Although there is no scientific proof that torture as an interrogation technique actually works, (See this Defense Department Document) various acts of suffering have been used by governments and religious groups for as long as there have been governments and religious groups. In ancient Rome, a slave’s testimony was admissible only if extracted by torture, on the assumption that slaves could not be trusted to reveal the truth voluntarily. Torture in the Catholic Church’s Medieval Inquisition began in 1252 and finished in 1816 when a papal bull ended its use. The Dominican order gained a reputation as some of the most fearsomely innovative torturers in medieval Spain.
Fast forward to the 21st Century, and we find ourselves in the midst of a growing scandal prompted by ongoing revelations of abusive physical and psychological techniques used by US forces engaged in the “war on terror”. The architects of that war now find themselves in a defensive mode, amid growing calls for further investigations and criminal prosecutions.
A Senate Armed Services Committee report reveals still more details about the “enhanced interrogation techniques” desired by the Bush administration including multiple warnings — from legal and trained interrogation experts — that the procedures could backfire and might violate U.S. and international law. Despite the warnings, the methods became the basis for harsh interrogations not only in CIA secret prisons, but also in Defense Department internment camps at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in Afghanistan and Iraq. Senate investigators have concluded that intelligence and military officials under the Bush administration began preparing to conduct harsh interrogations long before they were granted legal approval to use such methods — and weeks before the CIA captured its first high-ranking terrorism suspect. Those officials were motivated by the executive branch’s insistence on “establishing a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq,” the report said.
According to Michigan Senator Carl Levin, “The techniques are based on tactics used by Chinese Communists against American soldiers during the Korean War for the purpose of eliciting false confessions for propaganda purposes. Techniques used in SERE (SERE is a military acronym for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) training include stripping trainees of their clothing, placing them in stress positions, putting hoods over their heads, subjecting them to face and body slaps, depriving them of sleep, throwing them up against a wall, confining them in a small box, treating them like animals, subjecting them to loud music and flashing lights, and exposing them to extreme temperatures. Until recently, the Navy SERE school also used waterboarding. The purpose of the SERE program is to provide U.S. troops who might be captured a taste of the treatment they might face so that they might have a better chance of surviving captivity and resisting abusive and coercive interrogations.”
SERE trainers were asked by the administration to “reverse engineer” the training to help US interrogators extract more information from al-Qaeda prisoners. Many within the government objected to this plan of action, including Phillip Zekilow, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s policy representative to the National Security Council, whose dissenting memo was purged by the White House.
The former advisor appeared on MSNBC, explaining: “The underlying absurdity of the administration’s position can be summarized this way. Once you get to a substantive compliance analysis for ‘cruel, inhuman, and degrading’ you get the position that the substantive standard is the same as it is in analogous U.S. constitutional law. So the Office of Legal Counsel must argue, in effect, that the methods and the conditions of confinement in the CIA program could constitutionally be inflicted on American citizens in a county jail. In other words, Americans in any town of this country could constitutionally be hung from the ceiling naked, sleep deprived, water-boarded, and all the rest — if the alleged national security justification was compelling. I did not believe our federal courts could reasonably be expected to agree with such a reading of the Constitution.”
The fallout from the Bush administration’s “enhanced terror techniques” has just begun to surface. Researchers at Human Rights First have documented more than 70 detainee deaths in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, concluding that they were homicides linked to gross recklessness, abuse or torture. The findings are based largely on the military’s own records, obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, according to Hina Shamsi, an attorney for the organization. Although over 250 service members have been “held accountable” for abuses, according to the Pentagon, official inquiries have basically exonerated the brass.
Investigative journalists at ProPublica discovered that Bush-era memos released last week revealed that a CIA had an al-Qaeda suspect named Hassan Ghul in a secret prison and subjected him to “enhanced interrogation techniques.” The CIA has never acknowledged holding Ghul, and his whereabouts today are unknown.
Ghul is not the only one who remains missing. At least three dozen others who were held in secret prisons overseas seem to be missing as well. Efforts by human rights organizations to track their whereabouts have failed, and no foreign governments have admitted to holding them. (See the full list.)
Last week Congressional Quarterly columnist Jeff Stein wrote a column about Manadel al-Jamadi, an Iraqi who was picked up by in Baghdad and interrogated by the CIA. Jamadi died in the care of Mark Swanner, a 44-year-old CIA interrogator who battered the prisoner at the Abu Ghraib prison in 2003. The U.S. Army’s Criminal Investigations Detachment concluded:
“The Final Autopsy Report listed the cause of Mr. AL-JAMADI’s death as blunt force injuries of the torso complicated by compromised respiration, and the manner of Mr. Al-JAMADI’s death as homicide.”
Stein reports: Swanner’s case has just been left to die quietly, without notice, a former CIA official involved in the matter observed, on condition of anonymity because it remains classified.
The Bush era memos released last week detailed a wide range of the methods available to interrogators. One method that, according to official sources, wasn’t used was the “torture by insects” technique, whereby subjects were frightened by placing them in proximity to various bugs. Except that the technique was used. On children.
According to Rawstory:
While an additional memo released Thursday claims that the torture with insects technique was never utilized by the CIA, the allegations regarding the children would have transpired when the method was authorized by the Bush Administration.
At a military tribunal in 2007, the father of a Guantanamo detainee alleged that Pakistani guards had confessed that American interrogators used ants to coerce the children of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed into revealing their father’s whereabouts.
The statement was made by Ali Khan, the father of detainee Majid Khan, who gave a detailed account of his son’s interrogation at the hands of American guards in Pakistan. In his statement, Khan asserted that one of his sons was held at the same place as the young children of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
“The Pakistani guards told my son that the boys were kept in a separate area upstairs and were denied food and water by other guards,” the statement read. “They were also mentally tortured by having ants or other creatures put on their legs to scare them and get them to say where their father was hiding.” (A pdf transcript is available here)
Khan’s statement is second-hand. But the picture he paints of his son’s interrogation at the hands of American interrogators is strikingly similar to the accounts given by numerous other detainees to the International Red Cross. The timing of the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s son — then aged seven and nine — also meshes with a report by Human Rights Watch, which says that the children were captured in September 2002 and held for four months at the hands of American guards.
After these sorts of practices were banned in Iraq, interrogators saw an increase of 50 percent more high-value intelligence. Nothing about our torture techniques was secret to the tortured or Al Qaeda. Nothing about wiretaps would be a surprise to Al Qaeda, which has survived in large part because of the inside knowledge gleaned during their years fighting alongside the CIA in Afghanistan.
The people who the architects of those practices really wanted to keep them from are- we, the people of the United States. Don’t let them get away with torture. Their fantasies about “ticking bombs” are just that—fantasies.
Sign the ACLU petition calling for a special prosecutor, GO HERE