Boing Boing Video: "OUTLAWED" excerpts, pt. 1 -- Guantánamo Detainee Who Survived Torture.

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VIEWER WARNING: This episodes contains verbal descriptions of graphic violence. Discretion advised.

Today's episode of Boing Boing video is an excerpt from OUTLAWED, a film produced by WITNESS, in partnership with more than a dozen other human rights groups around the world.

The future of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, and of the men held there, has been at the top of the news this week -- President Obama has ordered the facility closed, one released detainee has now become the head of Al Qaeda in Yemen, and some around the world are calling for war crimes tribunals to be held over the torture some prisoners survived during rendition.

In this Boing Boing video episode, we are introduced to Binyam Ahmed Mohamed, an Ethiopian man in his thirties (ACLU bio and a detailed report about his case here). Mr. Mohamed survived extraordinary rendition, secret detention, and torture by the U.S. government working with various other governments worldwide.

The story of what he endured, which included horrific sexual violence during interrogation, was painful for us to watch in the studio, when we were editing this preview piece. But all of us on the BB Video team felt like this was an incredibly important story for the world to hear, and we were grateful for the ability to draw greater attention to the story at this time.

Speaking on my own behalf here: What happens with Guantánamo and the legal process surrounding the men still held there should matter to each person who reads this blog post. The safety of our nation does not require us to abandon universally-recognized principles of human rights. Torture and disappearances do not make America more secure.

Paraphrasing what one person from WITNESS told us in email -- if more Americans realized they live in a nation where, on a street corner in the town where you live, any one of us could be picked up, pushed into an unmarked van, then moved around detention centers all over the world, tortured, without a charge or a word to your family, surely there would be more outcry.

OUTLAWED was produced around the time when the Council of Europe issued a report on the topic of extraordinary rendition and torture involving America's "War on Terror." To document why those issues matter, WITNESS created a coalition with a number of US human rights and social justice 'project partners' such as Amnesty and the ACLU to distribute the video.

Mr. Mohamed is still being held at Guantánamo Bay.

After the jump, a note with which we updated this BB video episode. You can watch the film in entirety at links provided here, or purchase the documentary on DVD.

(Special appreciation to Boing Boing Video producer Derek Bledsoe. Sincere thanks to Bryan Nunez, Grace Lile, and Yvette J. Alberdingk Thijm from WITNESS. Music in this episode graciously provided by Amon Tobin / Cinematic Orchestra.)

Boing Boing Video archives.

UPDATE, January 23, 2009: In a declassified note to his lawyers dated Dec. 29, 2008 but only released by US officials this week, Mohamed says:
It has come to my attention through several reliable sources that my release from Guantanamo to the UK had been ordered several weeks ago.

It is a cruel tactic of delay to suspend my travel till the last days of this [Bush] administration while I should have been home a long time ago."

Mohamed's lawyers said they are concerned for his health. He has been on a hunger strike over his continued detention for more than four weeks. Britain has formally requested Mohammed's release, The U.S. has so far declined, "due to security concerns.


  1. There are those who will not believe this man, because he admitted to being a member of Al Quaeda in his interrogation. Of course he admitted to that because he was tortured into admitting it, but that doesn’t matter to the defenders of the Bush administration, the ones who say “this isn’t really torture” (or worse: “we don’t torture” and then turn around and say “but we should.”)


    It is said “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance” but that has two meanings: vigilance against those who would do us harm, and vigilance against the sinister parts of our own human nature that would cause us to become as evil as those we fear.

    “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

    -Alexandr Solzhenitsyn,

  2. @#3 Xeni

    Thank you for this post and deep gratitude to Derek and of course the whole amazing team at WITNESS.


    On another note, I wish there had been more action from the American public… earlier. Much earlier.

    So much damage has been done. I think we’ll see horrible reverberations for generations to come because of our inaction.

    I do believe if we finally try the Bush adminstration for war crimes, it will certainly do wonders for the healing process and actually make our country safer in the long term.

    Our national security depends upon trying the Bush administration for war crimes.

    I just wish Obama understood this.

  3. @cowicide, serious respect for the WITNESS folks, and the people who made the film — and to the families of these people, including Mr. Mohamed’s brother who appears in this episode.

    I couldn’t agree with you more regarding the need for an end to impunity.

  4. An interesting note for everyone. I’d been familiar with Binyam’s story, but I hadn’t heard anything of direct testimony from him in the news. When I stumbled across “Outlawed” on the Witness Hub, I could barely contain my outrage that it seemed like NO MAJOR NEW NETWORK felt the need to pick this up.

    I believe it to be a testament to the failure of the American media as a whole, as well as proof of why alternative and internet based media is so crucial.

    As we were researching Binyam’s story for updates, there were glaring inaccuracies across the board in all major news outlets. W/ out Witness’s direction relationship to his case, it might have been impossible for us to pinpoint exactly what was going on.

  5. Not only does torture not provide the information you see on “24” that supposedly saves American lives — it actually produced bad information that cost American lives back in 2003 and 2004.

    Remember all the “Orange Alerts” during the summer of 2004, during the election? The ones that resulted in full-scale TAC alerts of law enforcement and military forces in San Diego, LA, Miami, NYC, Chicago, DC? How the alerts just kept on coming – the wording was “Strong Intelligence that an attack on American’s infrastructure is imminent.”

    Prisoners were saying anything to stop the torture, and this information was being passed along and treated as though it were serious. Homeland Security officials refused to come to Los Angeles airport in 2003-4, because they were convinced that Al Qaeda had nuclear weapons on the loose in the U.S., and that LAX was a first-strike target.

    The US government spent ENORMOUS sums of money and attention, chasing down these supposed “solid intel leads” from “chatter.” Most of them were, in retrospect, absurd. But then again, the thought that 20 guys with box cutters & plane tix could take down the WTC seemed absurd once, too.

    Meanwhile, because the Gov’t was so distracted chasing phantoms around the continental U.S., the situation in Iraq was pushed to the back burner. It didn’t seem as pressing to contemplate the growing insurgency in Anbar, when the morning briefing contained details of a sleeper cell that was going to take down the Sears Towers in Chicago. Or dump Anthrax into the water supply for New York.

    We all know how that turned out.

    US troops kept on with strategies that were clearly not working, because the planners didn’t have time to really go through & analyze what was going wrong in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Humvees kept getting blown up. Bin Laden & his boys made it across to Pakistan and started rebuilding.

    And the global image of the U.S. has taken a hit from which it will take decades – perhaps longer – to repair.

  6. I am not proud that our country has employed torture. Let me get that out of the way.

    I am curious, though: what is to be done with these detainees now that the prison is going to be closed? Some of their own countries don’t want them back. If they are indeed terrorists, what then?

    Please don’t flame. It’s an honest and sincere question.

  7. Noelguy @9, the ones that we convict of criminal behavior, we can put in prisons. Ramzi Yousef is serving out a life sentence in a Supermax prison in Colorado. There’s no need to hold them in special extra-territorial military torture camps.

    The ones we don’t convict, we set free. If their own countries don’t want ’em, we can let them live here.

  8. @#9 noelegy, that’s the dilemma. I think that’s why so many politicians, legal scholars and human rights groups are going through so much debate over this issue.

  9. “If they are terrorists”? The well was poisoned the moment torture was used. If you believe in natural justice and Rule of Law, they must ALL be released, guilty or not. If they go on to kill again, those deaths must be laid at the feet of Bush, Cheney and all who voted for them.

  10. Hypothetically, you know what would be cool ? Some politically active group kidnap Bush and Cheney and subject them to the same torture they authorized. Won’t be real hard in a couple of years, when they have a small security detail.

  11. @12: Takuan, you should probably amend that last sentence. Bush, Cheney and all who voted for them a second time. I know plenty of fiscal conservatives – even a few social ones – who voted for Bush in 2000 because he was an “upstanding man from texas” but wouldn’t even think of voting for him in the second term. Just saying.

  12. How can anyone watch this and not come to the conclusion “not only is torture inhumane, but it doesn’t work”?

    I also wonder about the torturers. . . now that Guantanamo and the “Black Sites” are (supposedly) being closed what becomes of them? I’m not saying I want them prosecuted (though they probably should be), but I wonder how many of them are damaged goods now too. How do you treat a human that way, for months on end, and then go back to family picnics and Sundays at church? I imagine most of them will keep their jobs, be transferred elsewhere, and be ticking time bombs waiting for the right incident to set them off. In that light, prosecution might actually be the best thing for them.

  13. actually, and sadly, terribly, Dear Ill, most of those who were involved in the torture just short of physically violating the body of the victim will go back to their homes and families and churches and dogs and bowling alleys. They will go back the same way clock punching factory workers do every day. It was just a job, they just followed orders.
    Evil is at its most powerful when it is banal.

    Those that did the wet work are probably psychopaths. They will find other work.

  14. The only thing I can think when hearing about torture and methods of torture, is that the people ordering, and practing are monsters! They are no longer human, in any shape or form, and derseve to treated as such.

    Watching “king” George’s reaction to the questions is almost like: “you caught me, I’m going to lie now”

    He is so smug, and looks like he is attempting to restrain himself from busting out laughing, it’s sickening. He knew, and condoned it.

    It was almost like he was subconsciously asking to be challenged by the media. Unfortunately no-one accepted the carrot he dangled, probably because it was padded by yes wo/men.

    All of the tactics used will do nothing but breed contempt for the government, and the people who elected them.

    This is somewhat off topic but also relevant.

    What would WE as a society do if WE had an occupying force in the good ole USA? I don’t think for a second that it would be any better than what is going on in Iraq now.

    If you were to kill my family, friends, or people I am close to you better believe that nothing would stop me or anyone else from fighting back tooth and nail any way we could to do more harm than what was done to us. Fortunately we have an armed society that frightens most countries that are powerful enough to consider it.

    The worst problem with our tactics and the tactics of others in recent times. You do not make friends with people by condoning torture, mass jailing of dissidents and freethinkers, or “bombing for peace”.

    Hopefully there will be justice soon, and people will be held accountable for these crimes against humanity. It already looks like we may be headed in the right direction on that one.

    Do I deny that there are many people across the globe that hate us? Not in any shape or form, but you also have to look at the reasoning behind WHY people hate us.

    Our government has overthrown democratically elected leaders on multiple occasions because they threatened corporate hegemony and American corporate interests, then installed dictators to suppress opposition to that hegemony.

    I hope each person who was dragged into this mess that were innocent get the justice they deserve, and for the people that were not innocent, I can hope that they will also get the justice that they deserve.

  15. @14 Pseudonym

    Hypothetically, you know what would be cool ? Some politically active group kidnap Bush and Cheney and subject them to the same torture they authorized.

    Why does it have to be a politically affiliated group?

    I know there are a LOT of people across all political spectrums that would like them to receive the Mussolini treatment.

  16. This was an amazing and much needed piece. Thanks Xeni, Derek, WITNESS and everyone else concerned.

    Watching this, and reading about the difficulties in deciding what to do with the Guantanamo captives, my principal thought is that this is why torture is not only antithetic to civilisation, but incredibly dangerous to the established international system. This is why the rule of law is important, especially for powerful and affluent nations, even in wartime, even when besieged by savage and ruthless opponents who don’t follow them. We can see the result of abandoning those rules: lives lost and ruined, incalculable chaos, and the souls of those tortured (and their torturers) scarred, probably forever. This “getting tough” in the name of safety has created a cancer off America’s shores, with no ready solution, and will to an extent irrevocably tarnish the world’s knowledge of America.

    What did it take to get us here? I think using the word “evil” is a weak cop out, and fails to learn one of the lessons of this debacle, that the most unremarkable and average person can do monstrous things under the right circumstances. I think the leaders concerned, “W” etcetera, are not substantially more evil than the average human being. They may have acted with good intentions, but they were at best, horribly and chronically naive. At worst, they were greedy, ruthless, blind, and stupid.

  17. Thank you for the respectful and decent answers. It seems difficult to engage in honest debate about a subject so emotionally charged as this. Like 13Tales above, I think it’s something of a rhetorical shortcut to just dismiss the powers that be as “evil.” I think they did what they thought best with the information they were given. I believe that there are people in the world who genuinely want to kill as many Americans as they can. I’m not naive enough to believe we had them all cooped up down in Guantanamo.

    However, I do not understand this statement: “If they go on to kill again, those deaths must be laid at the feet of Bush, Cheney and all who voted for them.”

    You mean, the people who wanted them imprisoned?

    Again, I’m not trying to flame or be provocative. I truly want to understand this issue and not just be on the “wrong” or “right” side of it.

  18. voting does not wash your hands of what who you voted for does – or did. Democracy is representative government which means the people are RESPONSIBLE. Not like having a king who’s crimes you can be absolved of since you had no hand in putting him over you. You are not voting for a man, you are voting for an idea, the IDEA of Rule of Law for ALL. I agree the second time Bush voters are the ones with no excuse or standing before the world. They are as culpable as Bush or the actual bloody handed torturers. They failed in their responsibility.

  19. #22: “If you were to kill my family, friends, or people I am close to you better believe that nothing would stop me or anyone else from fighting back tooth and nail any way we could to do more harm than what was done to us.”

    I totally get that sentiment. The US had it in 2001. Hamas has it. Israel has it. The list is endless, as is the bloodshed, heartache and crimes that follow.

  20. I don’t support torture in any case, and am surprised that people would suggest doing the same to the Bushies would equate to justice. Think about the flaw in your arguments. The Mussolini treatment? Seriously? How are you better than the wingnuts?

    I thought the good guys believed in the rule of law.

  21. One other thing (and feel free to flame away)… Why is it assumed he is innocent of any terrorist associations? An Ethiopian living in Britain who travels to Afghanistan using someone else’s passport to escape drug problems? Yeah that sounds reasonable. Of course the problem is that, if he is guilty, he can never be tried because of the torture, and the government cannot make its case (assuming it had one). Again, I do not condone torture for even the guilty. But I have a problem with his story as presented.

    1. Why is it assumed he is innocent of any terrorist associations?

      Presumption of innocence is fundamental to our legal system. Do you really want to mess with that?

  22. Feel free to flame away? Well, OK then.


    I always aim to please.

  23. I’m not messing with that, because I am neither judge nor jury in his case. But there is nothing in his bio/story or video that indicates he is innocent (or guilty). The assumption on this board seems to be that he is in fact innocent. I am curious as to why. It is highly suspicious that someone without ties to Afghanistan or Pakistan would travel there with someone else’s passport to get away from drug problems. Where is the explanation?

    1. It is highly suspicious that someone without ties to Afghanistan or Pakistan would travel there with someone else’s passport to get away from drug problems.

      Unless his drug problem is lack of opium, in which case it makes perfect sense.

  24. The presumption of innocence is a lot more rational than “the presumption of guilt”; that’s the nature of witch hunts. Looking at this case it’s clear he was presumed guilty, on evidence that was really weak or vague. So when this “guilty” man didn’t cough up details, he was tortured, and told them what they wanted to hear just to make them stop. Unfortunately this “confirms” to the inquisitors that he is guilty as presumed, and he just digs his hole deeper. When you are presumed guilty on flimsy evidence, how can you possibly prove your innocence? I would like to think I could hold out against torture, but everyone has a breaking point. Most of the political prisoners in the Soviet gulags signed confessions even though they were innocent, just to end their torture.

  25. to expand:

    “Most of the political prisoners in the Soviet gulags signed confessions even though they were innocent, just to end their torture.”


    “Most prisoners sign confessions even though they were innocent, just to end their torture.”

  26. as to “holding out against torture”: better than 90% break the moment they understand they are in the hands of people who WOULD torture them. Ask any cop or prison guard.

  27. Ill Lich @18 Go through these photos, Auschwitz Photo Album, look closely at items 7-12.

    From one of my previous posts:

    One of the saddest things I’ve ever seen was a quintessential little old Jewish woman who was a Death Camp survivor, probably Hungarian; she lost her entire family at one of the camps, probably Auschwitz-Birkenau. She seemed as though she had been crying her whole life. She also had probably been asking the same question over and over since she entered that hell on Earth. Her question was, how could people do this to people? The answer is relatively simple, she was not considered a person. She probably knew this, but was understandably at a loss to come to terms with its full meaning.

    I have always imagined some hard working camp employee, rushing home after a long day monitoring sonderkommandos at a gas chamber or crematoria. They are in a hurry not to be late for their child’s birthday party. As they leave the camp, he or she is filled with pride at their ability to do such a difficult and important job for the Fatherland. These thoughts have always left me cold.

    For those that do these things, they consider themselves as the strong ones, who protect the rest of us. They do the tough jobs we are too weak to do ourselves. Their victims are not considered human. If it were up to them, they would probably just wipe them all out, but our weak willed sensitivities prevent them from doing what they know to be best. They probably have almost as much contempt for those that oppose there efforts, as they have for their victims.

  28. This honestly makes me ashamed to be American. I never thought I would feel that way, let alone say it, but what we have done to this people, what we have allowed, is nothing short of evil and disgusting.

    What I think has been overlooked, is how much this has contributed to terrorist recruitment. In the false name of our own security, we set up a situation, where through emotional and physical torture, we have created people who detest us and wish us harm. Wouldn’t you, if you were them? The republicans complain that closing Gitmo might mean releasing terrorists into the country – but what they fail to comment on is the very real possibility that before we ruined their lives, many of these people may have been harmless.

    We’ll never be able to quantify the amount of harm that the Bush Administration’s endorsement of torture has caused, both to ourselves and to the world as a whole.

  29. There have been some comments to the effect of “why are we assuming he’s innocent?” or “why are we assuming he’s guilty?” – the guilt or innoncence of detainees being tortured is immaterial, the point is that we shouldn’t be torturing ANYONE, for any reason. There’s no equivocation about this in the Geneva Convention – torture is never allowed.

    Besides the fact that its completely unethical, information gleaned from torture is useless; if the person is guilty, they will give information that is plausible but untrue. If they are innocent, they will give any information whatsoever to try and stave off the torture (see: John McCain giving the Vietnamese the starting lineup of his favourite football team).

    It doesn’t matter if it’s Osama Bin Laden himself – we should never, ever be torturing anyone. It’s completely unethical, and it does nothing to help us in the end.

  30. “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
    — attributed to some long-haired radical tortured to death by the Romans, circa 30 A.D.

  31. @29 – Best post on here. Too many here are going all high and mighty about how what America did was wrong, but are willing to wish the same upon others. Worse yet is that you accept what this guy says at face value in the first place – he’s already showed that he’s willing to deceive when he used his brother’s passport.

  32. It is hard for me to imagine a more effective recruiting tool for anti-American groups than to torture people. It removes our humanity while it humiliates the victim. Whatever sympathy 911 evoked is totally obliterated by this kind of action.

    If anything I think this is worse than 911, because at least those people were granted a quick death free of suffering (although their loved ones suffered greatly), but these victim of rendition (if they are ever released) are destroyed people who will live with this nightmare their whole lives, experiencing the terror over and over. Of course their families will also suffer with them.
    For the families of those who are not released, imagining the horrors that the victim endures daily is an undeserved torture of its own.

    To the people who think that using someone else’s passport is grounds for torture, I hope you never are in a position to regret that judgment.

    Bush/Cheney are murderers and torturers and should be treated as such.

  33. We are a nation of contradictions (excuse the fallacy of composition):

    1) Anti-torture but big fans of ’24’
    2) Pro-ethics but ‘House’ is a top-ranked show
    3) Pro-life and pro-death penalty
    4) Anti-socialism but pro-bailout
    and, as seen here,
    5) anti-“eye-for-an-eye” and pro-“eye-for-an-eye”, depending on the eye.

    I recognize that the top 2 are just shows, but I can’t abide the anti-hero, liberty/autonomy over basic human decency of them.

    Let’s all work together to keep life from being nasty, brutish, and short, shall we?

  34. “To the people who think that using someone else’s passport is grounds for torture, I hope you never are in a position to regret that judgment.”

    I’m assuming you mean me. Of course I never said that. And no, I don’t think I have to worry about what happens to me if I use someone else’s passport. I’m smarter than that.

    1. @#47 UncommonSense,

      Wait — so you are too smart to be tortured?

      I’ve seen some pretty audacious and stupid comments on these here internets, but bub, that takes the cake.

  35. I think that the extraordinary rendition programs were built so that the white house really could not know about the torture, plausibly denying any torture activities. Note GW when he says “We do not condone torture. I have never ordered torture.” That’s easier to say if you tell the people responsible “you do what you need to, but keep the details from us.”

  36. @ #48 – Stupid enough to use someone else’s passport. You can’t possibly be serious… In any event, my comment would come in 2nd place. ;)

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