While Texas Dismisses Torture Charges Against James Mitchell, Other Investigations Under Political Pressures
Danny Robbins at Associated Press reported last Friday that the Texas State Board of Examiners dismissed a licensing complaint filed by a Texas psychologist against former SERE psychologist James Mitchell. Mitchell was accused of “violating the standards demanded by the Psychologists‘ Licensing Act and the Board‘s Rules of Practice” (PDF). Specifically, the complaint cited Mitchell’s role in the design and implementation of a torture program, “ignoring the complete lack of a scientific basis for the regime‘s safety and—assuming its safety—its effectiveness,” as well as his actual participation in the torture of prisoners such as Abu Zubaydah.
The complaint against Mitchell was filed on June 16, 2010, and was signed by Texas psychologist Jim L.H. Cox. Attorneys Dicky Grigg and Joseph Margulies were also signatories to the complaint. Grigg and Margulies have also represented Guantanamo prisoners before the government.
According to the AP story, “The board said there wasn’t enough evidence to prove Mitchell violated its rules,” despite the fact that “thousands of pages of evidence, including sworn testimony, tying Mitchell to practices that violate professional ethics” were presented to the board. It is not known if Mitchell utilized in his board defense any of the $5 million “indemnity” defense fund set up by the CIA for use in legal defense for Michell and his CIA contractor partner, Bruce Jessen.
The hearing was held on February 10. Proceedings were held in secret session, and only Mitchell and his representative were present before the three board members. No complainants were at the hearing. Two days later, the board issued its finding of dismissal. Strangely, no reports of the Texas board decision surfaced for another two weeks.
As AP notes, the Mitchell decision follows the dismissal of other cases brought before boards in New York, Ohio, and Louisiana, concerning other military psychologists, Major John Leso and Colonel Larry James. Late last year, the Center for Justice and Accountability and the New York ACLU filed asked a New York court “to order the New York Office of Professional Discipline (OPD) to perform its duty to investigate a complaint of professional misconduct against Dr. John Francis Leso, who, as asserted in the complaint, violated professional standards when he designed and participated in the abusive interrogation program at Guantánamo.”
Worldwide Actions to Hold the Torturers Accountable
The decision of the Texas state board also comes in the context of a number of legal actions worldwide to bring the Bush-era torturers to justice. Lawyers and international human rights activists and organizations continue to press for investigations and prosecutions of the torture of Abu Zubaydah and other “high-value” detainees held in CIA black site prisons around the world, or sent to foreign countries for torture as part of the U.S. “extraordinary rendition” program.
Most recently, the Spanish National Court announced it had the competent standing to proceed with the investigations into the torture of former Guantanamo prisoner Lahcen Ikassrien, since he had been a Spanish resident for 13 years. Center for Constitutional Rights said in regards to the decision:
Since the U.S. government has not only failed to investigate the illegal actions of its own officials and, according to diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, also sought to interfere in the Spanish judicial process and stop the case from proceeding, this will be the first real investigation of the U.S. torture program. This is a victory for accountability and a blow against impunity.
Meanwhile, in Poland, where the U.S. constructed one of the CIA black site prisons, authorities were stymied in their efforts to secure U.S. cooperation into their country’s investigation into the CIA activities at the black site near the Szymany air base in northern Poland. The Obama administration cited an international Agreement on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters, whereby “a country has the right to refuse to provide legal assistance if the execution of the request would encroach on this country’s security or another interest of this country.” Requests for an investigation were forwarded by legal represenatives of former CIA prisoners Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.
In a direct rebuff to the United States, a Polish state prosecutor last January became “the first state official to accept Abu Zubaydah’s claims that he was a victim of extraordinary rendition and secret detention in Poland.” Zubaydah is being represented by Polish lawyer Bartlomiej Jankowski, who is working with the British human rights charities Interights and Reprieve, in addition to U.S. lawyers Joseph Margulies and Brent Mickum. Al-Nashiri was recognized as a “victim” of torture by Polish authorities last fall.
In Lithuania, where other black site prisons also operated, presumably near Vilnius, state authorities meanwhile have dropped investigations into torture, rendition and CIA activities. After initial support for an investigation of the prisons — one of them constructed at a former horse riding club — Prosecutor Darius Valys announced in January that the investigation was over. According to a report by Reprieve, Valys admitted “that three ex-security services agents had ‘abused their position’” but “oddly stopped short of addressing allegations of serious official crimes, including torture and illegal imprisonment.” In addition, the Lithuanian prosecutor made a pro forma nod to expired statutes of limitation, and also a bizarre charge that NGO “lack of transparency” had harmed the investigation.
Attorney Joseph Margulies replied, “The Prosecutor is trying to deflect blame for the failure of his investigation onto NGOs and the media. It’s ironic that an official investigation into a secret torture facility should claim to be thwarted because the media is insufficiently transparent.”
UK State Investigation Blasted by Human Rights Groups
A British government investigation into UK complicity with U.S. torture programs, announced last July after revelations in the UK court case on Binyam Mohamed, has met criticism from almost the beginning. In particular, the decision to have Sir Peter Gibson, the Intelligence Services Commissioner, responsible for monitoring secret bugging operations by MI5, MI6 and GCHQ (Britain’s version of the NSA), lead the investigation was questioned from the very start.
At this point, a number of British NGOs are so concerned that the inquiry, according to the UK Guardian, “will fail to meet the UK’s obligations under international and domestic law,” that they are considering boycotting the proceedings. Nine of the NGOs — Amnesty International, Cageprisoners, JUSTICE, Liberty, the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, Redress, Reprieve, the AIRE Centre and British Irish Rights Watch — have written a letter to Gibson expressing their concerns.
The letter is substantive and detailed, and includes discussion of whether the inquiry as currently constituted can meet Article 3 (prohibition against torture) requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) regarding promptness, independence, and thoroughness. In addition, the NGO signatories note the insufficiency of public scrutiny and victim participation, the lack of effective remedy and redress for victims, secrecy invoked over the material to be presented, and “the lack of any current powers to compel the production of documents or the attendance of witnesses.”
Another outstanding issue facing the inquiry concerns the last British resident in Guantanamo, Shaker Aamer. As Andy Worthington pointed out in an article on the torture inquiry, due to begin this coming week, Aamer “is still held despite being cleared for release by a military review board in 2007, when President Bush was still in power.” Aamer is the only British torture prisoner to directly claim “that British agents were in the room when he was tortured by US operatives in the US prison in Kandahar prior to his transfer to Guantánamo in February 2002.” Worthington notes that the British inquiry “cannot legitimately begin while he is still held,” as Aamer is a crucial witness as to UK participation, “whose testimony Sir Peter Gibson will need to hear if the inquiry is to have any credibility.”
What Is to Be Done?
It is perhaps unavoidable that the efforts to establish investigations and promote accountability have been led by attorneys and human rights activists (most of them attorneys, too, by the way). As a result, the movement for accountability appears to rise and fall based on the legal decisions of governments, administrative boards, military commissions, and non-U.S. governmental prosecutors. While these legal actions are necessary, and the lawyers and NGO personnel involved deserve our thanks, at the same time the anti-torture movement suffers from an over-reliance on legalism at the expense of social struggle to end the use of torture.
On the other end of the spectrum, groups that promote local activism to bring justice to torture victims or accountability to war criminals like John Yoo, tend to get lost in overly parochial approaches, which when they fail, as in the case of the defeat of a Berkeley, California measure to endorse resettling cleared Guantanamo detainees in that city, promote demoralization and/or endless rounds of campaigning, with little or no progress. While such activists also deserve praise for their efforts, behind the scenes they too express frustration over what course of action might bring greater success.
The underlying problem is political, and lies in a refusal to take on the legitimacy of the so-called “war on terror,” which the U.S. uses as an excuse for the extension of its power abroad in support of corporations that seek to extend their economic influence and power, and which are interpenetrated with the U.S. military and intelligence establishment in that effort. It is apposite to notice, too, the efforts of the government to interdict and obstruct the work of anti-government critics, as the recent revelations surrounding FBI abuse and HBGary make abundantly clear.
In addition, effective action means taking on the misleadership and perfidy of both political parties, both Democratic and Republican. The Obama administration’s refusal to investigate war crimes, and its implication in ongoing war crimes (abuse of prisoners, assassination, use of drones) has not seriously been challenged by the liberal establishment.
The issue of U.S. or British torture is not really separable from issues of war abroad and domestic crackdown on civil liberties at home. Nor is it separable from the economic policies of the United States, which under both political parties has favored the enrichment of a privileged class over the immiseration of large portions of the population.
Nothing demonstrates the bankruptcy of the current ruling elites than the use of torture and assassination. The fight against torture must mean a full political assault against the legitimacy of a state apparatus and its defenders, who use such horrific means as torture as a bulwark against those who they fear challenge their rule and privileges. It must also involve the full use of the social power of civil society (unions, churches, professional organizations), which thus far have remained wedded to leaderships that will not challenge the electoral mastery of a morally and politically bankrupt two-party system.