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Zero Dark Thirty, the CIA and film critics have a very bad evening

In News on February 25, 2013 at 9:46 AM



The stigma attached to the pro-torture CIA propaganda vehicle, beloved by film critics, results in Oscar humiliation

Just a few months ago, the consensus of the establishment press and the nation’s (shockingly large) community of film critics was that Zero Dark Thirty was the best film of the year and the clear (and well-deserved) front-runner to win the most significant Academy Awards. “OK, folks, you can plan something else for Oscar Night 2013 . . . . Zero Dark Thirty will win Best Picture and Best Director (Kathryn Bigelow),” pronounced Time Magazine’s Richard Corliss. “‘Zero Dark Thirty’ and Kathryn Bigelow won major critics’ prizes on Sunday, confirming the Osama bin Laden manhunt thriller as an Oscar frontrunner,” said Entertainment Weekly. The film “looks like the movie to beat right now” as the critics’ awards “landscape is dominated by Kathryn Bigelow’s ‘Zero Dark Thirty,'” reported the Washington Post’s Jen Chaney.

But then political writers had begun to notice what film critics either failed to detect or just wilfully ignored. The film falsely depicted torture as instrumental in the finding of Osama bin Laden (“what is so unsettling about ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ is not that it tells this difficult history but, rather, that it distorts it”, said the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer). Beyond the torture falsehoods, it was a blatant vehicle for CIA propaganda, bolstering a worldview exclusively out of Langley (“This is not a coincidence. The CIA played a key role in shaping the film’s narrative,” reported BuzzFeed’s Michael Hastings; the CIA “couldn’t have asked for better product placement”, said the New York Times’ Timothy Egan; as a result, said The Atlantic’s Peter Maass: “Zero Dark Thirty represents a new genre of embedded filmmaking that is the problematic offspring of the worrisome endeavor known as embedded journalism”). In sum, said MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, the film “colludes with evil” (a long but very partial list of writers, filmmakers, FBI agents and even government officials who similarly denounced the film is here).

The first sign that this fallout was harming the film was when its director, Bigelow, was not even nominated for Best Director. And now, on Sunday night at the Academy Awards, Zero Dark Thirty got exactly what it deserved: basically nothing other than humiliation:

“‘Zero Dark Thirty,’ about the decade-long US hunt for Osama bin Laden, has received more attention in the US Congress than it did at the Oscars on Sunday, amid political fallout over its depiction of torture and alleged intelligence leaks to the movie’s makers. . . .

“Just three months ago, the thriller, which culminates in Osama bin Laden’s killing by US Navy Seals, was a strong contender to pick up the biggest prize of Best Picture, as well as the Best Actress and Original Screenplay awards.

“By the end of Sunday night, however, it had picked up just one award – a shared Oscar for Sound Editing, which was a tie.”

(I’m actually glad that it won essentially half of an award, for sound editing, as that’s somehow more cruel than if it just won nothing).

This is a rare case of some justice being done. There’s little question that the objections to its pro-torture depictions and CIA propaganda were what sunk the film. In explaining why its Oscar chances had all but disappeared, the Atlantic’s Richard Lawson explained last month that as a result of the controversy, the film has “just become something vaguely taboo”. That’s a good thing, as it should be taboo. The film is unsurprisingly a box office success, earning in excess of $100 million. But still, it’s both gratifying and a bit surprising to see that this CIA-shaped jingoistic celebration of America’s proudest moment of the last decade – finding bin Laden, pumping his skull full of bullets, and then dumping his corpse into the ocean – ended up with the stigma it deserves.

In response to this controversy, both Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal have compounded their original bad acts. Bigelow spent months literally pretending that the actual criticisms of her film did not exist and thus never addressed them. She instead chose to wage war on the obviously ludicrous strawman argument that absolutely nobody made: that merely to depict torture is to endorse it and that omitting torture would be to “whitewash” history. Nobody complained that the film depicted torture; the complaint was that it falsely depicted it as vital in finding bin Laden and thus portrayed it in a falsely positive light.

Meanwhile, Boal has been playing the McCarthyism martyr by pretending that the Senate is investigating his film over its pro-torture message. Such an investigation would indeed be odious, but it’s a figment of Boal’s imagination. To the extent the Senate has expressed any interest in investigating, it is not over the film’s content but whether the CIA passed classified information about the bin Laden raid to Bigelow and Boal in order to get the film it wanted (though not dispositive, there is ample evidence to believe this). The investigation targets the CIA, not the filmmakers. For an administration that has waged its own war on whistleblowers by prosecuting and imprisoning them at record numbers, surely the CIA’s abuse of classified information for the purpose of producing Hollywood propaganda merits a formal investigation, particularly since the government has vigorously resisted disclosure attempts in court from the media and advocacy groups on the ground that the bin Laden raid is classified.

From this controversy, the film critic community stood revealed as well. Objections to this film triggered an incredibly acrimonious reaction on the part of professional critics who, prior to the emergence of the controversy, had lavished the film with the most gushing accolades. One of the best essays on why that happened was from Reuters’ culture critic Alissa Quart, who explained that the critics’ anger over this film being “politicized” reflects a broader syndrome where political indifference is viewed as some sort of virtue:

“In the postwar decades, the best reviewers of the day saw addressing the politics within the cultural works they reviewed as part of their jobs. . . . Writers like [Mary] McCarthy, who was both a theater critic and a political writer, were more attuned to the ideological sources behind play and film, as they came up in the Depression and the war years, according to Hunter College Professor Richard Kaye, who is working on a project about McCarthy. After all, art was explicitly tied to politics within fascism as well as within communist states. Watching the power of ideology at work within fascism made writers more likely to combine politics with aesthetics. They understood the propagandistic potential of overwhelmingly dramatic popular entertainment.”

“Today, in part because because popular art has largely been decoupled from politics, film critics tend to be narrower in their expertise. They are also operating in an America where ‘partisan’ and ‘political’ have been made to equal each other in a toxic way. Thus, critics and many political thinkers can’t necessarily agree on a critical focus. . .

“But if political writers do their job they understand something even more important: that ideological meaning and agendas are not incidental to thrilling films and cinematography. Why surgically remove politics from a discussion of a film’s final quality, rendering the argument so purely aesthetic that it becomes low-brow decadent . . . . Ethical lapses or gaps in movies should be critiqued, along with bad performances or absurd storylines.”

Another equally good discussion of the exposed mentality of film critics came from Jeff Reichert, himself a filmmaker and critic:

“If Bigelow and Boal want to insist they haven’t made a movie that validates torture morally, that’s fine. But to label it apolitical, as they have repeatedly done, either suggests willful mendacity or ignorance. Their film quite clearly stakes out a position on one of the more controversial political questions of the last decade in American politics, and soon it will be making its case several times a day on thousands of screens around the country. Greenwald’s writings on the film may hyperventilate, but when one considers the scale of the historical rewrite we’re about to witness, his pitched tenor is more forgivable. Maybe ‘propaganda’ isn’t so far off the mark after all.

“If our critical culture handled films of this ilk with something other than kid gloves, we might not have to continually address these same, tired questions. . . . It’s become all too commonplace for critics to float above the fray, and praise works they find aesthetically valuable and politically questionable (a replaying of the old Leni Riefenstahl debate again), but is this l’art pour l’art stance any way to watch movies? Isn’t this just abdicating a crucial part of the critical act? Wouldn’t we rather our film writers be morally engaged viewers rather than diffident aesthetes? . . . .

“Especially in light of how the filmmakers have spoken about their work, the problem with Zero Dark Thirty becomes less that it ends up making a forceful case for the efficacy of torturing human beings for national security – it’s that one can easily walk away from the film doubting whether Bigelow and Boal have even realized that this is what they’ve done.”

In an era where virtually everything the government does is shielded from disclosure, democratic accountability, and even the rule of law, films such as Zero Dark Thirty that purport to tell political stories are inherently highly political, likely to have an enormous impact on how political events are perceived. When blatant falsehoods are presented as truth on critical questions – by a film that touts itself as a journalistic presentation of actual events – insisting on apolitical appreciation of this “art” is indeed a reckless abdication.

That’s particularly true when the film creates itself as a servant to political power: by itself, the CIA’s heavy (and still unexamined) involvement in this film is a significant and disturbing development. The last thing America needs is more ways to celebrate and glorify US militarism, and the second-to-last thing it needs is Hollywood devoting its multi-million-dollar budgets and emotionally and psychologically manipulative tactics to propagating the CIA worldview as indisputable, inspiring truth. It’s a very good thing that all of this did not go unnoticed or rewarded.


The film that won most of the significant awards (including Best Picture), Argo, has received its own criticisms for false history and US/CIA propaganda; Whatever is true about that film showing events from three decades ago, the CIA was much more involved with and invested in Zero Dark Thirty; that’s why it played such a significant role in how it was made.


Via TheGuardian

Former CIA Agent, Anti-Torture Activist John Kiriakou Toasted By Progressives as He Prepares For Prison

In News on February 22, 2013 at 7:19 PM



It’s not often that one receives an invitation to a “going to prison reception,” and one taking place at an elite hotel, no less. But in the penthouse room of the Hay-Adams on Thursday, activists gathered to say farewell to former CIA agent John Kiriakou as he prepares to begin a 30-month sentence in federal prison for leaking classified information to reporters.

The party was sponsored by the activist groups Fresh Juice Party and CODE PINK, and underwritten by philanthropist Naomi Pitcairn, heir to the Pittsburgh Plate Glass fortune. The first person in 27 years to be convicted of violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, Kiriakou views himself as a whistleblower who is being punished for shedding light on the government’s policy of torturing terrorism suspects through the use of waterboarding and so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

“If this case were about leaking, the jails and the prisons in this country would be bursting with former CIA officers and White House officials — and they’re not,” Kiriakou told the partiers gathered for his send-off. “This case was not about leaking; it was about torture.“

Kiriakou, a tall, broad-shouldered man with a cheerful face and dressed in a dark business suit, was introduced by Jesselyn Radack, a director of the Government Accountability Project who described herself as “one of John’s many attorneys.”

“…it’s abhorrent that the people who order torture, the people who wrote the legal memos justifying torture, the people who carried out the torture, and the people who destroyed the videotapes of it — none of them are going to jail,” Radack said. “In fact, they all have blanket immunity, courtesy of the White House.”

The crowd, many dressed in the evening’s “prison chic” dress code, booed. (Interpretations of incarceration-inspired fashion included get-ups in black-and-white stripes, as well as orange jump suits. “Orange is the new black,” read the invite, paraphrasing the late fashion diva Diana Vreeland’s famous dictum.)

Kiriakou’s conviction is part of what the Washington Post describes as an administration crackdown on leakers. In the number of prosecutions of those charged with leaking secret government information, the Obama administration’s Department of Justice has exceeded all previous administrations, the Post’s Greg Miller reported.

The Hay-Adams Hotel is an historic venue, and a frequent host to dignitaries from around the world, thanks to its proximity to the White House. The hotel’s penthouse offers a spectacular view of the president’s dwelling from above, with the Washington monument soaring in the background.

Pitcairn explained her choice of venue. Pointing at that view, she declared: “We look down on people who torture.”
Joining Pitcairn and CODE PINK founder Medea Benjamin in lauding Kiriakou were other former national security officials who took issue with the denial of constitutional rights to terrorism suspects since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. They included Thomas Drake, a former National Security Agency who was charged for revealing what he said was the agency’s waste and abuse of taxpayer dollars (his complaint was later corroborated by a Pentagon report) and Air Force Col. Morris Davis (ret.), who quit his post as chief prosecutor at the Guantanamo detention facility because of the denial of due process to the suspects he was prosecuting.

It was more than a night of dour speeches, though; being a CODE PINK event, there was plenty of music and artistic satire. Kiriakou was serenaded by two dozen activists who sang the anthem, “Have You Been to Jail For Justice,” while Benjamin, resplendent in a striped outfit of hot pink and black, performed choreographed moves with a colleague.

And the duo Emma’s Revolution performed two of their soulful protest tunes.

Before the evening came to a close, I got a few words with Kiriakou. How did he manage the contrast between the evening’s light-hearted approach to what he’ll face next week — more than two years in prison, away from his wife and five kids.

“There’s nothing I can do about it now,” he said. “I have to accept my fate. But I don’t have to sulk, and I don’t have to feel sorry for myself, and be depressed. I’m going to make the most of the last week and have as good a time as I can have, and I’ll deal with the next phase when I come to it.

That all sounded like in-the-moment, Zen-type stuff to me, so I asked if he had a spiritual practice that led him to that point of view.

“Honestly, I am a very devout Greek Orthodox, and I take strength from that; I always have,” he replied. “They can’t take it away from me. They can’t break me.”

The Government Accountability Project has set up a fund for donations to help keep Kiriakou’s family afloat during his absence; the page is here.


Via Alternet

A Bona Fide American Tragedy In ‘The Terror Courts’

In Guantanamo, News on February 22, 2013 at 2:56 PM



The torture of alleged terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay — first reported by the Red Cross in 2004 and since attested in thousands of declassified memos and acknowledged by a top official in the administration of George W. Bush — has never been far from the headlines, and rightly so. But another breach of human rights and American values at the Cuban prison camp gets far less attention: the secretive military commissions that prosecute these suspects away from the American justice system. In this parallel legal universe, normally inadmissible material is as good as gospel; the accused can be denied access to evidence; the military can censor any proceedings it chooses; and even an acquittal doesn’t mean you’ll be released.

Jess Bravin, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal and a tireless investigator of this secretive world, has been traveling to the Guantanamo courts since they opened in August 2004. The Terror Courts, his exhaustive and highly disturbing history of the nation’s shadow justice system, takes us deep into the heart of the military and its unprecedented effort to retain legal control over detainees. It reads at times like a political thriller, with dramatic showdowns between Bush officials and military veterans. But this book isn’t fiction. It’s not even really a history: These commissions are still going on.

It’s forgotten now, but in the days and months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, none of the major arms of the national security service — not the CIA, not the FBI, not the Justice Department, not the Pentagon — contended that the federal courts were inadequate to handle the task of prosecuting and convicting terrorists. Rather, as Bravin shows, the construction of a parallel legal system was a governmental power grab: a shift of authority from the legislative and judicial branches to the executive, masterminded by Bush-era lawyers and advisers such as David Addington, the vice-presidential legal counsel known as “Cheney’s Cheney,” and John Yoo, who penned the so-called “torture memos” at the Justice Department. These architects of the expansive executive branch did not want an ad hoc military tribunal, such as in Nuremberg after World War II. They wanted their own permanent system, under their control, and they built it from scratch. “In effect,” writes Bravin, “today’s military commissions are the legal equivalent of a war of choice.”

Bravin details the many legal battles, reaching all the way to the Supreme Court, that surrounded the creation of the commissions. But the hero of Bravin’s book, if that’s the right word, is Stuart Couch, a Republican lawyer with the U.S. Marine Corps who volunteered for the military commissions after his friend died on Sept. 11. With Couch as his guide, Bravin describes the creation of the tribunals, the sapped morale among their participants, and the pressure from Bush appointees on figures lower down the chain of command.

Couch couldn’t wait to prosecute Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a Mauritanian radical imam (who is still being held at Guantanamo Bay) — but it didn’t take long before he concluded that the evidence he had to work with was inadmissible if not worthless. As Bravin reports, at Guantanamo Slahi was stripped naked and subjected to a probe of his anal cavity; beaten so hard that he suffered “rib contusions”; exposed to extreme temperatures under a heater or in a room known as “the freezer”; forced to stay awake amid blaring rock music and strobe lights; and taken to a room whose walls were covered with images of women’s genitalia while female interrogators rubbed their breasts over his body.

Eventually he provided his interrogators with some kind of testimony. But Couch, a devout Christian, at first had religious misgivings about torture, then legal ones. When he told his superior that Slahi’s interrogation had violated the Geneva Conventions and other treaties, he was waved away. So he refused to prosecute. “I hate to say it,” he tells his wife, “but being a Christian is going to trump being an American.”

Couch, like other brave figures in the military and the administration, spoke out about the inadequacy of the tribunals, but that hasn’t made them go away. When he came to office in 2009, President Obama promised to shut down Guantanamo Bay (he did not, of course), but he didn’t exactly promise to end the military tribunals that were taking place there. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — the Sept. 11 mastermind whom Eric Holder attempted and failed to have tried in New York — is currently being prosecuted in one of these tribunals, and as Bravin witnesses from the press box at Gitmo, it’s a fiasco. The defendants fail to acknowledge the legitimacy of the court, while a military censor hits a button to cut the audio feed to journalists, families of Sept. 11 victims and the rest of the outside world.

Why has Obama, a distinguished constitutional law scholar in an earlier life, failed to roll back the massive expansion of executive power orchestrated by the last administration’s lawyers and advisers, people whose vision of justice he doesn’t come close to sharing? Bravin speculates that the president really did want to end the program but thought “his political capital was better spent on other priorities — health care, economic recovery, the Iraq drawdown.” Given Obama’s embrace of drone strikes and other elements of Bush’s military strategy, that may be a wishful read. Whatever the reason, the military commissions now have “a bipartisan imprimatur that virtually ensures they will be a fixture of American law for years to come.” It’s a stark conclusion to this essential book, but a necessary one. The Terror Courts may read like a thriller at times, but really it’s something else: a bona fide American tragedy.


Via DemocracyNow/NPR

US government accused of spying on 9/11 attorneys

In 9/11, Guantanamo, News on February 15, 2013 at 11:14 AM

Guantanamo Military Prison Stays Open As Future Status Remains Uncertain


Detainees being held at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and their defense attorneys are accusing both the United States government and Gitmo guards alike this week of infringing on the inmates’ rights by conducting illegal surveillance.

Only days after lawyers representing alleged terrorists accused the government of spying on confidential inmate-attorney conversations by using hidden microphones placed in meeting rooms within the facility, the counsel for Yemen national Walid bin Attash said on Thursday that her client’s private legal papers were improperly removed from his Gitmo prison cell when he attended a recent court hearing.

Bin Attash was appearing before the military court on Tuesday, attorney Cheryln Bormann claimed early Thursday, when his Gitmo cell was allegedly ransacked and legal documents were removed.

“The guard force was in fact seizing privileged communications,” Bormann said, according to Bloomberg News.

During a heated moment amid Thursday morning’s hearing, an unshackled bin Attash stood up in the court and spontaneously addressed Army Col. James Pohl, the military judge presiding over the case.

“In the name of God, there is an important thing for you,” bin Attash said before being silenced by the judge.

According to an Associated Press report, Col. Pohl told bin Attash that he had to remain quiet unless testifying from the witness stand, to which the inmate fired back, “I’m not here to testify.” In fact, his attorney explained to Col. Pohl that bin Attash is concerned about attending any further pretrial hearings because he is fearful his belongings will be removed from his cell each and every time.

“We need to stop this now,” Bormann said. “This affects our ability to do our jobs.”

Stanley Cohen, a human rights attorney based out of New York, told RT during a phone conversation Thursday afternoon that he thinks the entire legal proceedings regarding the high-profile Gitmo inmates “has been a circus since day one,” and that the Obama White House’s claim of being the most transparent administration in American history has been directly challenged by the snafus that have occurred during the lengthy legal proceedings. Sarcastically, Cohen said he is “shocked” over the recent wiretapping revelations, ordered under the watch of an administration that has not just kept defense attorneys from viewing important Guantanamo Bay legal documents in the past, but has now, apparently, has also spied on the conversations between attorneys and clients.

“There is not a modicum of due process or justice taking place at Guantanamo,” Cohen said. “It is another in a never-ending series of examples of this administration saying one thing and doing another.”

Thursday morning’s revelation came just days after it was made known that meeting cells thought to be private venues for attorney-client conversations had been bugged with microphones installed by the FBI. Navy Captain Thomas Welsh, who served as Gitmo staff judge advocate since May 2011, testified on Monday that although he had been aware of the devices, officials never used them under his watch to listen in on conversations and that monitoring ability is no longer possible. He did suggest, however, that the clandestine microphones disguised as smoke detectors could easily be considered by some to be a covert form of surveillance.

“I agree with your point that it was not recognizable, it was not readily identifiable,” Welsh said this week, adding that he himself had not discovered the devices until last January.

On Wednesday, the warden for the prison told the court that he was not aware of the microphones until just days earlier, but knows that monitoring private legal conversations are against the rules.

“We understood that any listening to an attorney-client meeting is prohibited,” testified Army Col. John V. Bogdan, who assumed control of the facility in June 2012 but admits to authorizing repairs to the system six months later without knowing what exactly the upgrades entailed. Those fixes, he says, were ordered by J-2, the on-base intelligence agency that maintains conspicuous surveillance cameras in the cells.

“J-2 only said they needed to do upgrade and repair of the video system in December,” Bogdan testified. Later in the hearing, however, it was revealed that the December 2012 repairs to the system involved reconnecting microphones that had previously been cut off.

In light of Thursday’s discovery regarding the bin Attash papers, attorneys are likely to demand a more intensive probe into the facility. According to Mr. Cohen, though, that investigation is likely to be a whole other charade.

“The real issue will be, ‘what will the military court do now?’” Cohen says. A motion to dismiss with prejudice is a possibility, he suggests, yet personally he believes that the current state of affairs in the White House means that option would be all too unlikely.

“When you have the commander-in-chief authorizing extrajudicial activity throughout the world,” he said, “…then I have little doubt that the military court will blink over this.”

Bin Attash is accused of providing logistical aid to the hijackers responsible for crashing four passenger jets on US soil on September 11, 2001. Gitmo detainee Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the lead defendant in the case, is accused of masterminding the 9/11 terrorist attacks that left nearly 3,000 Americans dead.

Via RT

Retired Gitmo Psychologist Makes the Short List for University Job: Students and Faculty Protest Ties to Torture

In Guantanamo, News on February 13, 2013 at 12:12 PM



Controversy surrounds the selection of Dr. Larry James, who is alleged to have facilitated torture at Guantanamo, as one of two semi-finalists for a top administrative position at the University of Missouri.

A number of students, faculty and staff at the University of Missouri (MU) are protesting the selection of a controversial psychologist linked to torture at the US detention facility at Guantanamo as a finalist for a top slot at Mizzou.

Dr. Larry James, who is currently dean of the professional psychology program at Wayne State University in Ohio made the selection committee’s short list for the position of division executive director at the university’s College of Education.

According to the school prospectus, the division consists of nine graduate academic programs with 60 faculty and 29 professional staff members.

James is a retired Army psychologist who was senior psychologist on the Behavioral Science Consultation Team (BSCT) at Guantanamo in early 2003. In 2010, the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) helped file a licensing complaint against James in Ohio, alleging numerous instances of misconduct and ethical violations related to his work at Guantanamo. (A similar, less detailed summary of the case against James was put together by Center for Constitutional Rights in relation to another licensing case in a different state.)

“Fixing Hell?”

James claims he was sent to Guantanamo to “fix” problems with interrogation abuse, and that, moreover, he succeeded in doing just that. His book, Fixing Hell: An Army Psychologist Confronts Abu Ghraib was published with a forward by well-known psychologist and former American Psychological Association president Philip Zimbardo, who praises James highly. (James was Chief Psychologist at Abu Ghraib in 2004.)

According to a February 5 article in the Missourian, James told a public forum called by MU’s School of Education that he lacked the authority to stop the abuse he witnessed at Guantanamo. Nevertheless, he also has reportedly said, “The work I did there literally changed and outlawed all of those abusive tactics.”

But a 2008 investigation by the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) totally contradicts James’s contention. According to the SASC, during the period of James’ first assignment at Guantanamo “the incidents [of abuse] occurring during the spring of 2003 [during James’ tenure] signif[ied] a consistent problem at GTMO.”

The “incidents” included cases of forced “compulsive exercise” and sexual humiliation. One interrogator performed a lap dance on a detainee “making sexual affiliated movements with her chest and pelvis while… speaking sexually oriented sentences.”

Another “incident” involved a female interrogator wiping what the detainee was led to believe was menstrual blood on his face and forehead.

The report notes no evidence of any disciplinary action for these forms of physical and psychological abuse. A memo written at the time, “Historic Look at Inappropriate Interrogation Techniques Used at GTMO,” cited interrogator use of yelling, loud music and strobe lights on detainees, while other documents note use of forced shaving, sensory deprivation and “implied death threats.”

The anonymous author(s) of the “Historic Look” memo criticized those in charge of interrogations, and all but accused them of lying. “Despite these revelations by interrogators, the supervisory chain of command reports that these techniques are not used,” the report said.

In his 2008 book, Fixing Hell, James said that he witnessed an interrogation, which is also described in the IHRC report: A detainee was “forced into pink women’s panties, lipstick and a wig … then pinned … to the floor in an effort ‘to outfit him with the matching pink nightgown.'”

James admittedly did not intervene to stop this interrogation, but instead poured himself a cup of coffee and, in his own words, “watched the episode play out, hoping it would take a better turn and not wanting to interfere without good reason, even if this was a terrible scene.”

According to his narrative, James ultimately was forced to intervene “several minutes later” after he determined “Someone is gonna get hurt” (italics in original). Nevertheless, James never mentioned problems with the interrogation or the use of sexual humiliation to the interrogator, nor did he mention reporting or disciplining him.

According to a story by Associated Press, James told those who attended a public meeting in Columbia, Missouri on February 5, “I was sent to Guantanamo not to aid these CIA operatives, but to teach these young men and women, how do you sit down and interview someone without any abusive practices whatsoever…. That’s what my mission was.”


The selection of James as one of two finalists for the College of Education position has led to demonstrations on campus, news conferences, public meetings to defuse the controversy and a letter from more than 30 faculty and staff protesting any hiring of James.

The letter to University of Missouri Chancellor Brady Deaton states, “[James’] possible appointment raises unresolved and extremely controversial issues. An ethical and moral cloud hangs over Dr. James’s work and reputation, and, if he assumed a high-profile post here, that cloud would hang over MU, generally.”

On February 1, according to the student newspaper, The Maneater, “About 30 students and Columbia residents marched from the Islamic Center of Central Missouri to Hill Hall” on the MU campus to protest the selection of James as a semi-finalist for the position.

Mid-Missouri Fellowship of Reconciliation Coordinator Jeff Stack reportedly organized the protest.

“This decision is obscene to us as people of good will in our society,” Stack told the crowd. “We are standing with the people who have been oppressed. We are not standing with the torturers.”

The Barbara Peterson, director of strategic communications at MU’s College of Education, told Truthout that College of Education Dean Daniel Clay had read James’ book, Fixing Hell, and “all the documents” from the complaints against him.

According to the Associated Press, Clay stated James “was selected … as a finalist because the search committee believed his leadership and management experiences aligned well with the minimum and desired qualifications for the position.”

The Maneater quoted Clay’s comments about the charges against James:

I felt strongly that in the interest of fairness and transparency that, um, you know, we can’t discriminate against an individual based on unfounded allegations…. ” As much as, uh, the thoughts of this turned my stomach and may turn yours, um, the reality is that he’s not been, uh, indicted or found guilty of any ethics or, uh, legal or, uh, licensing board violations through this process.

James told AP that he was innocent of all the allegations, and called “the continued scrutiny of his military record ‘an old story.'”

“Why do these people continue to try a decorated, disabled military veteran?” James said. “They cannot produce a patient, a prisoner, a government official or any official document that shows I have harmed any person.”

Truthout asked the head of the School of Education Selection Committee, Dr. Michael Pullis, to respond to questions, but he referred all inquiries to Peterson. Pullis, who also is listed in the University of Missouri’s Grants Manual Handbook as the official in charge of research grants, did not return further requests for comment.

Interestingly, MU is a recipient of millions of dollars of Department of Defense research grants, like a $5.3 million grant [URL: ] in November 2011 to evaluate combat casualty care.

On February 6, the St. Louis chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) held a news conference at MU’s Student Center. According to an account in the Missourian, other groups present included “the MU Muslim
Students Organization, the Mid-Missouri Fellowship of Reconciliation and concerned MU faculty members.”

CAIR-St. Louis executive director, Faizan Syed, told the audience, “Mizzou has a high standard of ethics, and his possible hiring would put a black tarnish on that.” He indicated CAIR intends to further organize faculty and students at other University of Missouri campuses across the state to oppose any James hiring.

According to the Missourian, “A CAIR petition opposing James’ hiring had 289 signatures [as of Wednesday evening], but the organization will not present the petition to university officials until it reaches 1,000 signatures, Syed said.”

James and the Rendition of Children

The IHRC report highlighted James’ role as the leader of a military team sent to Afghanistan in early spring 2003 to render three young teenage boys from Bagram to Guantanamo. According to IHRC, James supervised the forceful and arbitrary detention of the Afghan boys, “transported thousands of miles away from their families and denied them access to counsel.”

An April 2011 Truthout story described numerous media reports about the bereft parents, who were never informed by James or any US personnel that their children had been taken into custody, much less whisked off to Guantanamo.

The children told news media after their release they had not seen or heard from their families for many months after they were seized. They complained of homesickness during their incarceration. Though the UK Telegraph quoted one 15-year-old prisoner (some reports said he was 13) as praising the soldiers who watched over him; he also was critical of US authorities for not notifying his parents for ten months of his incarceration, even though he says he gave the Red Cross letters from the first months of his incarceration.

“They stole 14 months of my life and my family’s life. I was entirely innocent – just a poor boy looking for work,” the young teen said.

The families by most accounts were desperate to find out what happened to their children. No US authority or the Red Cross informed them about the fate of their sons for many months. James never raises the issue of the boys’ parents in his book.

According to a February 2004 story in The Washington Post, Nayatullah, “an illiterate farmer of about 60,” traveled to work sites throughout his area, asking if anyone had seen his son. No one had. “Finally I thought he must be dead,” the father said.

Another boy’s mother spoke through a translator to a Guardian UK correspondent about how she suffered not knowing her son’s fate. She cried “every night thinking about my son.”

“‘I prayed to God, I asked, ‘Where is my son?’ she continued. ‘He was just a boy, much too young to disappear on his own.'”

The family and other villagers looked high and low for the boy. Family members and friends went to Bagram, Logar and Gardez to ask the Americans about their son’s whereabouts, but “no one knew about him.” His father sold his land to acquire the several thousand dollars it took to fund the search for his son. It took the family seven months before they found out where their son was held.

At last, with no explanation or apology, the boys were released in January 2004. James had left Guantanamo after May 2003, but in his book, he wrote proudly of his work with the child detainees. “This is how my country handles prisoners,” he said. “It’s not all about abuse. We can take juveniles like that and send them home better than we found them.”

As for the boys, for whom no evidence of terrorism was ever described or revealed, James still referred to them in his book as “far from innocent” and “teenage terrorists.” Still, the psychologist in James also noted that the boys were terribly traumatized, “”not only terrified, but also disheveled and lost.”

James wrote they were “the most fragile – psychologically, medically and academically – children I had ever met.” Even so, he saw them also as a “case study” for his “softer” style of interrogation – “exactly the kind of prisoners I needed to test my philosophy on interrogation.”

Asked about the actions of James in the matter of the rendition of the teenaged boys, and the failure to notify the parents, Dr. Pullis would not respond.

According to an Open Letter to the American Psychological Association by two psychologists – Trudy Bond and Steven Reisner – the APA dismissed without investigation a 2007 ethics complaint by Bond against James which highlighted the rendition of the boys and the failure to notify the parents.

James has also been the subject of license board complaints in Ohio and Louisiana. His BSCT associate, Dr. John Leso was the subject of a licensing complaint in New York State, and Dr. James Mitchell, one of the chief architects of the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques,” faced a similar complaint in Texas. All of these complaints were dismissed by state boards for one reason or another.

Bond and Reisner have called for APA to conduct “a full review of the practices of the APA ethics office with regard to the investigation and adjudication of cases alleging torture, cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment.”

Forgotten in all the controversy, Matthew Burns of the University of Minnesota, the other finalist for the division executive director position, quietly interviewed for the job last week on the MU campus. No decision on the final selection is expected until early March.

Via Truth-Out

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