The Garret Tree
Saturday, July 22, 2006
  The classified blog that got it right on water torture

Blogging has gone into the shadows. According to Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish today, a CIA contract employee was fired for questioning the American policy on waterboarding in a classified blog.

Sullivan notes on the blogger, Christine Axsmith:
Axsmith.... speaks for many in the CIA who cannot believe - let alone condone - what this administration has endorsed.
The story was picked up from The Washington Post, Top-secret World Loses Blogger.

The Post says there are blogs on a classified U.S. intranet called Intelink. That there are classified blogs shows just how the technology can be valuable--as the Post says:

Hundreds of blog posts appear on Intelink. The CIA says blogs and other electronic tools are used by people working on the same issue to exchange information and ideas.

Axsmith was computer contractor for the CIA and thus had some access to classified information, including apparently, a transcript of a torture session.

The Post account says:

The day of the last post, Axsmith said, after reading a newspaper report that the CIA would join the rest of the U.S. government in according Geneva Conventions rights to prisoners, she posted her views on the subject.

It started, she said, something like this: "Waterboarding is Torture and Torture is Wrong."

And it continued, she added, with something like this: "CC had the sad occasion to read interrogation transcripts in an assignment that should not be made public. And, let's just say, European lives were not saved."

After that blog, Axsmith was interrogated, lost her security clearance and she was fired by her employeer BAE Systems.

Back in November 2005, I wrote a post called Waterboarding is a war crime based on the work of the main character in The Sonkrai Tribunal, Col. Cyril Wild who was the chief British war crimes investigator in Singapore after the Second World War.

One of the most notorious Far East war crimes cases was known as "The Double Tenth" case where the Japanese used water boarding and other forms of torture in a fruitless attempt to get what would be called "actionable intelligence" from innocent Europeans, Eurasians and Chinese who had absolutely no connection with a raid by British and Australian special forces on Singapore harbour.

The Tokyo war crimes tribunal condemned the widespread use of water torture by the Japanese across their short-lived empire.

An addition to November post. A kempeitai (the Japanese secret police) torture manual was introduced as evidence at Tokyo.

From that chapter:

The kempeitei’s torture manual, Notes for the Interrogation of Prisoners of War, issued by Japan's Hayashi Division in Burma on Friday August 6, 1943, captured by the Allies and introduced as evidence before the Tokyo tribunal warned: “Care must be exercised when making use of rebukes, incentives or torture as it will result in his telling falsehoods and making a fool of you.”

One other point, some of the people tortured by the Japanese in Singapore were held in the notorious Outram Road prison. That prison also held Allied bomber crews shot down over Southeast Asia, including a large number of Americans. Evidence from American investigative teams was introduced at the Double Tenth Trial.

Seventeen of those fliers died in Outram Road. The Tokyo tribunal called their deaths murder.

And one last point. The secret blogosphere.

The managers at the CIA, in firing Axsmith, have made it clear that a frank and open exchange of ideas, in a blog, a 21st century forum that the CIA's adversaries cannot penetrate(as far as I can tell, who knows?) is not wanted. So don't stick your neck out, even if your ideas might counter a real threat.


There is an anonymous blog that purports to be from Christine Axsmith, called Econo-Girl.

Here is what the post says was in the original blog:Waterboarding is torture. It's pretty tame. Reminds me of the old song..."Is that all there is?"

Much more interesting are the growing number of comments...some of which appear to be anonymous comments from the intelligence community itself. As well as the usual ranters and ravers and the calmer supporters and detractors.

In her latest post she talks about a contractor at the FBI who was fired for trying to install a printer. And again it is the anonymous comments that are the most interesting. The case of the fired contractor may not be as clear as Econo-girl makes out.

The two sets of anonymous comments reminds me of the many blogs and all those related comments during the CBC lockout. Are we going to see anonymous blogs springing up from the Intel folks just like they did at the CBC did during the lockout?? Will there be a CIA Tea Maker? an FBI Drone? or an Army intelligence Gnome? If a CBC manager like Tea Makers can cover her/his tracks enough so (as far as we know) CBC IT couldn't track the blog down during the entire lockout and beyond, what would a professional spook be able to do? Perhaps the managers at the CIA/BAE will soon regret firing Axsmith, for at least she was writing on an internal classified blog--not on blogspot for the world to see as she may be doing now.

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  Sonkrai and other updates
So I haven't done much blogging since last March. Both work and life were busy.
Time for some updates

The Sonkrai Tribunal

The next advance cheque arrived from the publisher in the mail Friday. So looks like things are on track. My editor has promised the manuscript will be back in my hands in the third week of August. What was going to be a quiet summer of course is now in the hell of a new Middle East war and so there's lot to do and not really enough time at work. But I intend to get my edits out of the way as quickly as I can, just in case things get a lot worse. Publication is set for May 2007.

Courier companies
(March post)
The monitor did arrive the next day, and it is what I am using to type this update. But the fact that the monitor did arrive hasn't stopped my disdain for courier companies. I still get better service from the Post Office.

Digital delete or digital archive?
(December post)

Last December I wrote:

I heard the phrase "let's see what develops" recently, as two people, on a date, were discussing the early stages of what might be a relationship or perhaps a friendship or perhaps the cliche of two ships that pass in the night.

Developing, of course, is an analogy from the age of film. And on "developing" I said of the new digital photographs:

The image is there on the screen immediately. It can be morphed, but no longer are there those moments when something evolves from a blank pale piece of paper into what may be a stunning work of photographic art or just a mugshot.

Well there was the fourth alternative, not a relationship, not friendship, not the ships that pass in the night, the one alternative I didn't think of then, but it is also a cliche. The ship hit the rocks and sank.

But in the digital age, what do you do once the ship has sunk? That is with the pictures I actually took? You can leave them on the hard drive, you can delete them or you can store them away, along with the memories. As I told some friends in an e-mail it was a lot of fun while it lasted, so it's all backed up a DVD and stored.

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I write in a renovated garret in my house in a part of Toronto, Canada, called "The Pocket." The blog is named for a tree can be seen outside the window of my garret.

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Name: Robin Rowland
Location: Toronto, Canada

I'm a Toronto-based writer, photographer, web producer, television producer, journalist and teacher. I'm author of five books, the latest A River Kwai Story: The Sonkrai Tribunal. The Garret tree is my blog on the writing life including my progress on my next book (which will be announced here some time in the coming months) My second blog, the Wampo, Nieke and Sonkrai follows the slow progress of my freelanced model railway based on my research on the Burma Thailand Railway (which is why it isn't updated that often) The Creative Guide to Research, based on my book published in 2000 is basically an archive of news, information and hints for both the online and the shoe-leather" researcher. (Google has taken over everything but there are still good hints there)

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