up too?
Liz P., Elgin, IL.
This was my reply:
Thanks for the message. I was only surprised because of the specific context, because I’d read Fouad’s “confessions” so many years ago, and had found them more or less plausible. In general, what worries me more is what kind of tortured lies emerged from the “black sites” and how far that web extended, drawing in more innocent men or tangential figures, who were then tortured to draw in more innocent men and tangential figures, as I wrote about at length here:
[...] cleared by a court three weeks ago, whose story, as revealed by Judge Kollar-Kotelly in her ruling, laid bare the awful truth that, although he, like al-Mutairi, was a charity worker seized by mistake, he had been tortured in [...]
[...] Here’s the update on Fouad al-Rabiah’s [...]
[...] the comments of Judge Coleen Kollar-Kotelly, in ordering the release of Kuwaiti detainee Fouad Mamoud al-Rabiah after years of seven years of illegal imprisonment: “The Court is unwilling to credit confessions [...]
[...] A Truly Shocking Guantanamo Story: Judge Confirms That An Innocent Man Was Tortured To Make False Confessions – Gitmo detainee al-Rabiah, a 42-year old father of four children [...]
[...] be repatriated because of fears that they will be tortured in their homeland, while others, like Fouad al-Rabiah, a Kuwaiti who was tortured until he made a false confession that was used by the government to [...]
[...] torture; in other words, those against whom there is, in fact, nothing that resembles evidence, as District Court judges have been discovering in the prisoners’ habeas corpus petitions for the last 13 [...]
[...] Colleen Kollar-Kotelly granted his habeas corpus petition, and ordered his release, she revealed the most extraordinary — and extraordinarily depressing –story. This shone the most unflinching light on Guantánamo as a place where men who were rounded up for [...]
[...] 2009), First Guantánamo Prisoner To Lose Habeas Hearing Appeals Ruling (September 2009), A Truly Shocking Guantánamo Story: Judge Confirms That An Innocent Man Was Tortured To Make False C… (September 2009), 75 Guantánamo Prisoners Cleared For Release; 31 Could Leave Today (September [...]
[...] Convening Authority of the Military Commissions]. Worthington describes the case of the Kuwaiti, [Fouad] al-Rabiah, an innocent man who, [under torture], told interrogators what they wanted to hear and has been [...]
[...] also spoke about the Bush administration’s potent propaganda regarding Guantánamo, the “tortured narratives” extracted from the prisoners at Guantánamo, which are only finally being exposed in their [...]
[...] Now, however, we might as well give up all pretense that this is the case. Just as people were tortured in Guantánamo to produce false confessions that could be used in show trials, like every other totalitarian [...]
[...] whose confessions were tainted by threats of torture, and a Kuwaiti businessman who had been tortured in Guantánamo until he came up with false confessions that were only finally exposed by a judge last September. [...]
[...] and the extent to which “detainees [had] implicated other detainees” (and, it should be noted, themselves), so that, by the end of the year, when the administration announced that 116 prisoners had now [...]
[...] that serious mistakes were made in rounding up prisoners in the first place, and that there are fundamental problems with much of the supposed evidence against the prisoners, which was, for the most part, extracted [...]
[...] These are the kinds of allegations that plague the government’s supposed evidence, and in the majority of the 34 habeas petitions decided in favor of the prisoners, judges have been swift to deride claims like these as unreliable, noting, after being given access to interrogation logs and other related material, that they were obtained through the torture, coercion or bribery of other prisoners or of the prisoners themselves. [...]
[...] incessantly for four years — to discover that this had happened in the case of a Kuwaiti, Fouad al-Rabiah, who had been trained to repeat a false confession about meeting Osama bin Laden and running a [...]
[...] incessantly for four years — to discover that this had happened in the case of a Kuwaiti, Fouad al-Rabiah, who had been trained to repeat a false confession about meeting Osama bin Laden and running a [...]
[...] A Truly Shocking Guantanamo Story: Judge Confirms That An Innocent Man Was Tortured To Make False Confessions – Gitmo detainee al-Rabiah, a 42-year old father of four children [...]
[...] exposing how much of the government’s supposed evidence consists of unreliable statements made by the prisoners themselves or by their fellow prisoners, and also exposing how torture, coercion and the bribery of prisoners [...]
[...] exposing how much of the government’s supposed evidence consists of unreliable statements made by the prisoners themselves or by their fellow prisoners, and also exposing how torture, coercion and the bribery of prisoners [...]
[...] has won only 16. Much of what has been confirmed about unacceptable evidence based on statements made by the prisoners themselves (under torture or duress) or by unreliable witnesses in Guantánamo or in other “War on Terror” [...]
[...] by judges, with an objectivity that eluded the Task Force — as, for example, in the cases of Fouad al-Rabiah, a Kuwaiti put forward by President Bush for a trial by military commission, who was freed after a [...]
[...] people has been to extract false confessions and to falsely implicate other innocents. (See here, here and here.). Stating, “but we’re at war,” as do Newt Gingrich and other statist [...]
[...] Boumediene: My Guantanamo Nightmare (related: this, this, this, this and [...]
[...] a court declaration this spring, Kuwaiti citizen Fouad Al Rabiah, a 20-year airline employee, father of four, and college graduate from universities in Scotland and [...]
[...] Gitmo open and continuing the needless torture of innocent people to extract false confessions and falsely implicate others, and, of course, Obama’s signing the Pinochet-Chile-like NDAA into law, itself a “clear [...]
[...] how much of the government’s supposed evidence consists of unreliable statements made by the prisoners themselves or by their fellow prisoners, and also exposing how torture, coercion and the bribery of prisoners [...]
[…] (also a child at the time of capture) whose confessions were tainted by threats of torture, and a Kuwaiti businessman who had been tortured in Guantánamo until he came up with false confessions that were only finally exposed by a judge last September. […]
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