Are you a film-maker and an anti-torture activist? If so, then a video contest, for which I’m a judge, will be of interest to you. The Tackling Torture Video Contest, launched in Minneapolis on June 30 by by Tackling Torture at the Top, a committee of WAMM (Women Against Military Madness), is open to both amateur and professional filmmakers.
Videos can be anything from 30 seconds to 5 minutes in duration. The contest is open to any citizen of any nation, but all videos must be in English or have full translations of all sound and text into English as part of the videos themselves.
There are four prizes in the competition: a $500 jury prize in the “serious” category; a $500 jury prize in the “humorous/satirical” category; and two $300 Audience Favorite prizes, one for “serious” and one for “humorous/satirical.”
After the deadline, 20 finalists will be announced. The selection will be made by members of Tackling Torture and the Top and WAMM. At this point the videos will be made available for audience voting, and the competition’s five judges will also view the films and make their decisions. Judging will be competed by January 30, 2014, and the winners will be announced on February 7, 2014, on the 12th anniversary of George W. Bush’s notorious memo authorizing the use of torture by declaring that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to prisoners seized in the “war on terror.”
The judges for the competition are:
This is how the organisers describe the contest:
Despite US and international law prohibiting the use of torture, the US has used torture, often euphemistically called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” in its so-called “War on Terror.” Despite the law, despite documented proof that such efforts produce inadmissable evidence, false information and false confessions, and despite the blowback of such efforts, the US continues to shield the lawbreakers –both those who committed and those who authorized torture — by “looking forward, not backward,” and there is evidence that such techniques continue to be used and falsely justified.
Through TV shows like “24” and Hollywood films like the commercially successful “Zero Dark Thirty” and the new documentary “Manhunt,” the US’s use of torture is presented as viable, and even necessary to our country’s security. Unfortunately, a majority of the under-informed and misinformed public now thinks that torture is necessary and useful.
Tackling Torture at the Top, through this contest, hopes to produce entertaining and informative videos that contradict this harmful and inhumane view, educate the public, raise questions about the direction of our foreign policy and our use of the military, and by so doing, give the public the awareness and courage to rein in our country’s out of control security apparatus.
The contest managers are Tom Dickinson and Coleen Rowley (former FBI agent and whistleblower) on behalf of Tackling Torture at the Top Committee of WAMM, Minnesota, USA. For further information contact them here and also see their Facebook page.
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and 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) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).
To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the four-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.
On Facebook, J.d. Gordon wrote:
Torture is never acceptable, and should be shunned by all of mankind. On that we agree. Though it’s important to TRUTHFULLY, and ACCURATELY define it. Terror suspects, Afghans Habibullah and Taxi Driver Dilawar were tortured in Afghanistan during 2002 — and 15 soldiers were charged, some went to prison. It was terrible, and justice was served for the guilty. That said, let’s shift the focus to coercive interrogations… a grand total of 3 detainees in CIA custody were waterboarded (none at Gitmo). But if one argues that being wet, cold and scared, but otherwise unharmed, is torture, I would respectfully disagree. As for the Gitmo hunger strikers, the video starring Mos Def is a complete joke. I know of a little girl named Natalie who can handle tube feeding far more bravely than Mos Def… so either he is incredibly weak, or a great actor. See clip here… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJIFOCbPTjo
Coleen Rowley wrote:
J.d., your facts are wrong. Dilawar and many of the others who were tortured (and at least 100 were killed) were not even “suspects” (in the sense that there was no “reasonable suspicion”) but were completely innocent. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time and were rounded up or were turned in for bounties. 86 of those still held at Guantanamo have been cleared by the Bush Administration. Waterboarding is torture and there are prior court cases that say so as well as a majority now of even US officials admit that waterboarding is torture. The new FBI Director James Comey who signed off on the “harsh interrogation” procedures when he was Assistant Attorney General admitted that waterboarding is torture and also that sleep deprivation for days on end while shackled is also torture. Other tactics are merely considered to be cruel and debilitating abuse but also illegal. And what was the point? Torture would be the least likely means to gain information or intelligence quickly.
Thanks, Coleen. There was no adequate punishment for the murders of Dilawar and others in Afghanistan, J.d. In fact, as you should know, Capt. Carolyn Wood and her team were sent from Bagram to Abu Ghraib, and everyone knows what happened there. Read my 2009 article about murders in Afghanistan, “When Torture Kills: Ten Murders In US Prisons In Afghanistan,” if you want to know more: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2009/07/01/when-torture-kills-ten-murders-in-us-prisons-in-afghanistan/
And, J.d., your attempts to downplay the use of torture and the pain of force-feeding is really rather profoundly unpleasant.
Dessie Harris wrote:
Well stated Andy, Coleen and J.d.
Phil Fellows wrote:
J.d. Gordon sounds like a typical apologist in DC for the real perps behind 9/11 and other false-flag ops in pursuit of furthering the evil empire of the once USA for the Banksters in control : http://noliesradio.org/archives/category/archived-shows/kevin-barrett-show ~ Unfortunately for him, more youngsters are becoming aware of the truth and the places he is bound might reverse the treatment just because : YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE 911 TRUTH : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YrYsP5m_o9w !!!
J.d. Gordon wrote:
Thanks, Andy & friends, I enjoyed reading your feedback tonight. For Andy Worthington, though we disagree sharply on Al Qaeda, Gitmo, U.S. detention & interrogation operations, and other foreign policy/national security matters, you are always courteous and a gentleman — I do appreciate it. Like our mutual friend Clive Stafford-Smith, I’m sure there’s many things we probably agree on — from many environmental issues, to our fondness of Shakespeare and Morrissey. I just saw the Pet Shop Boys here in D.C. on Thursday — fantastic show! That said, like with Clive, I will ALWAYS challenge factually-challenged assertions related to important foreign policy & national security topics which impact the U.S. and U.K. For Coleen, we are all entitled to our opinions — but not our own facts. Please re-read the court case of Bagram detainee abuse — note that several U.S. soldiers were sent to prison. And rightly so. And yes, Dilawar was a terror suspect. And yes, many suspects were innocent. But, if you think separating the “innocent from the guilty” in the fog of war in Afghanistan was easy, I can assure it, was not. Which is why at least 5% of the Gitmo detainees who were sent there, should never have been. Including several juveniles. Bad decisions, obviously. Yet, those detainees are long gone. Of those over 600 released, roughly 30% have returned to terrorism — including a suicide bomber in Iraq, and top Al Qaeda leaders in Yemen, and Taliban leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I’ve written extensively on this subject, and can send you links to the data. Thanks Dessie for your kind comments. For Phil — I enjoyed your candor. If only more people just came right out and said it, like you did, describing my country as the “evil empire”, most people in the U.S. would be a lot less confused about Gitmo. And more broadly, less confused about the new Cold War waged by the international left — now led by champions of radical Islam instead of communism against the U.S., Israel and Europe. Thanks for your honesty. And for all, I liked reading Andy’s column. Please take a moment to read one of mine about Gitmo hunger strikers. Maybe it will provide a different perspective than you are accustomed to.
Andy, when Commander Gordon was in his final year of military service he complained to the management of the Miami Herald, the newspaper where the admirable Carol Rosenberg works. Rosenberg has been the most diligent and insightful reporter on Guantanamo. So she had frequent interactions with Commander Gordon and other Public Affairs officers (spin doctors).
Gordon’s letters of complaint said that Rosenberg was sexually harrassing him.
Andy, do you remember whether Commander Gordon claimed that the abuse he suffered at Ms Rosenberg’s tongue was “worse than the abuse the detainees claimed.” Am I remembering this correctly?
Here are URLs to copies of the three pages of his complaint. (Although they have a watermark I believe they are in the public domain, as works of a US Federal employee)
I draw the attention of you and your readers to the 3rd and 4th paragraphs of page 2. So one of the key comments he claimed Ms Rosenberg had made to him, which he described as sexual harrassment, was a question as to whether he would like to have something stuffed up his backside. But from the context Commander Gordon didn’t supply, in his complaint I think we should assume Commander Gordon had shown insensitivity to the pain Mustafa al Hawsawi was feeling after being forced to undergo an anal exam.
As you and I and most of your readers know, the suspects have to submit to an anal exam prior to being brought to the hearing room. These anal exams are nominally supposed to make sure the captive isn’t hiding a weapon up their back-side. They can be extremely painful, if performed by a guard who feels authorized to get some unofficial “payback” for 9-11.
I strongly suspect that rather than making a comment intended to sexually harrass Commander Gordon, her comment was one triggered by his insensitivity at laughing at the suspect pain from his recent anal exam. If Commander Gordon really can’t understand why he shouldn’t mock the pain a suspect is feeling after an anal exam, then I don’t think he is qualified to comment on the abuse and torture of the captives.
In a fair justice system the usual order is (1) charge; (2) trial; (3) verdict; (4) sentence; (5) then punishment. Commander Gordon has forgotten one of the key values Americans used to honor — the principle of the presumption of innocence.
Commander Gordon is being disingeneous. He acknowledges that Habibullah and Dilawar were tortured. But John Yoo’s memo defined torture as having to “induce pain equivalent to death, or organ failure.” Commander Gordon is neglecting to recognize that every single newly arrived Bagram captive was subjected to the same extremely painful and potentially deadly “softening up” techniques as Habibullah and Dilawar.
To my way of thinking since they were all subjected to a deadly technique that killed Habibullah, Dilawar, and possibly other individuals, they all endured pain equivalent to death or organ failure.
Commander Gordon is being misleading about the ongoing abuse suffered by the Guantanamo captives.
Andy as you and I and your readers know, international agreements don’t just outlaw torture — they outlaw the threat of torture. Yet we know that threats of torture were routine. Ibrahim Zeidan testified before his CSR Tribunal that interrogators showed captives images of Abu Zubaydah “with the marks of torture on him” in order to get them to confess.
We know captives were subjected to sleep deprivation — we know that staff covertly continued the infamous “frequent flyer program” long after it had been officially withdrawn.
We know that captives were subject to extremes of hot and cold.
We know that the riot squad was called in to beat captives senseless on slight or nonexistent excuses.
So Commander Gordon’s claims that no one was abused at Guantanamo are just not credible.
Of course Commander Gordon’s claims that GIs were appropriately punished for the deaths of Habibullah and Dilawar is patent nonsense. 15 MPs did face charges. But no one from the military intelligence unit assigned to Bagram faced charges. Of the GIs who did face charges, they weren’t charged with murder — they faced much less serious charges, for general abuse. Some of them were acquitted. Those who were sentenced faced trivial sentences. None of them served more than a few months in detention. Some were docked pay, but, if I recall correctly, there were no dishonorable discharges.
And, in particular, none of the military intelligence personnel faced charges. As you noted above Carolyn Wood was not charged. She was promoted, and awarded her first of two wildly inappropriate Bronze Stars. She was awarded a second wildly inappropriate Bronze Star for her role at Abu Ghriab.
Recently there was a push, in the US Congress, for reforms in the US military justice system. The trigger for the push was the epidemic of sexual assault in the US military, and the widespread failure to charge those accused of sexual assault. The reform sought was to strip from commanding officers the traditional vice-regal-like authority to decide when their subordinates should face charges, and when they shouldn’t. It is up to commanding officers to decide whether an article 15 preliminary hearing should be convened. If an article 15 hearing is convened the commanding officer can ignore its recommendations, when it recommends a court martial. The commanding officer sets the charges the court martial focuses on. And the commanding officer has the authority to set aside the verdict the court martial reaches. They have the authority to set aside the sentence reached.
Commanding officers don’t have to explain these arbitrary decisions they make.
Maybe, in the days before radio, it made sense to delegate this level of vice-regal authority, because, in a distant theatre, it could take months to hear back from Washington.
This push in Congress came because commanding officers were, generally, just not taking sexual assault seriously enough to lay charges.
But, in the failure to charge Captain Wood we see another aspect of what a mistake it is to continue to give her commanding officers the decision as to whether she should have been charged. The Fay-Jones inquiry recommended a page full of charges they thought she should face. But even though they were senior generals, Wood was not in their direct chain of command. So they couldn’t charge her. The officers who could charge her were complicit in her crimes. The acts for which the Fay-Jones inquiry recommended she face charges for were, I suspect, the same actions for which her commanding officers had promoted her and commended her for medals. If they were to turn around and charge her they would have to admit they were complicit in her crimes for promoting her.
I think that push in Congress to take away authority over sexual assault charges failed. I don’t know if commanding officers have this kind of unaccountable vice-regal authority in UK and commonwealth militaries.
Worth noting, after Abu Ghraib Captain Wood was made an instructor at the Army’s military intelligence college — where she taught interrogation techniques. No, I am not making this up.
Yes, Commander Gordon did claim he “had been abused worse than the detainees”.
I’m glad you appreciate me being courteous, J.d., and I understand that some soldiers, as at Abu Ghraib, were punished for their actions in Afghanistan, although those sentences were extremely light. See here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/4182952.stm
What you also ignore, as the Bush administration did with the Abu Ghraib scandal, is the chain of command that led to these terrible and unforgiveable practices. As with Abu Ghraib, it is not accurate to describe what happened as being the work of “a few bad apples.” Col. Lawrence Wilkerson gave a good analysis of the command responsibility in 2006: http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2006/03/sixm-m07.html
Also, you must understand that it is simply unacceptable to describe Dilawar as a “terror suspect.” He was seized during the US occupation of Afghanistan, in wartime, and terrorism had nothing to do with it. He was apparently seized after a rocket attack on a base, which is what happens in war, and should not be confused with a terrorist attack. More importantly, however, he was picked up by an extremely unreliable ally of the US (the warlord Pacha Khan Zadran, who was later dropped as an ally), and, when he was delivered to Bagram, instead of being treated humanely, he was murdered. As I explained in my article from 2009 that I linked to :
The second victim was a taxi driver named Dilawar, who was brought in the day after the death of Mullah Habibullah. According to his elder brother, he was “a shy man, a very simple man,” who lived a quiet life with his wife, his young daughter and the rest of his family. On the day of his capture, he picked up three passengers and was passing Camp Salerno, a US base, when he was stopped at a checkpoint by soldiers serving under Jan Baz Khan, the nephew of Pacha Khan Zadran, who were looking for the men who had launched a rocket attack on the base earlier that day. Finding a broken walkie-talkie on one of the passengers and an electric stabilizer for a generator in the boot of the car, they delivered the four men to the Americans at Bagram as suspects.
They were among the last men to be implicated by Jan Baz Khan, and Dilawar’s passengers — Parkhudin, a 25-year old farmer, Abdul Rahim, a 27-year old baker, and Zakkim Shah, a 19-year old farmer — were certainly the last three to be sent to Guantánamo on Khan’s advice, because the Americans finally realized that their supposed ally was actually using them for his own ends, and imprisoned him in Bagram in February 2004.
Thank you again for your important contributions.
I’m particularly impressed by your analysis of how all the men murdered in US custody in Afghanistan were tortured to death:
“To my way of thinking since they were all subjected to a deadly technique that killed Habibullah, Dilawar, and possibly other individuals, they all endured pain equivalent to death or organ failure.”
Prosecutions need to follow.
Please remember the purpose of torture. They don’t do it for fun. Even the worst psychopath must eventually struggle with his conscience. They know that the information derived through torture is unreliable. Occasionally confessions can be useful, but people who torture are not above summary execution. The purpose of torture is to intimidate others who might resist authority.
It is vital that we understand this, so that our work to end torture does not support their purpose. The ideal response to torture is an ever growing number willing to risk everything in order to resist. Together, we are strong. Viva la lucha!
Thanks for the thoughtful comments, Vernon. Very good to hear from you.
Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
Email Andy Worthington
Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist: