Pennsylvania Man Arrested For Torture Official CIA Channels
The Justice Department really had the nerve to boast about indicting its second U.S. citizen under the 1994 federal torture statute. Plus: the latest from the gang
ROSS ROGGIO IS FACING SERIOUS CHARGES that, if proven, would prompt 54 U.S. Senators to consider him qualified to run the Central Intelligence Agency.
On Thursday, federal law enforcement arrested Roggio, a former wartime contractor involved in weapons manufacturing for the Iraqi Kurdish special forces, the Peshmerga, and charged him with torture. The indictment is accordingly gruesome. Prosecutors accuse Roggio of using Peshmerga who had been placed under his functional command in 2015 to torture an employee who had learned Roggio "did not have the ability to produce the weapons and was diverting the money to his personal use."
According to the indictment, Roggio had the guy kidnapped, hooded and taken to a Kurdish military base. For the next 39 days, Roggio allegedly had Pesh soldiers torture the would-be whistleblower. Suffocation was involved. A "large cutting tool similar to a bolt cutter" was used to make the man think he would lose a finger. "[A]t times, some of Roggio's other employees were forced to watch," the indictment states. He is facing a stunning 705 years in prison.
Roggio has pleaded not guilty. (There's a whole prior gun-running indictment that I'm not going to get into.) Remember what we said a few months ago about how we should read indictments as prosecutors' theory of the case. Indictments are specific accusations, not proof.
THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT DID NOT CHARGE Roggio with enhanced interrogation. "Pennsylvania Man Charged With Torture," read its press release.
Euphemism would have defeated the point, which was self-congratulation. Roggio's indictment
"underscores that the United States stands for the rule of law and will hold accountable anyone who commits acts of torture, regardless of where it takes place," stated FBI Assistant Director Luis Quesada. "[S]uch brutality will be exposed and addressed wherever it occurs," vowed U.S. attorney John C. Gurganus.
As evidence, the Justice Department press release noted that Roggio is "the second U.S. citizen—and the fourth defendant overall—to be charged with violating the torture statute since the law went into effect in 1994."
Perhaps you were unaware that since 1994, the United States has had a law that
prohibits torture committed by public officials under color of law against persons within the public official's custody or control. Torture is defined to include acts specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering. (It does not include such pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions.) The statute applies only to acts of torture committed outside the United States. There is Federal extraterritorial jurisdiction over such acts whenever the perpetrator is a national of the United States or the alleged offender is found within the United States, irrespective of the nationality of the victim or the alleged offender.
You’ve figured out where I'm going with this. Roggio's crime isn't torture. It's torture without being a CIA employee.
Every single CIA and Bush administration official who planned, approved, supervised, implemented and materially assisted the 2002-8 torture program unambiguously and deliberately, as a matter of official policy, violated every operative clause of the federal torture statute. They had the benefit of Spanish Inquisition-caliber lawyering that defined torture as stuff the CIA said it wouldn't do, like inducing pain equivalent to organ failure or death; or causing permanent mental damage.
Within four months of obtaining Justice Department approval, the CIA did that anyway, by accidentally freezing Gul Rahman to death. We obviously know now from survivor accounts that the CIA caused permanent mental damage. But causing such damage was central to the point of CIA contractors James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen's "learned helplessness" regimen, whereby peoples' minds shattered under the stress of persistent mental and physical anguish. Abu Zubaydah would lay on the waterboard when his tormentors snapped their fingers.
For the rest of this essay, check out today’s edition of my newsletter, FOREVER WARS, where we spent last week discussing the CIA’s already-practically-forgotten yearslong theft of your communications records, as well as Christian donation networks that fund the far right. If you subscribe for a year, you’ll also get six paid-tier months of Luke O’Neil’s WELCOME TO HELL WORLD and Derek Davidson’s FOREIGN EXCHANGES.
Welcome to Hell World
Gig work and rideshare companies have already begun pouring tens of millions of dollars into a looming conflict in Massachusetts. Their hope is to continue to exploit drivers by side-stepping labor laws and misclassifying them as independent contractors rather than employees following the same playbook they used in California with Prop 22. This week I spoke to Wes McEnany, the Director of the an opposition group Mass Not For Sale, about their efforts to prevent the same thing from happening here.
“This is about all workers,” he said. “It’s about big tech trying to buy a law, not paying any taxes, and not be on the hook for any of the bad things that come with their business model.” Read it here.
Prior to that I talked to Matt Crowley, until recently a staff writer at The Onion, about Jim Spanfeller, noted herb, and the man largely responsible for fucking up a suite of everyone’s favorite websites. We also talked about the satirical site’s unionization effort, the difficulties of writing comedy about Trump and Biden, and what happened to all of the images on some of The Onion’s best jokes.
“I worked at a number of different companies before The Onion, and I’ve never, ever seen management be as hostile and condescending to its employees as I did at this place,” he said. You’ll have to be a pair subscriber to read it here. Here’s a real steep discount good until tomorrow.
Congressional aides are trying to unionize. It’s been a long time coming, tales of abuse and mistreatment have been rife on the Hill for years.
I talked to former staffers about their experiences in Washington:
There’s a joke on the Hill that staffers develop alcohol dependency just to function, but, John said, that’s not really a joke.
“It's a real issue just because of the mental stress that health staff are under constantly to either meet the member's expectations or their constituents expectations with little sleep and little time off,” he told me.
Also, a job listing at Harper’s show the gatekeeping tendencies of elite media; Tucker Carlson’s “anti-war” rhetoric isn’t real; and a conversation with Jack Crosbie, a reporter on the ground in Ukraine.
You can listen to the full conversation with Jack at the podcast:
I also talked to Edward Ongweso, Jr. about the digital economy (such as it is):
Thanks for reading and listening, see you next week.
Felipe De La Hoz & Gaby Del Valle
A little under two years ago, immigrant advocates warned that keeping tens of thousands of people in prison-like detention facilities would be devastating both for the non-citizens held in ICE facilities and the communities where those facilities are located. Congregate settings, as we all now know, are the perfect environment for a virus like Covid-19 to spread from person to person—which is exactly what happened in ICE’s network of detention centers across the country.
Thanks to a class-action lawsuit, thousands of people with pre-existing medical conditions were released from ICE detention a few months into the pandemic. But thanks to our internal enforcement policies, ICE never stopped bringing new people into detention centers. Even as the detainee population decreased, new people were being admitted into ICE detention basically every day. ICE’s policy of arbitrarily transferring detainees from facility to facility—often as outbreaks were happening—made matters worse. And when a vaccine was finally available, people in ICE detention were among the last to get it; those who did were often given the far less effective Johnson & Johnson shot.
Last week’s edition of BORDER/LINES looked at advocates’ efforts to get ICE to provide booster shots to immigrants in its custody. People in ICE detention have waited weeks to receive boosters, and are once again being offered the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which the CDC has discouraged people from getting. Somehow, almost two years into the pandemic, the agency has still not made vaccination a priority for the people in its custody.