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19th December

    Contracting a Nasty Infliction ...


US Army logoUS military contractors liable to military law

From Army Times

During an argument, a U.S. civilian contractor utters a few unprintable words to a U.S. military officer. Under newly revised U.S. law, the contractor may be court-martialed.

The same new rules may apply to contractors who drink alcohol or possess pornography in countries where it is forbidden, commit adultery or fraternize, the military’s term for having improper relationships.

A five-word revision of the U.S. legal code, passed virtually unnoticed by Congress last fall, would make U.S. civilians working for the U.S. military in Iraq, Afghanistan or other “contingency operations” subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).

Before the revision, contractors were governed by the UCMJ only in times of declared wars.

Contractors now can be punished for actions not ordinarily prosecutable under U.S. law, said Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council, an organization that represents government contractors.

The legal change is the work of Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who said it would give military commanders a more fair and efficient means of discipline on the battlefield by placing civilian contractors accompanying the Armed Forces in the field under court-martial jurisdiction during contingency operations as well as in times of declared war.

New Reasons To Prosecute Civilian contractors now might be punished for disrespecting an officer, disregarding an order or committing adultery — actions that are not prosecutable under U.S. law, Soloway said.


19th December

    Cruel Punishment ...


Lethal injection roomStill mouthing words 20 minutes after lethal injection

From the BBC

Florida Governor Jeb Bush has halted executions in the US state after a flawed death by lethal injection.

Bush said he needed to be sure that the method of death did not constitute "cruel and unusual punishment".

In California, a judge has ruled death by lethal injection violates a state ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The judge ruled California's implementation of lethal injection is broken , but said it can be fixed.

The move came after a man convicted of murder, Angel Diaz, took 34 minutes to die - twice as long as normal - and had to be given a second lethal dose. He needed a second dose of the lethal chemicals as the needles were injected straight through his veins and into the flesh of his arms.

Following the autopsy, the medical examiner concluded the injections had been wrongly administered. He was found to have large chemical burns on both arms and his lawyer reported that the 55-year-old continued to move and mouth words more than 20 minutes after the initial dose.

Inmates are supposed to be rendered unconscious by the chemicals within three to five minutes.

Comment from Malc

"Inmates are supposed to be rendered unconscious by the chemicals within three to five minutes."

And yet if we have an operation in a hospital we are knocked out in seconds. Clearly this three to five minutes is to torture the prisoner. They could knock him out and then slit his throat or something.

I wonder if there is anything civilised in that country at all.


26th November

    Welcome to Fortress USA

Fortress USAFrom The Telegraph

The land of the free has become the home of the rude thanks to the "arrogant" and "unpredictable" immigration officials who police its borders, according to a survey of travellers.

The nation that once welcomed all, is now considered the world's most unfriendly.

Visitors are staying away, costing the country billions of dollars in lost revenue, and the situation threatens America's already battered image, according to the group behind the survey.

The Discover America Partnership, a group of travel industry leaders, found that two thirds of the 2,011 foreign visitors it questioned found America "the worst country in the world" in the way they were treated.

Visiting the United States and interacting with the American people can have a powerful, positive effect on how non-US residents see our country, Geoff Freeman, executive director of the DAP, said. Unfortunately, perceptions of a 'rude' and 'arrogant' entry process are turning away travellers and harming America's image.

The survey of visitors from 16 countries showed that the US was ranked "the worst" in terms of visas and immigration procedures by 39%, twice as many as the next destination considered unfriendly, the Middle East and the Asian subcontinent. More than half of those surveyed said US immigration officials were rude and two thirds said they feared they would be detained on arrival for benign mistakes in paperwork or for saying the wrong thing to Customs and Border Protection staff. The DAP said travel to the US from countries other than Mexico and Canada was down 17% from its high in 2000.

Earlier this year Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, promised to speed up what is for many a lengthy and expensive visa process and make the US a friendlier place to visit. But critics say they have yet to see evidence of improvements.


11th November

    Poking Fun at the Quick to Sue

Borat film posterFrom The Times

The makers of the hit Borat have been sued by two American college students who claim they were duped into taking part in the film.

In papers served at a court in Santa Monica, Los Angeles, the two plaintiffs said that they have suffered and will continue to suffer humiliation, mental anguish, and emotional and physical distress, loss of reputation, goodwill and standing in the community after being shown drinking with Borat Sagdiyev, a fictional Kazakhstani television reporter, in a camper van.

In the scene, three young men, identified in the film as students from the Chi Psi fraternity of the University of South Carolina, get drunk with Borat, watch a sex video that purports to show Pamela Anderson, the American TV star, and make disparaging remarks about slavery, women and ethnic minorities.

In the lawsuit filed by the college students, the plaintiffs said they were paid $200, promised that the film would not be shown in America and that they would not be clearly identified.

Believing the film would not be viewed in the United States and at the encouragement of Defendants, Plaintiffs engaged in behaviour that they otherwise would not have engaged in , the suit claims.

Update: Watertight Release Papers

27th January 2008 In November 2006, two male college students from South Carolina who picked up Borat as he was hitchhiking sued after being shown making racist remarks and schooling their passenger in lewd, frat-house humour.

Their lawyer alleged that the film had made both men so notorious that they were finding it difficult to get work, but their bid to get both compensation and have the offending scene cut from future broadcasts of the film failed.

The ruling came despite the students’ claims that the production crew took them to a bar to drink and “loosen up” before filming, and that they were told the “documentary” would only be shown outside the United States. Another US court has thrown out a lawsuit against Borat’s creator brought by one of his unwitting victims - who says she was left embarrassed and humiliated after being duped into appearing in the movie.

The claim was filed by Kathie Martin, an etiquette tutor from Birmingham, Alabama, who attempted to teach the apparently sexist and bigoted Kazakh some modern American manners.

She launched the suit against both Baron Cohen and the film company, Twentieth Century Fox, last April, but now the Supreme Court in Alabama has turned it down - thanks partly to the carefully-worded release form which the film’s producers made each of Borat’s interviewees sign before they were filmed.

Written in dense legalese, and typically thrust in front of the subject just before they were about to go on camera, the form granted the film-makers indemnity for any “breaches of alleged moral behaviour”, and also stipulates that cases can only be brought through courts in New York state.

Issuing the judgment, though, Alabama justice Mike Bolin hinted that he sympathised with Ms Martin’s complaint. Pointedly declining to discuss Borat’s manners in detail, he simply remarked: It is sufficient to say that an eventful meal ensued, during which the alleged reporter engaged in behaviour that would generally be considered boorish and offensive.


6th October

    Holier Than Thou Credit Card Companies

I think I would be looking for a new provider if I used a card from one of these shit companies.

From The Telegraph

Millions of UK credit card users could be blocked from betting online in the wake of the US Congress passing laws curbing payments for internet gambling in America. Two of the UK's most popular credit cards - MBNA and Capital One - have refused to rule out barring customers from gaming sites.

The news emerged after weekend moves to outlaw payments to online gambling sites by US-based banks and credit card firms - a development that saw the value of online gambling companies listed in London drop by 3.5bn on Monday.

APACS, the payment industry's trade association, predicted that some American companies operating in the UK could now look to impose a ban. They may take the decision because of corporate structure, if a chief executive knows that he risks arrest next time he steps off a plane in the US, said Sandra Quinn, the director of corporate communications for APACS.

A spokesman for MBNA, which has seven million credit cards out of a total British market of 69.9m, declined to rule out a policy change. We're watching the developments in the US regarding the new legislation. It is a bit too early to say anything at the moment, but we will keep an eye on it

Meanwhile, Capital One, which has headquarters in Falls Church, Virginia, and has more than four million UK customers, said it was unable to make a comment, although Morgan Stanley insisted it had no plans to introduce a ban.

Despite online betting being completely legal in the UK, American Express blocked its card holders from placing online bets 10 years ago. Citibank followed lead two years ago when it justified its actions by saying it was applying "best practice established by Citi Cards in the US".

At the time, it added: We believe that our action will help limit potential risks of fraud, money laundering and the often undesirable financial impact that gambling on credit may have on individuals, and is therefore in the best interests of Citi Cards UK and its customers.


20th September

    Tourism Shackled

Who wants to go to the US and risk being shackled and sent home for some minor infraction in the dim and distant history

From The Times

Moves are afoot to market America and regain valuable revenue from overseas visitors. The US share of international travel has been falling since 1992, but the decline has accelerated since September 11, 2001. Since then America has lost an estimated $286 billion (152 billion) in revenue from foreign tourists.

While global travel has grown by a fifth, the the US travel industry’s share of the world tourism market has shrunk by a third, from 9% to 6%.

Tourism is booming around the world, and we’re not participating in it . said Jay Rasulo, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts .

Last year 49m people visited America, 1.5m fewer than five years earlier. But these figures disguise a u-shaped trend in which visitor numbers slumped for two years after the attacks in 2001 but have been climbing again since 2003.

The West Coast, which has suffered no terrorist attacks, has had a drop in tourism. Last year Los Angeles had 2.5m foreign tourists, 1m fewer than in 2000.

The question is why America is missing out. The immediate obstacle is the stricter security introduced since September 2001. Airline and hotel executives groaned last month at the new limits imposed on hand luggage after the bomb plot scare at Heathrow.

The American tourist industry is painfully aware that many travellers are put off by the tough visa requirements and the hostile reception that can greet them at the country’s airports.

We’re not a welcoming country, said Geoff Freeman, executive director of the Discover America Partnership. Most countries ask people to come visit them. We have more of a fortress appearance.

Tough security measures are only part of the problem, however. Surveys show that America is becoming unpopular with the rest of the world, partly because of the Bush administration’s foreign policy.

Since 2000 the percentage of people holding favourable opinions of the country has fallen from 83% to 56% in Britain, from 78% to 37% in Germany and from 77% to 63% in Japan.

One plank of the Discover America Partnership is that when foreigners actually get to America, they take away a better opinion of it than those who have never been there.

In July, Roger Dow, chief executive of the US Travel Industry Association, said: Research documents the ‘perception boost’ that occurs when someone visits the United States and experiences our nation first-hand. Yet we do little to encourage international travellers to pay us a visit, while challenging entry requirements give travellers a reason to go somewhere else.


9th September

    Bush Tortured by Guilt

From the BBC

President Bush has acknowledged the existence of secret CIA prisons and said 14 key terrorist suspects have now been sent to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The suspects, who include the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, have now been moved out of CIA custody and will face trial.

Bush said the CIA's interrogation programme had been "vital" in saving lives, but denied the use of torture. Instead the CIA had used an "alternative set of procedures", agreed with the justice department, once suspects had stopped talking.

He said all suspects will now be afforded protection under the Geneva Convention.

The new guidelines forbid all torture, the use of dogs to intimidate prisoners, water boarding - the practice of submerging prisoners in water - any kind of sexual humiliation, and many other interrogation techniques.


26th March

    Texas Bar Snitch

From The Telegraph

Undercover agents in Texas are targetting public drunkenness by arresting drinkers for being intoxicated in bars.

The state, which has the highest drink-driving figures in the United States, has launched a campaign against offenders in the very places that serve them alcohol.

In one operation in a Dallas suburb agents from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission visited 36 bars and arrested 30 people for intoxication.

Carolyn Beck, the commission's spokesman, said the arrests were designed to detain drunks before they left bars and behaved in dangerous ways, such as driving. We feel that the only way we're going to get at the drunk-driving problem and the problem of people hurting each other while drunk is by crackdowns like this, Beck said. There are a lot of dangerous and stupid things people do when they're intoxicated, other than get behind the wheel of a car. People walk out into traffic and get run over. People jump off balconies trying to reach a swimming pool and miss.

So far more than 2,200 people have been arrested in bars in the crackdown.

Only those who were clearly drunk were targeted, Beck told the Houston Chronicle. It was not about people who had a couple of beers with dinner. They are people who are so drunk that they caught the attention of a TABC agent.

Agents can either cite the offender for public intoxication or take them to jail if they appear so drunk they could endanger themselves and others. Beck said: People can go into bars and have fun with their friends and not become intoxicated to the point whether they may become a danger to themselves or others.

But the campaign has drawn fierce criticism from bar owners and drinkers who say the tactics bear the hallmarks of "police state'' action. "It's completely ridiculous," said a manager at Christies Sports Bar in Dallas yesterday. People that might be drunk might be taking a cab. I totally disagree with this.


21st February

    US Not Tortured by their Guilt

From The Telegraph

The United Nations has called on America to close its detention centre at Guantanamo Bay "without further delay".

It said all prisoners being held at the centre should be brought to trial or released, and demanded America cease subjecting prisoners to abuse.

The report from the UN Human Rights Commission also charged Washington with violating international human rights treaties to get around their ban on torture. The United States government should close down the Guantanamo Bay detention centre and to refrain from any practice amounting to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Attempts by the United States administration to redefine 'torture' in the framework of the struggle against terrorism in order to allow certain interrogation techniques that would not be permitted under the internationally accepted definition of torture are of utmost concern. The confusion with regard to authorized and unauthorized interrogation techniques over the last years is particularly alarming.

The US is currently holding about 490 men at the military detention centre on the southeastern tip of Cuba. The detainees are accused of having links to the Taliban or al-Qa'eda, though only a handful have been charged since the site opened in Jan 2001.

The Bush administration dismissed the report as a reheating of previous allegations and insisted all Guantanamo detainees are treated humanely. [No doubt according to the US definition as opposed to the definition of the word used by the rest of the world]


1st January

    Interrogation Techniques Enhanced by Torture

From ABC News

Harsh interrogation techniques authorized by top officials of the CIA have led to questionable confessions and the death of a detainee since the techniques were first authorized in mid-March 2002, ABC News has been told by former and current intelligence officers and supervisors.

They say they are revealing specific details of the techniques, and their impact on confessions, because the public needs to know the direction their agency has chosen. All gave their accounts on the condition that their names and identities not be revealed. Portions of their accounts are corrobrated by public statements of former CIA officers and by reports recently published that cite a classified CIA Inspector General's report.

Other portions of their accounts echo the accounts of escaped prisoners from one CIA prison in Afghanistan. They would not let you rest, day or night. Stand up, sit down, stand up, sit down. Don't sleep. Don't lie on the floor, one prisoner said through a translator. The detainees were also forced to listen to rap artist Eminem's "Slim Shady" album. The music was so foreign to them it made them frantic, sources said.

Contacted after the completion of the ABC News investigation, CIA officials would neither confirm nor deny the accounts. They simply declined to comment.

The CIA sources described a list of six "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" instituted in mid-March 2002 and used, they said, on a dozen top al Qaeda targets incarcerated in isolation at secret locations on military bases in regions from Asia to Eastern Europe. According to the sources, only a handful of CIA interrogators are trained and authorized to use the techniques:

  1. The Attention Grab: The interrogator forcefully grabs the shirt front of the prisoner and shakes him.
  2. Attention Slap: An open-handed slap aimed at causing pain and triggering fear.
  3. The Belly Slap: A hard open-handed slap to the stomach. The aim is to cause pain, but not internal injury. Doctors consulted advised against using a punch, which could cause lasting internal damage.
  4. Long Time Standing: This technique is described as among the most effective. Prisoners are forced to stand, handcuffed and with their feet shackled to an eye bolt in the floor for more than 40 hours. Exhaustion and sleep deprivation are effective in yielding confessions.
  5. The Cold Cell: The prisoner is left to stand naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees. Throughout the time in the cell the prisoner is doused with cold water.
  6. Water Boarding: The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner's face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.

According to the sources, CIA officers who subjected themselves to the water boarding technique lasted an average of 14 seconds before caving in. They said al Qaeda's toughest prisoner, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, won the admiration of interrogators when he was able to last between two and two-and-a-half minutes before begging to confess.

The person believes they are being killed, and as such, it really amounts to a mock execution, which is illegal under international law, said John Sifton of Human Rights Watch.

The techniques are controversial among experienced intelligence agency and military interrogators. Many feel that a confession obtained this way is an unreliable tool. Two experienced officers have told ABC that there is little to be gained by these techniques that could not be more effectively gained by a methodical, careful, psychologically based interrogation. According to a classified report prepared by the CIA Inspector General John Helgerwon and issued in 2004, the techniques appeared to constitute cruel, and degrading treatment under the (Geneva) convention, the New York Times reported on Nov. 9, 2005.

It is bad interrogation. I mean you can get anyone to confess to anything if the torture's bad enough, said former CIA officer Bob Baer.

According to CIA sources, Ibn al Shaykh al Libbi, after two weeks of enhanced interrogation, made statements that were designed to tell the interrogators what they wanted to hear. Sources say Al Libbi had been subjected to each of the progressively harsher techniques in turn and finally broke after being water boarded and then left to stand naked in his cold cell overnight where he was doused with cold water at regular intervals.

His statements became part of the basis for the Bush administration claims that Iraq trained al Qaeda members to use biochemical weapons. Sources tell ABC that it was later established that al Libbi had no knowledge of such training or weapons and fabricated the statements because he was terrified of further harsh treatment.

This is the problem with using the waterboard. They get so desperate that they begin telling you what they think you want to hear, one source said.

Sources told ABC that the techniques, while progressively aggressive, are not deemed torture, and the debate among intelligence officers as to whether they are effective should not be underestimated. There are many who feel these techniques, properly supervised, are both valid and necessary, the sources said. While harsh, they say, they are not torture and are reserved only for the most important and most difficult prisoners.

According to the sources, when an interrogator wishes to use a particular technique on a prisoner, the policy at the CIA is that each step of the interrogation process must be signed off at the highest level — by the deputy director for operations for the CIA. A cable must be sent and a reply received each time a progressively harsher technique is used. The described oversight appears tough but critics say it could be tougher. In reality, sources said, there are few known instances when an approval has not been granted. Still, even the toughest critics of the techniques say they are relatively well monitored and limited in use.

Two sources also told ABC that the techniques — authorized for use by only a handful of trained CIA officers — have been misapplied in at least one instance. The sources said that in that case a young, untrained junior officer caused the death of one detainee at a mud fort dubbed the "salt pit" that is used as a prison. They say the death occurred when the prisoner was left to stand naked throughout the harsh Afghanistan night after being doused with cold water. He died, they say, of hypothermia.

According to the sources, a second CIA detainee died in Iraq and a third detainee died following harsh interrogation by Department of Defense personnel and contractors in Iraq. CIA sources said that in the DOD case, the interrogation was harsh, but did not involve the CIA.


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