North America & Oceania

US Senate Report Identifies CIA Torture

By: Brandon R. Cottrell 
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C., United States – A recent US Senate report states that the CIA used secret “black sites” during the presidency of George W. Bush to interrogate prisoners—interrogation techniques included dunking the suspects in cold water, and smashing their heads against walls, both of which were not on the Justice Department’s approved list of techniques.

The US Senate’s report issued findings that the CIA, under Former President George W. Bush, used “black sites” to torture suspects using illegal techniques (Photo Courtesy BBC).

The report is broken down into three parts; “one that traces the chronology of interrogation operations, another that assesses intelligence officials’ claims and a third that contains case studies on virtually every prisoner held in CIA custody since the program began in 2001.”

Those familiar with the “black sites” report that the interrogations provided little useful intelligence information and that much of the intelligence that was claimed to result from the interrogations were exaggerated in an attempt to justify the program.  For example, one official said that they water-boarded one suspect over eighty times and that the only valuable information that came from that suspect was revealed prior to the water boarding.

One U.S. Official stated that “The CIA described [its program] repeatedly both to the Department of Justice and eventually to Congress as getting unique, otherwise unobtainable intelligence that helped disrupt terrorist plots and save thousands of lives [but] was that actually true?  The answer is no.”

Kevin Drum, a political blogger, echoed those feelings when he said that “the torture was even worse than we thought; it produced very little in the way of actionable intelligence; and the CIA lied about this in order to preserve their ability to torture prisoners.  Anybody who isn’t sickened by this needs to take very long, very deep look into their souls.”

The CIA has not yet formally commented on the report, as it as yet to see the final version of the report.  However, those who have seen the report suggest that it contained factual errors and misguided conclusions.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney continues to defend the program, saying, “If I would have to do it all over again, I would. The results speak for themselves.”

The Senate Intelligence Committee that has been investigating the CIA since 2009 will decide this week whether to send a summarized version of the report, which is over six thousand pages long, to President Obama who could then decide to release the report to the public.


For more information, please see the following:

BBC News – Secret US Senate Report Details CIA Abuse – 1-04-2014

Business Insider – CIA Torture: It Was Worse Than Anyone Knew – 01-04-2014

MSNBC – Report: CIA Deceived On Torture – 01-04-2014

Washington Post – CIA Misled On Interrogation Program, Senate Report Says – 31-03-2014

Nine Nuclear Commanders Fired in Cheating Scandal

by Michael Yoakum
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C., United States – Nine Air Force commanders were fired Thursday after being implicated in scandal involving cheating on nuclear proficiency tests.  Air Force leadership additionally will discipline dozens of junior officers posted at Malmstrom Air Force Base, a nuclear missile base in Montana.

Col. Robert Stanley, who was led Malmstrom’s 341st Missile Wing, reportedly resigned in light of the cheating scandal. (photo courtesy of BBC News)

Though not directly involved in the cheating scandal, the nine commanders held leadership positions at Malmstrom.  Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said the nine “failed to provide adequate oversight of their crew force.”  Those firings were in addition to Col. Stanley, who resigned from his post Thursday.

“Leadership’s focus on perfection led commanders to micromanage their people,” said Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson, commander of the Air Force Global Strike Command.  Wilson added “Leaders lost sight of the fact that execution in the field is more important than what happens in the classroom.”

Officers at Malmstrom were under pressure to achieve 100% proficiency on regular tests when only 90% was required, perhaps precipitating the cheating scandal.

James indicated Thursday that 100 junior officers were implicated in the cheating scandal, either for participating or overlooking the cheating. Nine of those officers were cleared of charges while the remainder received punishments ranging from letters of counseling to courts-martial. 30-40 of those officers are expected to be retrained and returned to duty.

Disciplinary measures are one of a variety of changes expected to affect the Air Force’s intercontinental ballistic missile programs, according to both James and Wilson.  Other issues to be addressed are morale and the micromanagement of lower-level officers.  James, while optimistic about the changes, cautioned that progress will likely be slow.

“The issues that we have before us today are tough, and they didn’t come overnight . . . While we have progress in certain areas in recent years, there is more work to be done,” James said.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also expressed concern about the state of morale and discipline among nuclear officers.  Hagel instituted a review of nuclear forces to look into the impact of these issues.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Nine fired in US nuclear force cheating scandal – 27 March 2014

CNN – 9 Air Force commanders fired from jobs over nuclear missile test cheating – 27 March 2014

Fox News – Commanders fired in nuclear missile exam cheating scandal – 27 March 2014

Russia Today – Nine nuclear base commanders fired from US Air Force over cheating scandal 27 March 2014

The Washington Post – Nuke test cheating linked to flawed leadership – 27 March 2014

Houston Police Arrest Five Men for Kidnapping 115 Immigrants

by Michael Yoakum
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

HOUSTON, United States – Police arrested five men on Tuesday, charging them with kidnapping 115 people at gunpoint and holding them in a small Houston area home.  The 115 people are suspected illegal immigrant, who were told by their captors that they must pay a ransom in order to continue their entry into the United States.  Sixteen of the 115 captors were minors.

Police found ninety-nine men and sixteen women in a 1300 square foot Houston area home last week. (photo courtesy of BBC News)

The five men – identified as Jose Aviles-Villa, Jonathan Solorzano-Tavila, Antonio Barruquet-Hildiberta, Jose Cesmas-Borja and Eugenio Sesmas-Borja – appeared before a federal judge Tuesday on hostage taking, weapons, and conspiracy charges.  The judge denied bail to all five suspects, believing them to be a flight risk for trial.

Conviction for the hostage taking charges could result in a 10 year sentence with a potential for 20 years for the conspiracy charges, plus fines.

A criminal complaint drafted by agents from the Department of Homeland Security claimed that agents found the 115 hostages in the Houston area home last week stripped of their shoes and most of their cloths.  The complaint said they were threatened with violence if they did not comply and there were instances of some being kicked and beaten and females being groped.

The captives told authorities that they were held under armed guard, the doors were locked with deadbolts, and the windows were covered with plywood to prevent their escape.  Authorities recovered a shotgun, rifle, stun gun, ammunition, and wooden paddle from the home.

Police found the 115 captives after a Chicago resident contacted Houston police about the possible abduction of her daughter.  The criminal complaint alleges that she paid $15,000 for the return of her daughter and two grandchildren.  After she paid the original ransom, the complaint claims the captors demanded an additional $13,000.

Houston police traced the phone call from the captors and began surveillance on the house, ultimately finding the captives.  Stash houses of more than one hundred captives are not rare in South Texas, but this was the largest in the city in several years.

For more information, please see:

ABC News – 5 Charged in Houston Human Smuggling Operation – 25 March 2014

BBC News – Five charged with holding 115 hostages in ‘stash’ house – 25 March 2014

The Guardian – Five men charged with hostage-taking after 115 people found in Texas house – 25 March 2014

Star Tribune – 5 charged in Houston human smuggling operation after more than 100 immigrants rescued – 25 March 2014

USA Today – Police find more than 100 immigrants in stash house – 20 March 2014

Obama Proposal Ends NSA Bulk Collections Of Phone Records

By Brandon R. Cottrell 
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America 

WASHINGTON, D.C., United States – President Barack Obama has proposed changes to the National Security Agency (“NSA”), which would end its ability to collect telephone records in bulk in an attempt to eliminate concerns regarding bulk data collection.

President Obama’s proposal would prohibit the NSA from collecting phone records, while allowing access to records kept by telecommunication companies (Photo Courtesy Reuters).

The plan, according to a senior administration official, would ensure that the government will no longer be able to collect or hold metadata—such data includes the numbers and time of phone calls but not the content of the conversation.  His plan would, however, attempt to retain “as many [other] capabilities of the program as possible.”

The plan would also still ensure “that the government has access to the information it needs to meet the national security needs.”  Though the NSA would not being storing the information, it would have access to the records that telecommunications companies will keep.  In order to obtain access to those records, the NSA would need to obtain a court order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court

Marc Rotenberg, an executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, thinks that the proposal is a “sensible outcome, given that the 215 program likely exceeded current legal authority and has not proved to be effective.”  The 215 program that Rotenberg refers to is a program that was put in place by the Bush administration in 2006, which was interpreted to mean that the NSA could systematically collect domestic calling records in bulk.

Jameel Jaffer, of the American Civil Liberties Union, agrees with Rotenburg and added, “the government can track suspected terrorists without placing millions of people under permanent surveillance.”  He points to the government’s inability to point to a thwarted terrorist attack to bolster his statement.

A competing proposal by the House Intelligence Committee, however, though aimed at ending the bulk collection of data, would allow the NSA to search the data collected by the telecommunications companies so long as they had a reasonable articulable suspicion; it would not require approval of a judge.

According to a White House statement released last week, Obama maintained that his administration is committed “to taking steps that can give people greater confidence that their rights are being protected while preserving important tools that keep us safe.”  In addition, the Obama administration will also consider ending or modifying other bulk collection programs.


For further information, please see:

CNN – Obama, Congress, Working on Changes to NSA – 25/3/14

The Guardian – House’s NSA Bill Could Allow More Spying – 25/3/14

NY Times – Obama to Call for End to NSA’s Bulk Data Collection – 24/3/14

Reuters – Obama to Propose Ending NSA Bulk Collection of Phone Records – 25/3/14 

Former Rebel Wins El Salvador Presidential Election

By Brandon R. Cottrell 
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America 

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador – El Salvador’s Electoral Court confirmed yesterday that Sanchez Ceren, the former rebel and left wing presidential candidate, won the March 9th presidential election by securing 50.11% of the votes.  As a result, Ceren becomes the first former rebel to serve as president in El Salvador.

Sanchez Ceren was just recently confirmed as the winner in El Salvador’s presidential election (Photo Courtesy Al Jazeera).

Ceren, who defeated conservative candidate Norman Quijano (who received 49.89% of the vote), will serve a five-year term beginning June 1, 2014.  Quijano, who had challenged the election result on the basis of fraud and other foul play, ultimately could not produce enough evidence to prove fraud.

Ceren, who was a guerrilla commander during El Salvador’s Civil War in the 1980’s and 1990’s, has served as the vice president for the past five years.  As vice president, he was behind many of the social spending programs in El Salvador and during his campaign he pledged that there would be even more spending, with the hope that such spending will combat the inequality that plagues the country.

In Latin America, there is an emerging trend of leftist candidates, who had been involved guerilla movements, being elected president.  Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, and Venezuela are all countries that have such presidents.  Quijano, whose campaign ads attempted to characterize Ceren Hugo Chavez, warned that the election of Ceren would result in chaos and violence.  Ceren has combated such allegations by maintaining that he wants to position himself in the center of the political spectrum and has called for reconciliation and unity of the left and right.

As Ceren prepares to take office, there are numerous issues that he will be tasked with facing.  Foremost, with the country averaging nine murders per day in 2014 and the continued rise of gang related extortion, security (and reducing the violence) is a must and was cited as the biggest concern for most voters.

Additionally, a 2012 gang truce, which had cut the murder rates, is reportedly in trouble—yet Ceren has remained silent on the subject, which will need to be addressed.  Closely related, are El Salvador’s prisons, which are categorized as overcrowded and inhumane.  While the left wing has spent considerable resources trying to rehabilitate its criminals as a means of crime prevention, many others “prefer the idea of locking [the criminals] all up and throwing away the key.”

Lastly, there are numerous human rights related issues that must be dealt with.  Such issues include an amnesty law regarding former military leaders, the investigation of a 1981 massacre (where the army killed over 800 civilians), and women’s rights—including a complete ban on abortions.  Almudena Bernabeu, an international lawyer, has said that “you cannot rebuild a society by excluding the majority of the citizens … and [f]ailing to provide justice to them (victims of the civil war and women generally) means excluding them. This is a very interesting moment for human rights in El Salvador.”

Meanwhile, Jose Miguel, president of the Institute of Legal Medicine, has said that “the most worrying thing is the intolerance and deep divisions within the population, so the biggest challenge for the new government is [unite the country].”


For further information, please see:

Al Jazeera – El Salvador’s Post-Poll Challenges – 17 March 2014

BBC – El Salvador Ex-Rebel’s Presidential Victory Confirmed – 17 March 2014

Reuters – El Salvador Court Ratifies Ruling-Party Presidential Candidate’s Win – 17 March 2014

Washington Post – Former Guerrilla Commander Wins El Salvador Presidential Election – 14 March 2014