Watching the Shadows

Holder closes investigation into alleged torture deaths of CIA detainees

US Attorney General Eric Holder announced Aug. 30 that the Department of Justice would close its investigation into the CIA's alleged torture and abuse of detainees, with no criminal charges to be brought as a result of the three-year inquiry. In June 2011 Holder accepted the recommendation of Assistant US Attorney (AUSA) John Durham to open full criminal investigations into the deaths of two individuals while in US custody at overseas locations. The recommendation came during a criminal investigation by Durham that began in August 2009, under which he conducted an inquiry into whether federal laws were violated in connection with the interrogation of specific detainees at overseas locations. The investigation centered primarily on whether any unauthorized interrogation techniques were used by CIA interrogators and whether such techniques could constitute statutory violations of torture.

US charges Gitmo detainee with supporting terrorism

The US  Department of Defense announced Aug. 29 that the Chief Prosecutor for Military Commissions has filed terrorism charges against a Saudi Guantánamo Bay prisoner accused of plotting with al-Qaeda to blow up oil tankers near Yemen. The detainee, Ahmed al Darbi, has been accused of six offenses under the Military Commissions Act of 2009, including conspiracy, aiding and abetting attacks on civilians, and aiding and abetting terrorism based on his former work as a weapons instructor, contact with Osama bin Laden, and support of bombing civilian oil tankers. According to the statement released by the Pentagon:

US appeals court upholds life sentence of convicted al-Qaeda operative

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on Aug. 24 upheld the life sentence imposed on a former Osama bin Laden aide after he stabbed a prison guard in the eye in 2000. Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, 54, is a Sudanese-born Iraqi who at the time of the stabbing was awaiting trial in a conspiracy case that included the 1998 attack on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. In 2002 Salim pleaded guilty to attempted murder of and conspiracy to murder a federal official after he stabbed Louis Pepe, a guard at the federal jail in lower Manhattan, with a plastic comb in November 2000. Salim appealed his sentence primarily on the ground that his right to be physically present at the sentencing hearing was violated when he attended by videoconference. The court ruled that the US District Court for the Southern District of New York erred in finding that the government had met its burden of proving that Salim had waived his right to be present at the hearing, but under plain error review found that Salim was not prejudiced by the error. The court also rejected Salim's arguments that the life sentence was unreasonable.

Coup d'etat at Amnesty International?

Now, this is truly depressing. We have long defended Amnesty International against "left-wing" charges that it is a front for US imperialism (ironically mirrored by establishmentarian charges that it is a pawn in some sinister anti-American conspiracy). We've held its ruthless objectivity in the highest regard—its unwillingness to lower its vigilance against abuses by any regime, East or West, right or left, conservative or populist. We've relied on the organization for truthful, documented reports on the actual human rights conditions in countries all over the world. But earlier this year, for the first time we began to have doubts...

Military judge demands allegedly withheld evidence in WikiLeaks trial

Army Col. Denise Lind on June 25 ordered the prosecution in the case against Pfc. Bradley Manning to submit to her a number of files that were allegedly withheld from the defense during discovery. Manning is accused of transferring more than 700,000 confidential documents and video clips to WikiLeaks, the largest intelligence leak is US history. Manning's defense has argued the leaks did not hurt US national security, but the US Army has responded that Manning's actions indirectly aided al-Qaeda. Manning's lawyers now allege that the prosecution has withheld damage assessment reports that may affect the outcome of his case. Lind ordered the prosecution to turn over the reports as well as a "due diligence statement" accounting for their failure to reveal the documents earlier. The prosecution has maintained that their actions were justified and that it is time-consuming to obtain the documents in question.

NDAA: did Chris Hedges case make matters worse?

In a surprise ruling, Obama-appointed US Judge Katherine Forrest of the Southern District of New York agreed with plaintiffs who had challenged provisions of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act that Section 1021—concerning indefinite detention of (poorly defined) terror suspects. Judge Forrest found that Section 1021 fails to "pass constitutional muster" because its broad language could be used to squelch political dissent. Forrest rejected the contention in Obama's signing statement that the language in Section 1021 "breaks no new ground" and merely recapitulates the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF). "[T]his court finds that § 1021 is not merely an 'affirmation' of the AUMF," Forrest wrote. "To so hold would be contrary to basic principles of legislative interpretation that require Congressional enactments to be given independent meaning. To find that § 1021 is merely an 'affirmation' of the AUMF would require this court to find that § 1021 is a mere redundancy—that is, that it has no independent meaning and adds absolutely nothing to the government's enforcement powers." The suit was first brought by journalist-turned-talking-head Chris Hedges, and later joined by Noam Chomsky, Pentagon Papers whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg, Icelandic parliamentarian Birgitta Jonsdottir, Kai Wargalla of Occupy London and Alexa O'Brien of US Day of Rage. The plaintiffs call themselves the "Freedom Seven."

Kangaroo court at Gitmo

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his four co-defendants were arraigned May 5 in a military tribunal at Guantanámo Bay on charges of organizing the 9-11 attacks. Mainstream accounts are emphasizing the defendants' refusal to respect the court, and the outraged response of 9-11 survivors. Few journalists have been allowed to observe, so this report from AP is all over the Web and has run in several newspapers:

Bush administration lawyer granted qualified immunity in torture suit

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on May 2 granted qualified immunity to former Bush administration official John Yoo over allegations of wrongdoing in relation to controversial memos asserting the legality of "enhanced interrogation techniques." The lawsuit, brought by convicted terrorism defendant Jose Padilla, claimed Yoo's legal opinions endorsing "enhanced interrogation techniques" led to Padilla being tortured. Padilla, a US citizen currently serving a 17-year sentence on terrorism-related charges, said that he was tortured while held as an "enemy combatant" in military custody in a Navy military brig in Charleston, SC. In granting qualified immunity, the panel wrote:

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