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Blog: torture

September 13, 2012

Adnan Latif Died on Saturday

Posted by Deborah Popowski

Adnan Latif died on Saturday. He died in Guantánamo.  The Pentagon says he was 32 years old. David Remes, one of his lawyers, says that his documents show that he was 35 or 36 years old.  Given the U.S. government’s dismal track record in getting its facts straight on the people they have rendered, tortured and detained for years without charge, I’ll go with David’s assessment.

A man with a beard wearing orange.
Adnan Latif, who died on Saturday in Guantánamo after being held there since 2002, without charge or trial.

Either way, Adnan and I were close in age.

Of all the things I could write about, this is what I keep coming back to.  I’m trying to figure out what it is about this particular piece of horror news that is making me cry.  This is a question worth asking when reading horror news is a big part of what you do for a living, and the things that once made you cry – the things that you imagined would make everyone cry – stop doing so as regularly, probably because crying all the time, every day, would be too hard.

Last night, I taught my first class of the semester, and today, the mad, exhilarating rush of project work begins, but all I can think about is how long a decade is.  I’ve been thinking about how when Adnan was 25, or maybe 24, my government bought Adnan from the Pakistanis for $5000, and flew him, shackled and drugged, to Guantánamo. And how it was around the same time that this same government flew me to Niger to serve in the Peace Corps, where I explained to Muslims that, never mind what they heard on the radio, my country was not at war with Islam.

The series of images flickers by, our decades in review in split-screen, the realization that for the last ten years, while I made my way through nine homes and a dozen countries; while I explored two other careers before applying to, attending, graduating from and coming back to teach law school; while I was meeting, befriending, falling in love with and marrying my husband—Adnan was sitting, pacing, writing, and fighting in a cell, ill and far from his loved ones.

His lawyer David, who spent the better part of the last few years fighting alongside Adnan for justice, released this statement about him:

“Slightly built and gentle, he was a father and husband. He was a talented poet and was devoutly religious. He never posed a threat to the United States, and he never should have been brought to Guantanamo. The military has not stated a cause of death. However Adnan died, it was Guantanamo that killed him. His death is a reminder of the human cost of the government’s Guantanamo detention policy and underscores the urgency of releasing detainees the government does not intend to prosecute.”

Adam Cohen of The Atlantic summarizes here, with devastating efficiency, the perversity of the system that brought him to this death.

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August 16, 2012

Reckoning With Torture: A Free Public Reading on August 21

Event Notice

August 21, 2012

“Reckoning with Torture”

8 pm

Central Square Theater

450 Massachusetts Avenue

Cambridge, MA

This free public event will feature a dramatic reading of official documents, including testimonies of torture from the “War on Terror.” These declassified documents are among more than 130,000 obtained by the ACLU and partners, who litigated for years to make them public. Following the readings, Clinical Instructor Deborah Popowski, of the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School, will moderate a conversation with the audience and the actors involved.

This performance is part of the ACLU’s larger “Reckoning with Torture” project, based on the premise that engaging with the documentary record is a key step towards coming to terms with the human rights abuses committed by the U.S. government. Director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) will produce a film from the footage of readings by professional actors, former military officials, and ordinary people. To learn how you can contribute your own reading and submit the footage, click here.

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August 24, 2011

Clinic Files UN Complaint on Behalf of Filipina-American Abducted and Tortured in the Philippines


PRESS RELEASE


Melissa Roxas asks UN Special Rapporteur on Torture to call for full and impartial investigation
into her abduction and torture in the Philippines in 2009


August 24, 2011, Los Angeles, CA
—Filipina-American Melissa Roxas has filed a submission with the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture seeking justice for the abduction and torture she suffered in the Philippines in 2009.  The submission, prepared by the International Human Rights Clinic and the firm of Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris Hoffman & Harrison LLP, requests that the Special Rapporteur call upon the Philippines government to investigate Ms. Roxas’s abuse in order to identify the perpetrators and hold them accountable.

Melisa Roxas speaks into a microphone.
Melissa Roxas, a Filipina-American, was kidnapped and tortured in the Philippines in 2009.

In May 2009, Ms. Roxas was preparing for an aid mission in the Philippines when approximately fifteen armed men abducted her, along with two companions.  She was then held for six days, during which time she was kept blindfolded and handcuffed, deprived of food and water, and brutally interrogated.  During these interrogations, Ms. Roxas was choked, beaten, and suffocated with a plastic bag.  While in captivity, Ms. Roxas heard sounds consistent with those of a military airbase.  For example, some of her captors used the greeting “sir,” and one informed her she had been detained by a special forces unit of the Philippines military.

Ms. Roxas initially pursued investigations in the Philippines, but with limited success.  While the Philippines judicial system and other bodies agreed that her allegations of detention and torture were factually true, they failed to identify the perpetrators.  Some of Ms. Roxas’s efforts to investigate were barred.  For example, though Ms. Roxas presented evidence indicating that she had been abducted by members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, she was prohibited from inspecting the military base where she suspects the detention occurred.

“Although no one denies the abuse that I suffered, the Philippines government has repeatedly denied me justice for it,” said Ms. Roxas, who continues to seek a full and impartial investigation that will lead to accountability for those responsible.

“Faced with a lack of transparency and a lack of results in the Philippines, Melissa Roxas had to turn to the UN,” said Paul Hoffman, Ms. Roxas’s attorney at Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris Hoffman & Harrison.  “Rather than accepting impunity she is taking her case to the international level.”

Continue Reading…

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August 12, 2011

Legal Victory Places Massive Aníbal Bruno Prison Under International Sanction

Posted by Fernando Ribeiro Delgado

On August 4, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights officially called on Brazil to take all steps necessary to protect the life, personal integrity, and health of prisoners in Aníbal Bruno prison and reduce over-crowding at the pre-trial center, one of largest prison complexes in Latin America and among Brazil’s most violent.  This is the first time Aníbal Bruno prison has come under international sanction.  The measures were sought this past June by a coalition of human rights groups including the Catholic Prison Ministry (Pastoral Carcerária), the Ecumenical Service of Advocacy in Prisons (Serviço Ecumênico de Militância nas Prisões), Global Justice (Justiça Global), and the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School.

Starting in 2010, the Clinic and its partner organizations began gathering evidence of 55 violent deaths occurring in the prison since 2008, the vast majority of them homicides.  Joint fact-finding visits documented systematic torture and severe medical neglect as well.  The coalition reported these abuses to state authorities—as had occurred many times before—but little was done to address the prison’s problems.  The request for precautionary measures to the Inter-American Commission was filed this past June, as the death toll continued to rise.

The coalition’s filing sought measures to reduce rampant violence within the facility, provide health services to gravely ill prisoners, and promote long-term reforms that would stem excessive pre-trial incarceration, improve conditions of detention, and tackle corruption. Brazil has until August 24 to inform the Commission of its efforts to comply with the decision.

Located in one of Brazil’s tourism capitals, Recife, Pernambuco state, the Aníbal Bruno prison gained national notoriety in 2008 when the facility was designated by a congressional inquiry as one of the top ten worst detention centers in the country.  Inhuman detention conditions persist today.  Aníbal Bruno prison is currently at 334 percent capacity, with over 4,800 prisoners crammed into space designed to hold 1,448.  In its decision, the Commission sought from Brazil “a substantive reduction in the overpopulation of persons deprived of liberty [in Aníbal Bruno],” among other steps.

During their inspections, coalition members found evidence of systematic torture, including signs that some prisoners had been partially skinned and had their bones broken in assaults orchestrated by “keymasters” (chaveiros)—prisoners who are officially deputized with guard duties.  The “keymaster” prisoners derive their nicknames from the fact that they literally control the keys to cells and, in practice, decide which prisoners get to access medical and other services outside the cellblock walls.  The coalition documented prisoners suffering severe medical neglect in Aníbal Bruno, including untreated open wounds, infections, and chronic pain.  The Inter-American Commission specifically urged Brazil to end the “keymaster” system, provide, “adequate medical attention to the [prisoners],” and adopt, “all the measures necessary to avoid the transmission of contagious diseases.”

Members of the Catholic Prison Ministry and the Ecumenical Service of Advocacy in Prisons have been monitoring human rights conditions in Aníbal Bruno prison for decades. Justiça Global and the Clinic began fact-finding, international litigation, and media advocacy surrounding Aníbal Bruno last fall, joining the work of advocates in the region.

For the initial complaint on Aníbal Bruno (in Portuguese with certain names redacted), click here [warning: this document contains a graphic image].

For the Commission’s decision (in Portuguese), click here.

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July 28, 2011

Ohioans Continue to Fight for Torture Accountability Close to Home

Posted by Deborah Popowski

If you remember, in April we asked an Ohio court to order that state’s psychology board to revisit the case against Dr. Larry James, the current dean of Wright State University’s professional psychology school in Dayton.  Before taking the helm at Wright State, Dr. James was a U.S. Army colonel and senior interrogation psychologist in Guantánamo.  During his tenure, government authorities reported that boys and men at the prison were threatened with rape and death; forced to strip naked; short-shackled into stress positions for hours; and physically assaulted.

Drawing largely on Dr. James’s own statements, government reports, and the testimony of survivors and witnesses, the International Human Rights Clinic filed a professional misconduct complaint against Dr. James with the Ohio State Psychology Board, on behalf of four Ohioans: Dr. Trudy Bond, Dr. Josie Setzler, Rev. Colin Bossen, and Michael Reese.  The ethics complaint included allegations that he had advised on interrogations that included torture.

This past January, after seven months of refusing all offers to provide additional information or address possible evidentiary or legal concerns, the Board dismissed the 50-page complaint with nary a reason given.

In April, the Clinic and Toledo attorney Terry Lodge filed a mandamus petition with the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas.  We specifically asked that the court compel the Board to conduct a meaningful investigation of the allegations in the complaint, and hold a hearing on the evidence.  At a minimum, we asked that the court demand from the Board a good faith explanation for the dismissal of the complaint.

In May, the Board moved to dismiss our mandamus petition, arguing that Dr. Bond, Dr. Setzler, Rev. Bossen and Mr. Reese had not suffered enough harm to bring this matter before the court.  They also argued that the Board has no legal obligation to take any action in response to the allegations against Dr. James, or even to give a reason for its dismissal.

Last Friday, we filed our opposition to that motion.  In our brief, we explained the many ways in which the original complainants—a psychologist, a veteran, a minister and a mental health advocate, all working in Ohio—had in fact been injured by the Board’s failure to treat their serious complaint seriously.  We also laid out how and why the Board did have a legal duty to respond.  To our delight, Dr. Bond promptly wrote back with a selection of her favorite passages from the brief.  For those of us who became human rights lawyers out of commitment to the issues (rather than an unconditional love of writing legal briefs), it is moments like these that make us love our job.  Thanks, Trudy!

Below is one of the paragraphs she found most important, along with one of ours:

“This case is ultimately about: whether the Board, an agency tasked with protecting the public from the unsafe practice of psychology can essentially ignore documented, credible allegations that one of its psychologists used his professional skills to torture and exploit people; whether it can refuse to bring charges against that psychologist, even when he has written a book in which he breaches confidentiality obligations to young patients and then admits to exploiting them; and whether it can do nothing while the psychologist, who has misrepresented his experience in Guantánamo, oversees the education of dozens of future psychologists in this state.”

***

“That the conduct at issue took place in Guantánamo surely makes its adjudication politically sensitive, but that in no way lessens the need for the Board to perform its duties.  Psychologists employed by the military are not exempt from the laws and rules governing psychologists in this state; on the contrary, the military expressly relies on state licensing boards to control the quality of their licensees’ services.  The Board has a clear legal duty to enforce its norms fairly, whether the psychologist is working in Guantánamo or an Ohio prison or an Ohio school.  Failure to do so in this case is an abdication of its duty to protect the public, and demeans the value of an Ohio psychology license and undermines professional standards in this state.”

For the full brief, click here.


Case History


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April 14, 2011

Accountability for Torture Begins at Home

Posted by Dr. Trudy Bond, Michael Reese, Rev. Colin Bossen, Dr. Josie Setzle

Last July, we four residents of Ohio—psychologist, a veteran, a reverend, and a mental health advocate—filed a complaint with our state psychology board.  We were, and still are, deeply concerned about the behavior of a man named Larry James, Army colonel who served as a senior interrogation psychologist at the military base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.  Dr. James has since retired and is currently Dean of Wright State University’s School of Professional Psychology in Dayton, right here in our home state of Ohio.

At Guantánamo, Dr. James supervised a group of mental health professionals whose job it was to calibrate the harm inflicted on people interrogated at the base.  It is our strong belief—based on his own statements, government reports, and the testimony of survivors and witnesses—that Dr. James advised on interrogations that included torture.  During his tenure, a Senate committee and other authorities reported that boys and men were threatened with rape and death; forced to strip naked; short-shackled into stress positions for hours; and physically assaulted.

Our complaint to the Ohio Psychology Board, which we filed with the help of Toledo attorney Terry Lodge and the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, was well-documented, to say the least.  It alleged that Dr. James violated 18 provisions in Ohio law and Board regulations.  It was 50 pages long and supported by over 1000 pages of documents.  We repeatedly offered to answer any questions the Board might have, or provide additional witnesses.  All such offers were refused or ignored.

More than six months later, the Board sent a cursory response, in which it said, simply:

It has been determined that we are unable to proceed to formal action in this matter.

Who made this determination?  Why is the Board “unable” to proceed?  Was there even an investigation, and if so, how does the Board justify refusing additional information?

The Board’s vague response suggests a belief that it can pick and choose which complaints to take seriously, and which it would rather not examine, without justifying its decisions.  As residents of Ohio who care deeply about the health and safety of our communities, we find this unacceptable.

The Board is charged with protecting the public from unethical behavior by mental health professionals.  According to state law, and its own rules, it has a duty to investigate credible allegations of professional misconduct. When the evidence indicates, as it does here, that a serious violation likely occurred, the Board has a duty to take formal disciplinary action.

Fairness, accountability, responsiveness and transparency are among the Board’s Core Values, as listed in its Mission Statement.  To remind the Board of these principles, we filed for a writ of mandamus in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, asking the Court to compel the Board to take action against Dr. James based on the overwhelming evidence we presented.  We feel a responsibility to our fellow Ohio residents to ensure that the unethical practice of psychology is, at the very least, investigated.  The Court should as well.

April 14, 2011

Ohio Residents Challenge Board’s Failure to Discipline Guantánamo Psychologist


Yesterday, Ohio residents asked a state court to compel the State Psychology Board of Ohio to take action against Dr. Larry James, a local psychology dean who oversaw abusive interrogations at the prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Working with Toledo civil rights attorney Terry Lodge, the International Human Rights Clinic filed a petition for a writ of mandamus in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, representing Dr. Trudy Bond, Michael Reese, Rev. Colin Bossen, and Dr. Josie Setzler.  Clinical Fellow Deborah Popowski and students Sara Zampierin, JD ’11, Deonna Gaskin, JD ’12, and Ben Hoffman, JD ’11, went to Columbus this week to file the petition, meet with clients and supporters, and talk to the press.

For more information:

March 25, 2011

Former GITMO Psychologist Claims to be Named to White House Task Force on “Enhancing the Psychological Well-Being of The Military Family”

Posted by Cara Solomon

Larry James, former Guantanamo psychologist and subject of a professional misconduct complaint filed by the International Human Rights Clinic, has claimed he was appointed to a White House Task Force on “Enhancing Psychological Well-Being of The Military Family.”

“That’s just a scary thought,” said Michael Reese, a former U.S. Army private, a member of Disabled American Veterans, and one of the Ohio residents who filed the complaint.  “I just don’t trust him.”

In an e-mail to colleagues and students of Wright State University, where Dr. James serves as Dean of the School of Professional Psychology, he announced “with great pride and pleasure” that he had been “appointed by the First Lady,” and that he would be attending the Task Force’s first meeting at the White House, to be hosted next Tuesday by Mrs. Obama and her staff.

In a Salon post today, Glenn Greenwald asks:

“Of all the psychologists to choose from, why would they possibly choose to honor and elevate the former chief psychologist of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib at the height of the Bush abuses?  More disturbing still, among those most damaged by detainee abuse are the service members forced to participate in it; why would the White House possibly want to put on a task force about the health of military families someone, such as Dr. James, who at the very least is directly associated with policies that so profoundly harmed numerous members of the military and their families?”

UPDATE (3/26/2011)

Today, Greenwald received an interesting response from the White House in which it disputes some—but not all—of Dr. James’s statements.  As a result of this response, we changed the language in the headline from “Named to White House Task Force” to “Claims to Be Named to White House Task Force,” and, in the text, changed the wording of the first paragraph from “reportedly appointed” to “claims he was appointed.”  We also included additional quotes from the e-mail circulated by Dr. James to the Wright State University School of Professional Psychology community.

In an update this afternoon, Greenwald wrote:

“In an email to me from the First Lady’s Communications Director, the White House claims:

Several members of the White House staff are convening a meeting with multiple mental health professionals on Tuesday to discuss issues pertaining to the wellness of military families.  SAMHSA and the American Psychological Association have both been asked to attend.  We understand that Dr. James is involved with these groups and may have been indirectly invited to attend this meeting.

She claims, however, that he now will not be at that meeting, and further states that ‘Dr. James has not been appointed to serve in any capacity with the White House.'”

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