Entries in Torture (6)


Senate Intel Committee Probes Bin Laden Movie Torture Scenes

COLUMBIA PICTURES(WASHINGTON) -- The Senate Intelligence Committee has launched a new probe to determine how much the CIA may have influenced the portrayal of torture scenes shown in Zero Dark Thirty, the Hollywood dramatization of the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden.

The probe, confirmed to ABC News by a spokesperson for the committee's chairman, will attempt to answer two questions: Did the CIA give filmmakers "inappropriate" access to secret material, and was the CIA responsible for the perceived suggestion that harsh interrogation techniques aided the hunt for America's most wanted man?

In a press release Thursday, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Sen. Dianne Feinstein's office said Feinstein, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D.-Mich., and former presidential candidate John McCain, R.-Ariz., –- the latter two are ex officio members of the Intelligence Committee – sent two letters to acting CIA Director Michael Morell in December asking just what the CIA might have told the filmmakers about the effectiveness of enhanced interrogation.

The first letter, dated Dec. 19, focused on the possibility that the CIA "misled" the filmmakers into showing torture as an effective tactic.

"As you know, the film depicts CIA officers repeatedly torturing detainees. The film then credits CIA detainees subjected to coercive interrogation techniques as providing critical lead information on the courier that led to the [bin Laden] compound," the letter says. "The CIA cannot be held accountable for how the Agency and its activities are portrayed in film, but we are nonetheless concerned, given the CIA's cooperation with the filmmakers and the narrative's consistency with past public misstatements by former senior CIA officials, that the filmmakers could have been misled by information they were provided by the CIA."

Two days after the letter was sent, Morell posted a statement on the CIA website explaining that the movie was "not a realistic portrayal of the facts" but said some information did come from detainees subjected to enhanced interrogation.

"...[T]he film creates the strong impression that the enhanced interrogation techniques that were part of our former detention and interrogation program were key to finding Bin Laden. That impression is false," Morell said. "As we have said before, the truth is that multiple streams of intelligence led CIA analysts to conclude that Bin Laden was hiding in Abbottabad. Some came from detainees subjected to enhanced techniques, but there were many other sources as well. And, importantly, whether enhanced interrogation techniques were the only timely and effective way to obtain information from those detainees, as the film suggests, is a matter of debate that cannot and never will be definitively resolved."

The trio of Feinstein, Levin and McCain wrote the second letter on New Year's Eve in apparent frustration with that statement and asked Morell to provide information on what exactly the CIA learned from detainees who underwent harsh interrogation – and if it was learned before, during or after the detainees' ordeals.

A CIA spokesperson told ABC News Thursday the agency had received the letters and "take[s] very seriously our responsibility to keep our oversight committees informed and value[s] our relationship with Congress."

Directed by Oscar-winner Kathryn Bigelow and hailed by critics since its limited release last month, Zero Dark Thirty has also become a lightning rod for the ongoing debate over the role torture may have played in the ultimately successful hunt for bin Laden. The movie features multiple scenes in which American interrogators oversee or take part in harsh techniques including simulated drowning, violent beating, and force feeding of alleged al Qaeda operatives or associates.

In his book The Finish, Black Hawk Down author Mark Bowden wrote that enhanced interrogation appeared to play a significant role in corroborating the identity of an al Qaeda courier who years later led U.S. officials to bin Laden. At least two detainees who underwent enhanced interrogation – one of them the former high-level al Qaeda operative Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was waterboarded a reported 183 times – acknowledged the existence and the nom de guerre of the courier but failed to provide any more complete or accurate information about him, Bowden wrote.

In their letters, the senators said that based on the material they had been given by the CIA, no detainee reported the courier's full name or specific whereabouts and that the agency actually learned the vital information that led to bin Laden "through means unrelated to the CIA detention and interrogation program."

As to whether Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal were ever given inappropriate access to information, Boal told ABC News' Nightline in an exclusive interview in November that he never received classified documents.

"I certainly did a lot of homework, but I never asked for classified material," Boal said. "To my knowledge I never received any."

Judicial Watch, a conservative government watchdog group, is involved in ongoing litigation with the goverment over exactly what information was shared with the filmmakers. The group previously obtained documents that its president said "provide more backing to the serious charge that the Obama administration played fast and loose with national security information to help Hollywood filmmakers."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Teacher's Aide Fired for Revelation of Role in Grisly 1965 Killing

Indiana State Prison| BCLUW Yearbook(CONRAD, Iowa) -- An Iowa teacher's aide has been fired from her job following the revelation that she was a member of an Indiana family notorious for torturing and killing a girl in their basement in 1965.

"A week ago today we got an anonymous report that the now Paula Pace was the previous Paula Baniszewski involved in this 1965 murder case in Indiana and it was a real attention-seeker out there, a heinous crime," Grundy County Sheriff Rick Penning told ABC News Wednesday.

Paula Baniszewski was 17 years old in the summer of 1965 when a 16-year-old girl named Sylvia Likens and her sister came to stay with Baniszewski's family. In the months that followed, Likens was beaten, burned, malnourished and branded with a hot needle. Her body was found in the basement of the home in October of that year.

The case became one of the most infamous crimes in Indiana and has been the subject of several books and movies.

Baniszewski's mother Gertrude Baniszewski was convicted of first-degree murder and Paula Baniszewski was found guilty of second-degree murder for her participation in the torture. Several other family members were also convicted.

Paula Baniszewski appealed her conviction and ultimately pleaded guilty to manslaughter. She served time and was released from prison in 1972. She completed her parole and moved to Iowa.

Baniszewski, now 64, has been going by the name Paula Pace and has worked for the BCLUW school district in Conrad, Iowa, since 1998. She had done some custodial work and was most recently working as a teacher's aide for special needs students.

Recently, information about Pace's true identity began circulating around Facebook and an anonymous tipster called police to tell them they should look into her background. Police immediately notified the school and both began doing background checks.

Pace's birth date matched Baniszewski's and a current photo of her beared a striking resemblance to the 1965 mugshot.

"The superintendent had called her in and she admitted to it, so she was suspended," Penning said.

The school called a special meeting of the school board on Tuesday and the seven-member board unanimously voted to fire Baniszewski.

"Paula Pace's employment was terminated at a board meeting yesterday," superintendent Ben Petty told ABC News. "Her employment was terminated for providing false information on her application."

Petty would not comment further on how she was able to lie on her application.

Penning said that Baniszewski is not facing any criminal charges and the matter is between her and the school.

Baniszewski could not be reached for comment. An Iowa phone number listed for Pace had been disconnected.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Girl, 15, Tortured and Starved By Family

Thinkstock/Getty Images(MADISON, Wis.) -- A 15-year-old girl was held captive in the basement of her family's home with no access to food, a bathroom, or an education, according to police in Madison, Wisc.

Police arrested the girl's father and stepmother after a search warrant and interviews revealed that the girl had been kept in the basement and starved until she weighed only 70 pounds, according to a police report from the incident.

An investigation into the home began Feb. 6 when a passerby saw the girl walking along the side of a road in her pajamas without shoes or socks.

Mike Vega, who said he was the passerby who saw the girl walking, told ABC affiliate WKOW he called the police.

"The girl started talking about how her stepmother had just thrown her down the stairs, she had escaped out a window and was looking for help," said Vega.

Police arrived and called EMS to take the girl to a hospital, where doctors and social workers ruled she had been serially abused and was the victim of "serial child torture with prolonged exposure to definite starvation."

While executing a search warrant at the home, police found that the girl had been kept in the basement of her family's home while her father, stepmother, and step-siblings all lived upstairs. She was not enrolled in any school, and an alarm was set up to go off if the girl came up from the basement. She was given little food and no access to the bathroom, police said.

Chad Chritton, 40, the father of the victim, was arrested by police Monday, along with the girl's stepmother, Melinda Drabek-Chritton. Both are charged with child abuse. A stepbrother of the girl, Joshua Drabek, 18, was also arrested on a probation and parole hold.

The family had previously been investigated for alleged molestation of the girl, but none of the family members cooperated with police and the victim did not corroborate the allegation, police said.

The three adults are all being held on $20,000 to $25,000 bond. Two other children who lived in the home have been placed in child protective custody, while the victim is receiving medical care and is also in child protective custody, police said.

The family could not immediately be reached for comment.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Dungeon Leader Terrorized Own Family, Brother Claims

Linda Weston (L). (Philadelphia Police Dept)(PHILADELPHIA) -- Accused basement dungeon ring-leader Linda Weston terrorized her younger brothers and sisters, forcing them into incest and prostitution, her family said Thursday.

Linda Weston's siblings were still so frightened of her that they spoke only on the condition that their names not be revealed.

"She would force my younger brothers and sisters to have sex. She would have sex with my other brothers and sisters," a brother told ABC News affiliate WPVI. "She said, 'Look, make them have babies, we can get more money.' It could be a brother or sister in her care."

Weston, 51, is charged with being the ring-leader in a kidnapping and illegal imprisonment case for locking four mentally handicapped adults in a basement with no food or bathrooms, beating and torturing a niece of hers whom she kept locked in the closet, and stealing the identities of more than 50 people.

Family members told WPVI that it was the first time they had all been together in over 20 years after breaking free from the control of their sister.

"By calling her evil is speaking nice of her," the brother said.

The family says they did not go to police because they were in fear of their sister.

"We were beyond terrified. We knew what she was capable of doing, so we never challenged any of it," a brother said.

Also charged with the basement dungeon crimes are Weston's daughter Jean McIntire, 39, Weston's boyfriend, Thomas Gregory, 47, and Eddie Wright, 49.

Philadelphia police said they are working to identify other possible victims of Weston's schemes.

They are also investigating whether Weston forced the mentally handicapped victims in the basement to have sex with one another, which produced two children, ages 2 and 5. Police said the 2-year-old was so malnourished it had the appearance of a 6-month-old.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Girl in Dungeon Basement Case Held 10 Years, Tortured by Captors

Philadelphia Police Department(PHILADELPHIA) -- A 19-year-old girl who has been missing for 10 years has been found with open wounds, burn marks, scars and broken bones by police investigating the alleged basement dungeon and kidnapping ring in Philadelphia.

Beatrice Weston, who was taken at the age of 8 by accused dungeon ringleader Linda Weston, is now in a Philadelphia hospital recovering from the ongoing cruelty and torture by her captors, according to Philadelphia police spokesman Lt. Ray Evers. Linda Weston is the girl's aunt, and police said she took her niece after a family feud with her sister, Vicki Weston.

The girl was found two days after police uncovered a basement dungeon in which four mentally handicapped adults were held against their will. Police have arrested and charged Linda Weston, 51, her daughter Jean McIntosh, 32, Weston's boyfriend Thomas Gregory, 47, and Eddie Wright, 49, with kidnapping, false imprisonment, and other related charges.

Police pleaded with media to let the girl heal in privacy at the hospital.

"This girl was beaten, tortured, absolutely the worst thing you can see one person do to another," said Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey.

Evers said Wednesday after finding the girl that he would be happy to see the four prosecuted wherever the punishments would be the harshest.

"We're going to prepare to prosecute this here or, without hyperbole, wherever the prisons are going to be the worst. Federal prisons might be too nice," he said. "I've never seen anything like this before on a living person, that kind of cruelty over and over again. No penalty is too harsh to the people that did this, absolutely no penalty," Evers said.

The lieutenant said the girl's torture in the "house of horrors" included signs of a spoon being heated and then burned into her skin. She had fractured bones that healed over incorrectly, and bones in her ankles showed the effects of being shot repeatedly with something like a pellet gun, he said. There are open wounds on her head, which she had covered with a hood when police found her. She had scars over her face, arms and legs, he said.

Police found Beatrice Weston among a group of 10 children and teens who were located Tuesday after Florida police tipped off Philadelphia cops that there may be more victims and that Weston had been living with at least seven children in her last home in West Palm Beach, Fla..

Police also took six children into protective custody, two of whom were the children of a mentally handicapped couple who were held captive by Weston for years, police said. The children, ages 2 and 5, were severely malnourished. Evers noted that the 2-year-old girl looked like a 6-month-old baby when she was found.

Police are trying to identify the rest of the group, including three other young adults and four other children.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


CIA Cleared in All But Two Interrogation Investigations

Danita Delimont/Gallo Images/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Justice Department announced Thursday it is closing all of its investigations into the Central Intelligence Agency's controversial enhanced interrogation program without further legal action, except in the case of two incidents in which detainees perished.

The investigations by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham into the alleged mistreatment of detainees by the CIA, which covered the experiences of more than 100 detainees, concluded that, not including the two fatal cases, "an expanded criminal investigation of the remaining matters is not warranted," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a press release. Beyond finding that the CIA officers acted "in good faith and within the scope of legal guidance" given them, in some instances Durham found the detainees were never in CIA custody at all.

CIA Director Leon Panetta said had been informed of the department's findings and he "welcomed" the news.

"We are now finally about to close this chapter of our Agency's history," he said. "As Director, I have always believed that our primary responsibility is not to the past, but to the present and future threats to the nation."

Panetta, who is on his last day as the spy chief before heading to his new job as the Secretary of Defense, said the agency will "of course" continue to cooperate in the two cases of detainee death that Holder said required further investigation. Earlier this month, Time magazine reported Durham had begun calling witnesses before a secret federal grand jury concerning his investigation into the 2003 death of Iraqi prisoner Manadel al-Jamadi, known as "the Iceman."

The inquiry into the CIA's interrogation program initially grew out of a 2008 probe into whether the CIA had purposefully destroyed nearly 100 interrogation tapes. The tapes purportedly show CIA agents using harsh interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding, on terror suspects. No charges were filed at the conclusion of that investigation.

The use of such enhanced interrogation techniques and the ensuing scandal created such tension between the White House and the CIA that at one point in a heated argument in 2009, Panetta reportedly threatened to quit his post. More recently, controversy surrounding the technique reemerged after several former officials said that it was key to gaining the intelligence that led to the successful operation against al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden -- a claim vehemently disputed by others, including Sen. John McCain, who was himself a torture victim during the Vietnam War.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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