Prosecutor Appointed To Investigate Torture

There are a couple of updates to this morning’s post on the recommendations for an investigation into abuse of terror suspects. Attorney General Eric Holder is appointing a prosecutor to investigate cases where the CIA and contractors might have violated laws regarding torture.

Documents which were recently declassified following a suit filed by the ACLU provide examples of the conduct which should be investigated, including threats by interrogators to kill the children and sexually assault the mother of one suspect.

In one instance cited in the new documents, Abd al-Nashiri, the man accused of being behind the 2000 USS Cole bombing, was hooded, handcuffed and threatened with an unloaded gun and a power drill. The unidentified interrogator also threatened al-Nashiri’s mother and family, implying they would be sexually abused in front of him, according to the report.

The interrogator denied making a direct threat.

Another interrogator told alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, “if anything else happens in the United States, ‘We’re going to kill your children,'” one veteran officer said in the report.

Death threats violate anti-torture laws.

Update: Looking back at the reports of the appointment of a special prosecutor, there is one major problem. The investigation is extremely limited and ignores the people who should really be investigated–those who ordered the use of torture.

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VA Mistakingly Tells 1200 They Have Fatal Disease

I’ve mentioned several times in the past, such as here, that liberal bloggers who consider the VA to be a model for a health care system are being misled by faulty data. The computer systems used by the Veteran’s Administration allow them to appear far better than they actually are due to the limitations in quality measurements used for health care. Essentially whoever can do the best job of reporting what they are doing will generally come out ranked the highest regardless of the actual quality of the system.

The VA’s system generally helps them receive a much higher ranking than they deserve but today they have been embarrassed once again due to a flaw in their system. AP reports that the VA erroneously sent letters to over a thousand people telling they have a disease they do not actually have:

Former Air Force Reservist Gale Reid received a letter from the Veterans Affairs Department that told her she had Lou Gehrig’s disease, and she immediately put herself through a battery of painful, expensive tests. Five days later, the VA said its “diagnosis” was a mistake.

The Montgomery, Ala., resident was among at least 1,200 veterans who received a letter about disability benefits for ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, even though they hadn’t been diagnosed with the illness, according to the National Gulf War Resource Center. Veterans were initially suspicious of the letters, but still went through the agony not knowing exactly whether they had the fatal disease, which typically kills people within five years.

At least 2,500 letters informing veterans of disability benefits for ALS were sent out, and of those, some 1,200 were a mistake, according to the National Gulf War Resource Center. The wrongly sent letters were supposed to inform veterans of an undiagnosed neurological disorder, according to the Gulf War veterans group, which provides information, support and referrals about illnesses to veterans…

Jim Bunker, president of the veterans group, said he talked to someone at the VA and was told the mistake was caused by a coding error. The VA uses more than 8,000 codes for various diseases and illnesses and veterans with undiagnosed neurological disorders, which can range from mild to severe, were accidentally assigned the code for ALS, he said.

The article notes other problems uncovered this year:

In June, Congress questioned the agency over botched colonoscopies at medical centers in Florida, Georgia and Tennessee that may have exposed 10,000 veterans to HIV and other infections. Last month, the VA Medical Center in Philadelphia disclosed that the number of cancer patients receiving incorrect radiation doses had risen to 98 veterans over a six-year period.

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Hillary Clinton’s Loss of Power

There’s talk today, based upon Forbes’ list of The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women, that Hillary Clinton is less powerful as Secretary of State than as a Senator. The Note writes:

ABC News’ Kirit Radia reports: Is Hillary Clinton less powerful now as Secretary of State than she was as a Senator? Forbes Magazine seems to think so.

The publication recently released its annual list of the 100 most powerful women in the world. This year, Clinton was listed at #36. In 2004 when she was in the Senate Clinton was #5.

Since then Clinton has slipped in the Forbes rankings (2005: 26, 2006: 18, 2007: 25, 2008: 28), but this year, her first as America’s top diplomat, was her lowest ranking. Her predecessor, Condoleezza Rice, twice topped the list and was never listed out of the top 10 before leaving office.

This year Clinton was edged out by Nancy Pelosi, who was ranked #35, but she beat out Oprah (#41).

Perhaps she had more power as Senator than as Secretary of State, but I suspect the key variable is not which position she has but the drop in her presidential prospects. I bet she was ranked more highly in past years due to many expecting her to become the Democratic nominee in 2008, although her slide actually began while in the Senate.

Rankings are based upon “a combination of two scores: visibility–by press mentions–and the size of the organization or country these women lead.” Press mentions of her are certainly down from the last few years. If she had stayed in the Senate and was not leading the State Department I wonder if she would have fallen even further.  It is also not surprising that Condoleezza Rice scored better than Clinton, considering how much closer Rice was to Bush than Clinton is to Obama.

Conservative Denialism And The Uninsured

One tactic frequently used by the right to justify opposition to solving problems is to distort the facts to claim the problem does not exist. This is seen on a variety of issues from global warming to health care. They often down play the seriousness of having tens of millions who are uninsured or under-insured by giving false accounts of these numbers, with these distortions frequently repeated on conservative blogs. The New York Times looked at the uninsured:

Critics play down the seriousness of the problem by pointing out that the ranks of the uninsured include many people who have chosen to forgo coverage or are only temporarily uninsured: workers who could afford to pay but decline their employers’ coverage; the self-employed who choose not to pay for more expensive individual coverage; healthy young people who prefer not to buy insurance they may never need; people who are changing jobs; poor people who are eligible for Medicaid but have failed to enroll. And then there are the illegal immigrants, a favorite target of critics.

All that is true, to some degree. But the implication — that lack of insurance is no big deal and surely not worth spending a trillion dollars to fix — is not.

No matter how you slice the numbers, there are tens of millions of people without insurance, often for extended periods, and there is good evidence that lack of insurance is harmful to their health.

Scores of well-designed studies have shown that uninsured people are more likely than insured people to die prematurely, to have their cancers diagnosed too late, or to die from heart failure, a heart attack, a stroke or a severe injury. The Institute of Medicine estimated in 2004 that perhaps 18,000 deaths a year among adults could be attributed to lack of insurance.

The oft-voiced suggestion that the uninsured can always go to an emergency room also badly misunderstands what is happening. By the time they do go, many of these people are much sicker than they would have been had insurance given them access to routine and preventive care. Emergency rooms are costly, and if uninsured patients cannot pay for their care, the hospital or the government ends up footing the bill.

Plus many wind up in bankruptcy when they are hospitalized, often when they thought they had insurance coverage, and are unable to pay their bills.

After looking closer at the numbers who are uninsured and under-insured, they dispensed with another false right wing talking point in noting that none of the pending bills would cover illegal immigrants. They concluded:

If nothing is done to slow current trends, the number of people in this country without insurance or with inadequate coverage will continue to spiral upward. That would be a personal tragedy for many and a moral disgrace for the nation. It is also by no means cost-free. Any nation as rich as ours ought to guarantee health coverage for all of its residents.

Justice Department Recommends Investigation of Prisoner Abuse as Obama Revises Interrogation Practices

The New York Times reports that the Justice Department’s ethics office is recommending investigations of abuses of terrorism suspects under the Bush administration, despite Obama’s reluctance to reopen these matters:

The Justice Department’s ethics office has recommended reversing the Bush administration and reopening nearly a dozen prisoner-abuse cases, potentially exposing Central Intelligence Agency employees and contractors to prosecution for brutal treatment of terrorism suspects, according to a person officially briefed on the matter.

The recommendation by the Office of Professional Responsibility, presented to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in recent weeks, comes as the Justice Department is about to disclose on Monday voluminous details on prisoner abuse that were gathered in 2004 by the C.I.A.’s inspector general but have never been released.

When the C.I.A. first referred its inspector general’s findings to prosecutors, they decided that none of the cases merited prosecution. But Mr. Holder’s associates say that when he took office and saw the allegations, which included the deaths of people in custody and other cases of physical or mental torment, he began to reconsider.

With the release of the details on Monday and the formal advice that at least some cases be reopened, it now seems all but certain that the appointment of a prosecutor or other concrete steps will follow, posing significant new problems for the C.I.A. It is politically awkward, too, for Mr. Holder because President Obama has said that he would rather move forward than get bogged down in the issue at the expense of his own agenda.

The Washington Post reports on how the Obama administration is changing how  interrogations will be conducted, using an elite team of interrogators. The new policy call for them to follow the guidelines of the Army Field Manual.

President Obama has approved the creation of an elite team of interrogators to question key terrorism suspects, part of a broader effort to revamp U.S. policy on detention and interrogation, senior administration officials said Sunday.

Obama signed off late last week on the unit, named the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, or HIG. Made up of experts from several intelligence and law enforcement agencies, the interrogation unit will be housed at the FBI but will be overseen by the National Security Council — shifting the center of gravity away from the CIA and giving the White House direct oversight.

Seeking to signal a clean break from the Bush administration, Obama moved to overhaul interrogation and detention guidelines soon after taking office, including the creation of a task force on interrogation and transfer policies. The task force, whose findings will be made public Monday, recommended the new interrogation unit, along with other changes regarding the way prisoners are transferred overseas.

A separate task force on detainees, which will determine the fate of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and future regulations about the duration and location of detentions of suspected terrorists, has not concluded its work.

Under the new guidelines, interrogators must stay within the parameters of the Army Field Manual when questioning suspects. The task force concluded — unanimously, officials said — that “the Army Field Manual provides appropriate guidance on interrogation for military interrogators and that no additional or different guidance was necessary for other agencies,” according to a three-page summary of the findings. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters freely.

Using the Army Field Manual means certain techniques in the gray zone between torture and legal questioning — such as playing loud music or depriving prisoners of sleep — will not be allowed. Which tactics are acceptable was an issue “looked at thoroughly,” one senior official said. Obama had already banned certain severe measures that the Bush administration had permitted, such as waterboarding.