Thursday, June 10, 2010

Who’s Going to Investigate the CIA?

By William Fisher

Human Rights groups are turning to an obscure, virtually invisible government agency to investigate allegations that medical professionals on the payroll of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) helped the agency to perform experiments on detainees in U.S. custody following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in an effort to make “enhanced interrogation techniques” more efficient and provide it with legal cover.

The organizations called a telephonic press conference Wednesday to announce that they are asking The Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP), part of the Department of Health and Human Services, to initiate an official investigation into experimentation by the CIA on detainees in its custody. Their complaint contends that the CIA’s Office of Medical Services (OMS) “conducted research and experimentation on detainees in U.S. custody and, in the process, likely violated federal regulations governing human subject research carried out by United States Government entities. These regulations are known as The Common Rule (45 CFR 46).”

Their complaint notes that the CIA is one of seventeen federal agencies required by law to adhere to The Common Rule when conducting federally funded research on human beings.

Led by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), which disclosed the human experimentation suspicions in a new report earlier this week, the other organizations joining the complaint and participating in the press conference are Amnesty International USA, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Center for Victims of Torture, Human Rights Watch, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, and Psychologists for Social Responsibility.

“OHRP has a legal responsibility to investigate these disturbing new allegations about the CIA and possible illegal human experimentation on detainees, despite the refusal by Langely( CIA headquarters) and the White House to do so,” stated Nathaniel Raymond, lead author of the Physicians for Human Rights report, “Experiments in Torture: Evidence of Human Subject Research and Experimentation in the ‘Enhanced’ Interrogation Program.”

“OHRP has a reputation for enforcing strict adherence to human research protections, which it must bring to bear against any CIA malfeasance that it uncovers.”

Tom Parker, Amnesty International USA's Policy Director for Terrorism, Counterterrorism and Human Rights, told IPS, "PHR's report makes it clear that if nothing else mental health professionals on the U.S. government payroll provided 'material support' to torture. We are calling on the relevant authorities to conduct a full investigation into these activities as they are required to do by law."

And Dr. Steve Miles, board member of the Center for Victims of Torture, professor at the Center for Bioethics of the Department of Medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical School and author of “Oath Betrayed: America’s Torture Doctors”, agreed.

He said, “As an organization committed to healing torture survivors and ending the practice of torture, the Center for Victims of Torture (CVT) is appalled by the implications of this report, and renews its call for an independent non-partisan commission to examine and report publicly on torture and cruel treatment of prisoners since September 11, 2001. Such a commission should be adequately funded and given subpoena power and a mandate to fully examine the facts and circumstances of such abuses and to recommend measures to prevent future abuses. "

The groups say their complaint is based upon the evidence of wrongdoing detailed in declassified government documents, including:

The collection by OMS health professionals of data from detainees in order to derive generalizable knowledge of the effects on detainee subjects of “enhanced interrogation” techniques.

These techniques, which have serious potential to cause harm, included sleep deprivation, waterboarding, sensory deprivation and overload. It appears that data also was collected on the impact of techniques both when used individually and when applied in combination;

The collection of data from detainees subjected to the technique of the waterboard in order to develop new methods and procedures for its application, including the experimental use of potable saline in place of water to reduce the risk of hyponatremia;

The CIA’s apparent failure to comply with The Common Rule’s regulations (a) requiring all human research subjects to provide informed consent, (b) assuring that subjects of research have the right and ability to stop their participation in the research at any time, and (c) requiring the conduct of prior review of the proposed human subject research by an Institutional Review Board.

If the OHRP concludes that OMS research on detainees subjected to “enhanced interrogation” techniques commonly viewed as torture violated The Common Rule and internationally accepted standards of health professional ethics, the CIA must be immediately sanctioned by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Any personnel found to have violated the law should be referred to the
Department of Justice for prosecution. Professionals determined to be in violation of their ethically mandated responsibilities should be referred to state licensing bodies and professional associations for appropriate professional sanctions.

The OHRP, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, is responsible for ensuring that federally funded research by federal agencies including the CIA involving human subjects complies with regulations collectively known as the Common Rule. The CIA cannot obstruct an OHRP investigation on the basis that evidence may be classified. OHRP has previously taken actions to suspend research activities at major research universities for violation of the Common Rule. Since the Obama administration has not responded to the request to investigate possible incidents of human experimentation on detainees, the groups are seeking an official investigation by the Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP)

OHRP also provides leadership in the protection of the rights, welfare, and well-being of subjects involved in research conducted or supported by HHS.

There have been numerous human experiments performed in the United States, which have been considered unethical, and were often performed illegally, without the knowledge, consent, or informed consent of the test subjects.

Many types of experiments were performed including the deliberately infecting people with deadly or debilitating diseases, exposing people to biological and chemical weapons, human radiation experiments, injecting people with toxic and radioactive chemicals, surgical experiments, interrogation/torture experiments, tests involving mind-altering substances, and a wide variety of others.

Many of these experiments were funded by the United States government, especially the Central Intelligence Agency and the United States military.

Public outcry over the discovery of government experiments on human subjects led to numerous congressional investigations and hearings, including the Church Committee, Rockefeller Commission, and the Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments.

But as of 2010, not a single U.S. government researcher has been prosecuted for human experimentation, and many of the victims of U.S. government experiments have not received retribution, or in many cases, even acknowledgement of what was done to them.


By William Fisher

One year after massive dissent erupted over Iran’s disputed June 2009 presidential election – and just days before the United Nations Human Rights Council releases its report on Iran -- the Islamic Republic is still conducting a widening human rights crackdown that leaves hundreds of journalists, academics, lawyers, students, clerics, political and rights activists unjustly imprisoned.

In a new report, Amnesty International charges that “The repression has led to widespread torture and ill treatment, including rapes and mock executions, and to political executions.”

T. Kumar, International Advocacy Director for Amnesty International USA (AI), told IPS, “Amnesty is extremely concerned about the continuing abuses being perpetrated upon hundreds of political prisoners. The Islamic Republic is determined to shut down all dissent – even peaceful dissent – by its citizens and by those lawyers and other defenders who stand with them.”

Amnesty International's 71-page report, “From Protest to Prison – Iran One Year After the Election,” documents the expanding wave of repression including arrests and imprisonment of those who have spoken out against the government and its abuses.

Lawyers, academics, former political prisoners and members of Iran’s ethnic and religious minorities have been caught up in the crackdown that has led to widespread incidents of torture and other ill-treatment along, with politically motivated execution of prisoners, the report says.

Amnesty says detainees “have been held incommunicado for days, week or even months while relatives remain unable to find out where they are being held or on what charges.”

It adds, “The secrecy surrounding arrests makes it easier for interrogators to resort to torture and other ill-treatment, including rape, and mock executions, in order to extract forced ‘confessions,’ which are used later as evidence in trial.”

The organization reports that a women’s rights activist who was held “told us that her interrogators had attached cables to her nipples and given her electric shocks. She was so ill she would sometimes faint in the cell.”

The organization is demanding the release of all prisoners of conscience in Iran held since the disputed 2009 election and its aftermath and calls for fair trials without recourse to the death penalty for other political prisoners.

Amnesty International said the Iranian government took an "absurd stand" when it presented its national report to the Universal Periodic Review by the Human Rights Council of the United Nations -- that virtually no violations occurred in Iran. The council will adopt its final report on Iran this week.

Amnesty International is demanding that U.N. human rights experts be allowed to visit Iran and that the country accept recommendations relating to the treatment of prisoners.

Hundreds of people remain detained for their part in the protests of June 2009 or for otherwise expressing dissenting views. The imprisonment of ordinary citizens has become an every day phenomenon in an expanding ‘revolving door system’ of arbitrary arrest and detention. Those with only tentative links to banned groups as well as family members of former prisoners have been subjected to arbitrary arrest in the past year.

Examples include:

Banned student Sayed Ziaoddin Nabavi serving a 10-year prison sentence in Evin Prison. A member of the Council to Defend the Right to Education, his sentence appears to be linked to the fact that he has relatives in the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, a banned group, which the authorities claim was responsible for organizing demonstrations.

Around 50 members of the Baha’i faith have been arrested across Iran since the elections - continuing to be unjustly cast as scapegoats for the unrest.

Iran’s ethnic minority communities have faced arrest and detention, during and following the election. Four Kurds were among five political prisoners executed in May without the notifications required by law, in what was a clear message to anyone considering marking the anniversary with protest.

The mother of a human rights defender, Shiva Nazar Ahari, detained without charge or trial whose case is highlighted in the report, said: “I hope your daughters grow up to get married – mine grew up to be thrown into jail,” illustrating the journey taken by an increasing number of Iranians, from political and civil activism to the cells of Evin Prison and other prisons in the provinces.

Politically motivated executions, recently taking place prior to key anniversaries when mass protests are expected, continue, with the justice system used as a lethal instrument of repression by the Iranian authorities. At least six people remain on death row charged with ‘enmity against God’ for their alleged involvement in demonstrations and membership of banned groups.

Iran has one of the highest rates of executions in the world. To date in 2010, Amnesty International has already recorded over 115 executions.

“The Iranian authorities must end this campaign of fear that aims to crush even the slightest opposition to the government,” Amnesty said, adding, “They are continuing to use the death penalty as a tool of repression, right up to the eve of the anniversary of the election. The Iranian authorities blame everyone but themselves for the unrest but they are failing to show any respect for their own laws which prohibit the torture and other ill-treatment of all detainees.”

AI and other organizations will mark June 12, 2010, the first anniversary of last year’s disputed elections in Iran, with a Global Day of Action across the world.

The United Nations Security Council yesterday passed its fourth round of sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program, but it was widely believed that the measures would halt Iran’s production of nuclear fuel.

But Amnesty’s Kumar suggests that the time has come for the international community to move beyond the nuclear issue alone and recognize the “dire human rights disaster happening before our eyes in Iran.”


By William Fisher

The administration of President Barack Obama is considering using Afghanistan’s U.S.-run Bagram Air Base prison to indefinitely detain terrorism suspects captured far from a battlefield and who have not been charged with a crime -- without any judicial oversight.

A senior U.S. official reportedly told the Los Angeles Times that the Obama administration wants to detain and interrogate non-Afghan terrorism suspects captured in countries outside Afghanistan in a section of the Bagram prison, even after it turns the prison over to Afghan control.

The U.S. government has stated its intention to turn over control of the Bagram detention facility to the Afghan government early next year. In May, a federal court ruled that unlike at Guantánamo, prisoners in U.S. custody at Bagram, including those who were captured far from any battlefield and brought to Afghanistan, cannot challenge their detention in U.S. courts. That decision paves the way for the U.S. government to use Bagram to detain terrorism suspects indefinitely.

"The Guantánamo problem is not solved simply by recreating a Guantánamo somewhere else. Closing Guatánamo is essential but it is equally important that the Obama administration put an end to the illegal indefinite detention policy behind Guantánamo," said Melissa Goodman, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project.

"The entire world is not a battlefield. We cannot just capture people far from any zone of armed conflict and lock up them up indefinitely without any access to the courts or due process. Such a policy not only flies in the face of our justice system, but opens up the possibility that mistakes will be made and the wrong people will be imprisoned – which is exactly what we have seen at Guantánamo."

The ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit in September 2009 demanding information about Bagram, which has thus far been shrouded in much secrecy. In response to the lawsuit, the government has turned over some important information but continues to withhold key details about the prisoners detained at Bagram, as well as information about the implementation of its new detainee status review procedures and about a separate "secret jail" on the base.

The secret facility is reportedly run by either the Joint Special Operations Command or the Defense Intelligence Agency, and detainees maintain they have been abused there. It is unclear whether guards and interrogators at the secret facility are subject to the same rules that apply at the main Bagram detention facility.

"The possibility of continuing to hold and interrogate detainees at Bagram is even more disturbing given the lack of transparency about the facility," said Goodman. "Plans to continue holding prisoners in U.S. custody at Bagram must be accompanied by the disclosure of key information about what currently goes on there."

In a related development, Bagram four Bagram detainees were given their first opportunity to appear at a pre-trial hearing last week. According to Reuters and the Associated Press, the detainees – three adult brothers and their elderly father – were brought before a panel of three Afghan judges on June 1. The proceeding was the first pre-trial hearing in advance of the first trial ever to be held at the U.S.-controlled detention facility.

But legal advocacy groups are expressing concern about the lack of transparency surrounding the trial procedures, the apparent failure to provide detainees with adequate access to their lawyers before the hearing, and lack of arrangements for appropriate translation services.

Tina Foster, the attorney who represents a number of Bagram detainees through the International Justice Network (IJN), told IPS, “Once again the Obama administration has simply made a grand pronouncement of policy without any transparency or accountability. Given the failures of the Obama-Bush track record on Military Commissions, it's hard to imagine these would be anything other than Kangaroo court procedings."

And Daphne Eviatar, senior counsel at Human Rights First (HRF), said her group was “dismayed that the proceeding so far has been chaotic and (that) so little information has been made available about how this trial will proceed and whether more such trials are planned.

Since the U.S. military first began detaining suspected insurgents at Bagram eight years ago, none have been accorded a trial by U.S. authorities. Some have been transferred to an Afghan-run detention facility and provided summary trials there. HRF has in the past criticized such trials for not meeting the minimum standards of due process.

In the past year, the group says, the U.S. military has begun to provide more meaningful hearings for detainees at Bagram that allow the suspects to call "reasonably available" witnesses and to be represented by "personal representatives" chosen by the U.S. military.

However, HRF points out that the detainees still have no right to legal representation or to see much of the evidence used against them, as much of it remains classified. The organization has repeatedly asked to see the rules governing these new Detainee Review Board procedures, but the military has not responded.

News reports of the first hearing last week also revealed that the trial procedures are inadequately developed. One defense lawyer reportedly complained that he had not an opportunity even to meet his client or to review his client's file. And when the hearing began, it became clear that the government had failed to provide the necessary translators to make it comprehensible.

The trial was being conducted in Dari, rather than in the detainees' native language, which is Pashto. Although there were translators available to translate to English, there were none who could translate the proceedings into Pashto.

Eviatar told IPS that, “We support the idea of trials being presided over by Afghan judges, (but) only if those trials are fair trials and if they're conducted in a language that the detainees understands, or at least with interpreters who can translate the proceedings into the detainee's language.”

She added, “Obviously, a trial held in Dari without interpreters available to translate to Pashto, when the detainees speak and understand Pashto and not Dari, won't be comprehensible to the detainees, and therefore by definition won't be fair.”

Model? Not so Much!

By William Fisher

In an immigration detention system that has been plagued by abuse, negligence, and even deaths, stronger oversight and accountability is urgently needed to prevent further sexual harassment of female detainees.

This is the view immigration advocates are expressing in the wake of allegations that a male guard at a central Texas detention facility sexually assaulted female detainees on their way to being deported.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), said last week that the guard has been fired. It added that Corrections Corporation of America, the private prison company that manages the Hutto facility, has been placed on probation pending the investigation's outcome. The consequences of probation were not immediately clear.

ICE said that several women who were held at Hutto facility in Taylor, Texas, were groped while being patted down and at least one was propositioned for sex.

"We understand that this employee was able to commit these alleged crimes
because ICE-mandated transport policies and procedures were not followed," David Sanders, the Homeland Security Department's contracting officer said in a letter to Corrections Corporation of America obtained by The Associated Press.

ICE has ordered Corrections Corporation of America to take corrective actions. Among them is forbidding male guards from being alone with female detainees.

An IPS reporter asked Jacki Esposito of Detention Watch Network, a coalition of organizations that monitors ICE treatment of detainees, how she thinks increased oversight could prevent what some are calling an isolated abusive aberration by a single person. She responded:

“Hutto is not an isolated incident. Allegations of sexual assault have plagued other facilities where immigrants are being held by the federal government. With appropriate oversight, including meaningful inspections and better access by independent agencies the fact that this guard had been engaging in a pattern of sexual assaults against females could have come to light earlier.”

She added, “The latest story of abuse in the U.S. immigration detention system highlights yet again the fact that the immigration detention system is in need of serious repair. This scandal is only the latest to come to light in a detention system that has been plagued by abuse, negligence, and even deaths. Stronger oversight and accountability within DHS and from Congress is urgently needed.”

Her view was echoed by Brittney Nystrom, director of policy and legal affairs at the National Immigration Forum (NIF) a non-partisan, non-profit pro-immigrant advocacy organization in Washington. She told IPS, “The most disturbing thing about these charges is that involve a facility that’s supposed to be the shining star of ICE’s detention policy. Instead it turns out to be an example of poor oversight and bad management.”

Ali Noorani, NIF’s Executive Director, said, “News of fresh abuses at this facility is deeply disturbing. The newly discovered violations reinforce the urgency of major reforms that are overdue in our immigration detention system and in our immigration laws. The innocent victims of this guard’s abuse are yet further evidence that ICE is warehousing hundreds of thousands of detained immigrants in a poorly managed system that cannot keep them safe.”

The Hutto facility formerly held families, including children, in a setting that critics have labeled totally inappropriate for such a purpose, and attracted both litigation and protesters. Last year, it was converted to a facility for female detainees, conditions were modified, and it was lauded by ICE as a model facility.

Noorani says, “The problem stems from several factors. Most importantly, the agency’s enforcement of hopelessly outdated immigration laws funnels many thousands of non-criminal immigration violators into a network of jails designed to serve the criminal justice system. There are so many immigration detainees that ICE must contract the work to companies that run penal institutions, and there is too little oversight of those contracts and personnel. There are no standards of detention that have the force of law. “

He adds, “This is not the first scandal arising from the way DHS enforces the immigration law, and it will not be the last. DHS must step up its efforts to create a system where abuse and death are rare, and when they do occur the persons responsible are promptly held accountable. Congress must do its part to both monitor the agency and reform the laws that DHS is obligated to enforce.

In March, ICE took what the immigrant advocacy community generally hailed as “important steps to address immigration detention conditions that are currently a national embarrassment.”

“After years of advocacy with this agency and its predecessors, the National Immigration Forum and other pro-immigrant watchdogs are pleased to see some movement by the Obama administration in a very helpful direction. No modern, developed nation should tolerate the conditions under which we have jailed hundreds of thousands of families and individuals – conditions that have proven life-threatening and fatal in far too many cases,” the groups said in a statement at that time.

They added, “The network of for-profit and government-run facilities that detain deportees needs to be tightly scrutinized and this is a tremendously positive step in that direction. The Hutto facility alone has stood out as a worst-case example – among many other egregious sites – and we are pleased that press attention, lawsuits, and public outcry have sparked definitive action. Expanding the use of cost-saving alternatives to detention will take some of the pressure off of the overburdened system and make immigration enforcement more in tune with the nature of the civil violations immigrant detainees are accused of.”

The groups concluded that the ”single most important thing we can do with regard to immigrant detention is to reduce the need for its use for millions of non-criminals, families, and workers in the first place.”

“By having a functioning legal immigration system so that people come with visas and within the law and by establishing a system for processing the millions of immigrants living here illegally into legal status, we can put our immigration system back on a legal footing and move away from the fantasy that we can simply enforce our way out of our current situation,” the groups said.