Thursday, March 03, 2005

Home Front 

You have probably already seen Dana Priest's account of an Afghan detainee stripped naked, chained to the floor of his cells, and left to freeze to death at an American holding facility known as the "Salt Pit":
After a quick autopsy by a CIA medic -- "hypothermia" was listed as the cause of death -- the guards buried the Afghan, who was in his twenties, in an unmarked, unacknowledged cemetery used by Afghan forces, officials said. The captive's family has never been notified; his remains have never been returned for burial. He is on no one's registry of captives, not even as a "ghost detainee," the term for CIA captives held in military prisons but not registered on the books, they said . . . .

The fact that the Salt Pit case has remained secret for more than two years reflects how little is known about the CIA's treatment of detainees and its handling of allegations of abuse. The public airing of abuse at Abu Ghraib prompted the Pentagon to undertake and release scathing reports about conduct by military personnel, to revise rules for handling prisoners, and to prosecute soldiers accused of wrongdoing. There has been no comparable public scrutiny of the CIA, whose operations and briefings to Congress are kept classified by the administration.
(And Sen. Pat Roberts of the Senate Intelligence Committee plans to keep it that way.)

Our distinguished colleague Billmon artfully interposes the text of Priest's article with excerpts from Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number, the Argentinian journalist Jacobo Timerman's record of his imprisonment and torture under the Peronist regime. But we were even more shaken to read a story unearthed by Eric Alterman of Altercation. It appeared in the NY Daily News on Feb. 20, and has been roundly ignored since:
The detainees - none of whom were ultimately charged with anything related to terrorism - alleged in sworn affidavits and in interviews with Justice Department officials that correction officers:
  • Humiliated them by making fun of - and sometimes painfully squeezing - their genitals.
  • Deprived them of regular sleep for weeks or months.
  • Shackled their hands and feet before smashing them repeatedly face-first into concrete walls . . . .
  • Forced them in winter to stand outdoors at dawn while dressed in light cotton prison garb and no shoes, sometimes for hours.
"In December, they left me outside for more than four hours [wearing] only a jumpsuit and a light prison coat," Ahmed Khalifa, an Egyptian, told the Daily News. "I asked them to let me inside. They were laughing and pointing to me. When I finally got back inside, I felt like I had frostbite."

The Justice Department's inspector general has substantiated some of the prisoners' allegations - and some incidents were captured on videotape. But the Justice Department has declined to prosecute . . . .

Wael Kishk, an Egyptian student who was unable to walk, alleges he was beaten by guards on Feb. 15, 2002 - the same day he complained to a judge in open court about earlier mistreatment at MDC. When guards were returning him to the jail that day, he says they threw him into the back of a transport bus with his hands cuffed behind his back and his ankles shackled close together. Kishk, now in Cairo, recalled landing painfully on the floor, face down, unable to break his fall.

Back at MDC, said Kishk, the guards piled him into a wheelchair and took him to a room where they stripped him and "started stomping on me."

"There were three of them - with their leader, four," Kishk said. "They took all my clothes off and turned me on my stomach. Then, the leader put his foot on the back of my neck and told me, 'All of this is so you will stop playing games,'" an apparent reference to his statements in court . . . .

Ehab ElMaghraby, a restaurant worker from Egypt, alleges in a lawsuit against the federal Bureau of Prisons that MDC guard Steven Barrere inserted a flashlight into his rectum during a strip search while other guards looked on. ElMaghraby said he saw blood on the withdrawn flashlight. Two other MDC officials - Michael DeFrancisco and Raymond Cotton - inserted a pencil into his rectum during other searches, ElMaghraby alleged.

Kishk, who has not filed any lawsuit, described strip searches in which a guard would grab his genitals "so hard, it hurt badly" - a charge echoed by Egyptian detainee Ashraf Ibrahim in a suit filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights.
The allegations above may seem routine, even rather mild, considering other stories that have come out of Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, and the various friendly nations (such as Saudi Arabia and, yes, Syria) that have graciously helped us out with our "extraordinary renditions." So what makes these sad tales of detainee abuse noteworthy?

They took place in Brooklyn, NY, within sight of the Statue of Liberty.

There are 380 videotapes that "substantiated many of the detainees' allegations," according to DoJ Inspector General Glenn Fine. The Daily News filed an FOIA request for the tapes, but Justice rejected the petition. The newspaper has appealed.

Bill O'Reilly, meanwhile, wants you to know that anyone who has the audacity to complain about this sort of thing is probably a terrorist.

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