OMNI NEWSLETTER # 7 ON
TORTURE, WAR CRIMES, LAWLESSNESS,
February 23, 2013. (#1 October 5, 2007; #2 May 9,
2011; #3 June 26, 2011; #4 Oct. 21, 2011; #5 Feb. 25, 2012; #6 June 12, 2012) For OMNI’s newsletters go to: http://www.omnicenter.org/newsletter-archive/). Knowledge, including of the worst behavior,
strengthens the search for the best. US
Compiled by Dick Bennett, Building a Culture of Peace.
See Cheney and Civil Liberties NDAA newsletters and International Day in Support of Victims of Torture Newsletter.
JUNE IS UN TORTURE AWARENESS MONTH
JUNE 26 IS UN INTERNATIONAL DAY IN SUPPORT OF VICTIMS OF TORTURE
OMNI NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL DAYS PROJECT
CONTENTS OF NOS. 3-4 AT END
Contents of #5
Interview by Bill Moyers
Two Books: Torture Team and Lawless World
Torture Complaints Guantanamo
Morris Davis, Crimes of War Project
Nat Hentoff on Obama
Contents of #6
Film: Prosecute Cheney
Aleazis, Cheney’s Secret Torture Memo
Scahill, 7 Points on Cheney
Molloff, Last War Crime Movie
Swanson, Foundations of Torture
Contents of #7
McCoy, CIA and Torture 2006
Dickerson, From Bush/Cheney to Obama
McCoy, Obama Impunity Article
McCoy, Torture and Impunity Book 2012
Baker Review of Siems, Torture documents of post-9/11 US Torture System
Theoharis and Sassen, Supermax Prison, ADX in
Torture Whistleblower Kiriakou
Danner, How US Chose Torture, and How to Change
Friday, February 17, 2006 Full Show
Professor McCoy Exposes the History of CIA Interrogation, From the Cold War to the War on Terror
download: More Formats
We now take a look at what lies behind the shocking images of torture at Abu Ghraib by turning to the history of the CIA and torture techniques. The International Committee of the Red Cross, Amnesty International and other human rights groups say the recently released images of abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib show a clear violation of international humanitarian law. The
A new expose gives an account of the CIA’s secret efforts to develop new forms of torture spanning fifty years. It reveals how the CIA perfected its methods, distributing them across the world from
- Alfred McCoy, professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Author of "A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, From the Cold War to the War on Terror" and also "The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade."
TranscriptAMY GOODMAN: A new expose gives an account of the C.I.A.'s secret efforts to develop new forms of torture, spanning half a century. It reveals how the C.I.A. perfected its methods, distributing them across the world, from
ALFRED McCOY: Thank you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: And glad to have you with us, especially in light of your history. I first learned of you with your first book The Politics of Heroin: C.I.A. Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, for which you almost died. What happened then?
ALFRED McCOY: Oh, when I was researching that book in the mountains of Laos, hiking from village to village, interviewing Laotian farmers about their opium harvest, and they were telling me that they took it down to the local helicopter pad where Air America helicopters would land, Air America being a subsidiary of the C.I.A., and officers, tribal officers in the C.I.A.'s secret army would buy the opium and fly it off to the C.I.A.'s secret compound, where it would be transformed into heroin and ultimately wound up in South Vietnam. And while I was doing that research, hiking from village to village, interviewing farmers, we were ambushed by a group of C.I.A. mercenaries. Fortunately, I had five militiamen from the village with me, and we shot our way out of there, but they came quite close. Then later on, a C.I.A. operative threatened to murder my interpreter unless I stopped doing that research. And then when —
AMY GOODMAN: How did you know they were C.I.A.?
ALFRED McCOY: Oh, look, in the mountains of
AMY GOODMAN: The Laotian army?
ALFRED McCOY: The C.I.A.’s secret army.
AMY GOODMAN: The Laotian mercenaries?
ALFRED McCOY: Laotian mercenaries. That, everybody was clear about that. Nobody denied that. They said it was sort of an accident, but, no, it was very clear that it was intentional. And ultimately, when the book was in press, the head of covert operations for the C.I.A. called up my offices and my publisher in
AMY GOODMAN: C.I.A. prior review.
ALFRED McCOY: Prior review of the manuscript, and they issued a 14-page critique. The publisher’s legal department, HarperCollins’s legal department reviewed the critique, reviewed the manuscript, published the book unchanged, not a word changed.
AMY GOODMAN: And the contention of that book was that the C.I.A. was complicit in the global drug trade?
ALFRED McCOY: Right. In the context of conducting covert operations around the globe, particularly in the Asian opium zone, which stretched from the Golden Triangle of Vietnam and Laos all the way to Afghanistan, that in those mountains far away from home, when the C.I.A. had to mobilize tribal armies, the only allies were warlords, and when the C.I.A. formed an alliance with them, the warlords used this alliance to become drug lords, and the C.I.A. didn’t stop them from their involvement in the traffic.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, as a professor at the
ALFRED McCOY: Well, if you look at the most famous of photographs from Abu Ghraib, of the Iraqi standing on the box, arms extended with a hood over his head and the fake electrical wires from his arms, okay? In that photograph you can see the entire 50-year history of C.I.A. torture. It’s very simple. He’s hooded for sensory disorientation, and his arms are extended for self-inflicted pain. And those are the two very simple fundamental C.I.A. techniques, developed at enormous cost.
From 1950 to 1962, the C.I.A. ran a massive research project, a veritable Manhattan Project of the mind, spending over $1 billion a year to crack the code of human consciousness, from both mass persuasion and the use of coercion in individual interrogation. And what they discovered — they tried LSD, they tried mescaline, they tried all kinds of drugs, they tried electroshock, truth serum, sodium pentathol. None of it worked. What worked was very simple behavioral findings, outsourced to our leading universities — Harvard,
AMY GOODMAN: Describe it.
ALFRED McCOY: Oh, it’s very simple. Dr. Donald O. Hebb of
And if you look at many of those photographs, what do they show? They show people with bags over their head. If you look at the photographs of the
Now, then the second major breakthrough that the C.I.A. had came here in New York City at Cornell University Medical Center, where two eminent neurologists under contract from the C.I.A. studied Soviet K.G.B. torture techniques, and they found that the most effective K.G.B. technique was self-inflicted pain. You simply make somebody stand for a day or two. And as they stand — okay, you’re not beating them, they have no resentment — you tell them, "You’re doing this to yourself. Cooperate with us, and you can sit down." And so, as they stand, what happens is the fluids flow down to the legs, the legs swell, lesions form, they erupt, they suppurate, hallucinations start, the kidneys shut down.
Now, if you look at the other aspect of those photos, you’ll see that they’re short-shackled — okay? — that they’re long-shackled, that they’re made — several of those photos you just showed, one of them with a man with a bag on his arm, his arms are straight in front of him, people are standing with their arms extended, that’s self-inflicted pain. And the combination of those two techniques — sensory disorientation and self-inflicted pain — is the basis of the C.I.A.’s technique.
AMY GOODMAN: Who has pioneered this at the C.I.A.?
ALFRED McCOY: This was done by Technical Services Division. Most of the in-house research involved drugs and all of the LSD experiments that we heard about for years, but ultimately they were a negative result. When you have any large massive research project, you get — you hit dead ends, you hit brick walls, you get negative results. All the drugs didn’t work. What did work was this.
AMY GOODMAN: But when you talk about the 'everyone knows the LSD experiments,' I don’t think everyone knows. In fact, I would conjecture that more than 90% of Americans don’t know that the C.I.A. was involved with LSD experiments on unwitting Americans. Can you explain what they did?
ALFRED McCOY: Oh, sure. As a part of this comprehensive survey of human consciousness, the C.I.A. tried every possible techniques. And one of the things that they — at the time that this research started in the 1940s, a Swiss pharmaceutical company developed LSD.
AMY GOODMAN: Which one?
ALFRED McCOY: I forget now. One of the major Swiss pharmaceutical companies. And Dr. Hoffman there was the man who developed it. The C.I.A. bought substantial doses, and they conducted experiments. One of the most notorious experiments was that Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, inside the agency, spiked the drinks of his co-workers, and one of those co-workers suffered a breakdown, Dr. Frank Olson, and he either was —- I don’t know whether he was pushed or jumped from a hotel here in New York City -—
AMY GOODMAN: His son has never stopped pursuing this case?
ALFRED McCOY: Right, his son Eric Olson insists that his father was murdered by the C.I.A. Eric Olson believes that his father did a tour of Europe, and he visited the ultimate Anglo-American test site, black site near Frankfurt, where they were doing lethal experiments, fatal experiments, on double agents and suspected double agents, and that his father returned enormously upset by the discovery that this research was actually killing people, and that, therefore, Eric Olson argues his father was killed by the C.I.A., that he was pushed.
AMY GOODMAN: And didn’t they do experiments in brothels in the
ALFRED McCOY: They had two kind of party houses. They had one in the San Francisco Bay Area, another in
AMY GOODMAN: So, the C.I.A. were running the brothel.
ALFRED McCOY: They were running the brothel. They were running all of these experiments, okay? They did that on Army soldiers through the Army Chemical Warfare Division.
AMY GOODMAN: What did they do there?
ALFRED McCOY: Again, they gave them LSD and other drugs to see what effect they would have.
AMY GOODMAN: And what did the soldiers think they were getting?
ALFRED McCOY: They were just told they were participating in an experiment for national defense.
AMY GOODMAN: Prisoners?
ALFRED McCOY: No, these were —
AMY GOODMAN: Right, but also on prisoners, were there experiments?
ALFRED McCOY: There were some in prisons in the
AMY GOODMAN: On unwitting Americans?
ALFRED McCOY: Unwitting Americans, produced nothing, okay? What they found time and time again is that electroshock didn’t work, and sodium pentathol didn’t work, LSD certainly didn’t work. You scramble the brain. You got unreliable information. But what did work was the combination of these two rather boring, rather mundane behavioral techniques: sensory disorientation and self-inflicted pain.
And in 1963, the C.I.A. codified these results in the so-called KUBARK Counterintelligence Manual. If you just type the word "KUBARK" into Google, you will get the manual, an actual copy of it, on your computer screen, and you can read the techniques [ Read the report. But if you do, read the footnotes, because that’s where the behavioral research is. Now, this produced a distinctively American form of torture, the first real revolution in the cruel science of pain in centuries, psychological torture, and it’s the one that’s with us today, and it’s proved to be a very resilient, quite adaptable, and an enormously destructive paradigm.
Let’s make one thing clear. Americans refer to this often times in common parlance as "torture light." Psychological to torture, people who are involved in treatment tell us it’s far more destructive, does far more lasting damage to the human psyche than does physical torture. As Senator McCain said, himself, last year when he was debating his torture prohibition, faced with a choice between being beaten and psychologically tortured, I’d rather be beaten. Okay? It does far more lasting damage. It is far crueler than physical torture. This is something that we don’t realize in this country.
Now, another thing we see is those photographs is the psychological techniques, but the initial research basically developed techniques for attacking universal human sensory receptors: sight, sound, heat, cold, sense of time. That’s why all of the detainees describe being put in dark rooms, being subjected to strobe lights, loud music, okay? That’s sensory deprivation or sensory assault. Okay, that was sort of the phase one of the C.I.A. research. But the paradigm has proved to be quite adaptable.
Now, one of the things that Donald Rumsfeld did, right at the start of the war of terror, in late 2002, he appointed General Geoffrey Miller to be chief at Guantanamo, alright, because the previous commanders at Guantanamo were too soft on the detainees, and General Miller turned Guantanamo into a de facto behavioral research laboratory, a kind of torture research laboratory. And under General Miller at
And then they went further still. Under General Miller, they created these things called "Biscuit" teams, behavioral science consultation teams, and they actually had qualified military psychologists participating in the ongoing interrogation, and these psychologists would identify individual phobias, like fear of dark or attachment to mother, and by the time we’re done, by 2003, under General Miller, Guantanamo had perfected the C.I.A. paradigm, and it had a three-fold total assault on the human psyche: sensory receptors, self-inflicted pain, cultural sensitivity, and individual fears and phobia.
AMY GOODMAN: And then they sent General Miller to, quote, "Gitmo-ize" Abu Ghraib. Professor McCoy, we’re going to break for a minute, and then we’ll come back. Professor Alfred McCoy, professor of history at the
AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to Alfred McCoy, professor of history at the
ALFRED McCOY: In mid-2003, when the Iraqi resistance erupted, the
In September of 2003, General Sanchez issued orders, detailed orders, for expanded interrogation techniques beyond those allowed in the U.S. Army Field Manual 3452, and if you look at those techniques, what he’s ordering, in essence, is a combination of self-inflicted pain, stress positions and sensory disorientation, and if you look at the 1963 C.I.A. KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation Manual, you look at the 1983 C.I.A. Interrogation Training Manual that they used in Honduras for training Honduran officers in torture and interrogation, and then twenty years later, you look at General Sanchez’s 2003 orders, there’s a striking continuity across this forty-year span, in both the general principles, this total assault on the existential platforms of human identity and existence, okay? And the specific techniques, the way of achieving that, through the attack on these sensory receptors.
AMY GOODMAN: And Rumsfeld’s comment, when asked if it was torture, when people were forced to stand hours on end, that he stands at his desk?
ALFRED McCOY: Right, he wrote that in one of his memos. When he was asked to review the
So, I think when the Bush administration gave those orders for, basically, techniques tantamount to torture at the start of the war on terror, I think it was probably their intention that these be limited to top al-Qaeda suspects, but within months, we were torturing hundreds of Afghanis at Bagram near Kabul, and a few months later in 2003, through these techniques, we were torturing literally thousands of Iraqis. And you can see in those photos, beyond the details of the techniques that we’ve described, you can see how that once it starts, it becomes this Dantesque hell, this kind of play palace of the darkest recesses of human consciousness. That’s why it’s necessary to maintain an absolute prohibition on torture. There is no such thing as a little bit of torture. The whole myth of scientific surgical torture, that torture advocates, academic advocates in this country came up with, that’s impossible. That cannot operate. It will inevitably spread.
AMY GOODMAN: So when, Professor McCoy, you started seeing these images, the first photos that came out at Abu Ghraib, the pictures we showed of the, you know, hooded man, electrodes coming out of his fingers, standing on the box, your response?
ALFRED McCOY: Oh, I mean, the reason I wrote this book is when that photo came out in April 2004 on CBS news, at the Times, William Safire, for example, writing in the New York Times said this was the work of creeps. Later on, Defense Secretary Schlesinger said that this was just abuse by a few people on the night shift. There was another phrase: "Recycled hillbillies from
AMY GOODMAN: We read our first headline today. It was about Maher Arar and the case — the judge has thrown out against him, the Canadian-Syrian man who was sent back to
ALFRED McCOY: The details are often left to the individual interrogators, but the manuals basically describe how you control the process, you control the environment right from the start when you pick somebody up. So, for example, often times we see in
AMY GOODMAN: And that bombardment of sound is often joked about. 'Oh, we played Britney Spears really loud,' or whatever it is. I don’t know if it was her. But that’s become a joke when soldiers play loud music.
ALFRED McCOY: Well, though, actually, that’s one of the problems of talking about this topic in the
Back in the early 1990s, when the United States was emerging from the Cold War, and we began this process of, if you will, disarming ourselves and getting beyond all of these techniques, trying to sort of bring ourselves in line with rest of the international community, when we sent that — when President Clinton sent the U.N. Anti-Torture Convention to the U.S. Congress for ratification in 1994, he included four detailed paragraphs of reservation that had, in fact, been drafted by the Reagan administration, and he adopted them without so much as changing a semicolon. And when you read those detailed paragraphs of reservation, what you realize is this, is that the United States Congress ratified the treaty, but basically we outlawed only physical torture. Those photographs of reservation are carefully written to avoid one word in the 26 printed pages of the U.N. convention. That word is "mental." Basically, we exempted psychological torture.
Now, another problem for the United States, as well, was when the U.S. Army re-wrote the Army Field Manual in 1992, the same period, while, although let’s say the civil authorities were sort of skirting the law by exempting psychological techniques, the U.S. Army re-wrote their field manual with the intention of strictly observing the letter and the spirit of the U.N. Anti-Torture Convention and other similar treaties. So what happened is that when the Defense Department gave orders for extreme techniques, when General Sanchez gave orders for his techniques beyond the Army Field Manual, what that meant is when the soldiers were actually investigated, they had committed crimes under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. They would be prosecuted, and they’re all being sent to jail.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor McCoy, you wrote a piece, "Why the McCain Torture Ban Won’t Work: The Bush Legacy of Legalized Torture."
ALFRED McCOY: Right. Most Americans think that it’s over, that in last year, December 2005, the U.S. Congress passed the Detainee Treatment Act 2005, which in the language of Senator McCain, who was the original author of that amendment to the defense appropriation, the author of that act, it bars all inhumane or cruel treatment, and most people think that’s it, that it’s over, okay? Actually, what has happened is the Bush administration fought that amendment tooth and nail; they fought it with loopholes. Vice President Cheney went to Senator McCain and asked for a specific exemption for the C.I.A. McCain refused. The National Security Advisor went to McCain and asked for certain kinds of exemptions for the C.I.A. He refused.
So then they started amending it. Basically what happened is, through the process, they introduced loopholes. Look, at the start of the war on terror, the Bush administration ordered torture. President Bush said right on September 11, 2001, when he addressed the nation, "I don’t care what the international lawyers say. We’re going to kick some ass." Those were his words, and then it was up to his legal advisors in the White House and the Justice Department to translate his otherwise unlawful orders into legal directives, and they did it by crafting three very controversial legal principles. One, that the President, as Commander-in-Chief, could override laws and treaties. Two, that there was a possible defense for C.I.A. interrogators who engage in torture, and the defenses were of two kinds. First of all, they played around with the word "severe," that torture is the infliction of severe pain. That’s when Jay Bybee, who was Assistant Attorney General, wrote that memo in which he said, "'severe' means equivalent to organ failure," in other words, right up to the point of death. The other thing was that they came up with the idea of intentionality. If a C.I.A. interrogator tortured, but the aim was information, not pain, then he could say that he was not guilty. The third principle, which was crafted by John Yoo, was
AMY GOODMAN: This was the statement that he signed as he signed the McCain so-called ban on torture?
ALFRED McCOY: Right, he emailed it at 8:00 at night from his ranch in Crawford on December 30th, that he was signing this legislation into law. He said, "I reserve the right, as Commander-in-Chief and as head of the unitary executive, to do what I need to do to defend
AMY GOODMAN: Ten seconds.
ALFRED McCOY: So, and then in the last month, the Bush administration has gone to federal courts and said, "Drop all of your habeas corpus suits from
AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there. I want to thank you very much, Professor Al McCoy, for speaking with us, professor of history at University of Wisconsin, Madison, his book A Question of Torture: C.I.A. Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War On Terror.
Torture and Impunity: The
Critical Human Rights
“A masterful account of an appalling national drift toward accepting torture as part of our culture and polity.”
—Alex Gibney, director, Oscar-winning documentary Taxi to the Dark Side
See above Interview with Author on Democracy Now.
Many Americans have condemned the “enhanced interrogation” techniques used in the War on Terror as a transgression of human rights. But the
During the Cold War, McCoy argues, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency covertly funded psychological experiments designed to weaken a subject’s resistance to interrogation. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the CIA revived these harsh methods, while
Alfred W. McCoy is the J.R.W. Smail Professor of History at the
For more information regarding publicity and reviews contact our publicity manager, phone: (608) 263-0734, email: email@example.com
"Torture Memos" Turn 10: Demand Accountability
Annette Warren Dickerson, CCR firstname.lastname@example.org via uark.edu
August 1, 2012 to jbennet
Watch former president Bush admit he authorized torture & listen to Murat Kurnaz, a man previously imprisoned at Guantánamo, join CCR attorney Katherine Gallagher to discuss why accountability for torture is critical. http://www.ccrjustice.org/get-involved/action/demand-accountability-u.s.-torture
Dear CCR supporter,
Today marks ten years since Bush administration lawyers drafted the infamous “torture memos” that both enabled the torture of individuals held in
U.S. detention and provided legal cover for
officials who participated in torture. U.S.
It has been well-documented that in the years following the September 11, 2001 attacks, high-level U.S. officials committed, ordered, directed, authorized, condoned, planned and otherwise aided and abetted, or failed to prevent or punish, serious violations of international law, including torture. The torture memos played a critical role in the
torture program. To date, no
senior government official has been held accountable for torture, and there is
no pending criminal investigation into torture committed by U.S. officials. In fact the Obama
administration has made clear that neither the authors of the Bush
Administration’s “torture memos,” nor those who relied on these memos, will be
subject to investigation. Nor has there been accountability for the destruction
of at least 92 interrogation videotapes containing evidence of torture,
including the torture of detained men who are still in Guantánamo. U.S.
The Bush administration tortured, but it is the Obama administration that is creating a legacy of impunity for this torture. President Obama is compounding this grim legacy by continuing indefinite detention without charge or trial at Guantánamo—a practice that a recent Physicians for Human Rights report makes clear is itself a form of torture. http://www.ccrjustice.org/get-involved/action/demand-accountability-u.s.-torture
Contact Attorney General Eric Holder and demand that the U.S. Department of Justice hold U.S. officials accountable for torture and other serious violations of international law at Guantánamo and other U.S. detention sites. http://www.justice.gov/contact-us.html The Attorney General should appoint an independent prosecutor with a full mandate to investigate and prosecute those responsible for torture and other war crimes, as far up the chain of command as the facts may lead.
Support CCR’s work to hold
officials accountable for torture and war crimes by learning more about it and
sharing with others. Learn more about CCR's Bush Torture Indictment by visiting
our case page. http://www.ccrjustice.org/case-against-rumsfeld Also learn about our efforts in U.S. Germany, France
and Spain to hold
officials, including the lawyers who drafted the torture memos, accountable for
torture around the world by visiting CCR’s page on accountability. http://www.ccrjustice.org/case-against-rumsfeld The U.S. government has so far failed
to comply with its obligations to investigate and prosecute torture, but
together we can ensure torturers are held accountable. U.S.
Thank you for your continued support.
Annette Warren Dickerson
Director of Education and Outreach
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
OBAMA EXTENDS IMPUNITY
By Alfred W. McCoy
Illustration by Justin Gabbard
WITH THE ELECTION OF
President Barack Obama, the
problem of torture has not, as
many had once hoped, simply disappeared,
wiped away by new executive
orders. Instead, Obama has now extended
the impunity that began under the
Administration of George W. Bush. To
achieve impunity for the crime of torture
in any society, particularly in a nation of
is a challenging, complex America
process that nonetheless follows some
rather similar steps in disparate countries
The first step to impunity is to blame the bad
apples. For a year after the Abu Ghraib exposé,
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld insisted this
abuse was “perpetrated by a small number of
military.” Explaining his refusal to release more of the
Abu Ghraib photos in May 2009, President Obama
paraphrased Rumsfeld, saying the
abuse “was carried out in the past by
a small number of individuals.”
The next step to impunity is to
invoke national security. In 2006, Vice
President Cheney led Republican partisans
in laying the legal foundations
for future impunity by pushing the
Military Commissions Law that legalized
the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation”
and granted its interrogators
immunity all the way back to 1997.
Significantly, this is the date of the
War Crimes Act, which U.S.
made torture a major felony. In the
months following Obama’s inauguration,
Cheney continued to make this
case for impunity, arguing the CIA’s
harsh methods “prevented the violent
deaths of thousands, perhaps hundreds
of thousands, of people”—a
claim that the Obama Administration
has not successfully rebutted.
The third step to impunity is to
appeal for national unity. During a
visit to CIA headquarters in April
2009, President Obama promised
Agency employees there would be no
widespread prosecutions. “We’ve
made some mistakes,” but it’s time,
he said, to “acknowledge them and
then move forward.” Attorney General
Eric Holder followed up by
refusing to investigate Bush, Cheney,
and Rumsfeld for war crimes or anyone
else for waterboarding.
Then, on August 30 of this year,
Holder dropped the only two cases he
had bothered to investigate. One of
the cases concerned a CIA victim who
was killed in 2002 “after being shackled
to a concrete wall in near-freezing
temperatures at a secret CIA prison in
according to The New York Times. The
other was killed in Abu Ghraib in
2003 and his body was “packed in ice
and wrapped in plastic,” the Times
noted. The head of the House Intelligence
Mike Rogers, praised Holder’s decision.
“These intelligence officers can
now continue to focus on the hard
work at hand, protecting our national
security,” he said.
The penultimate step to impunity
is political counterattack. During
Obama’s first two years in office,
Cheney and his daughter Liz made
dozens of television appearances
accusing his Administration of weakening
CIA interrogators who had
used “enhanced techniques.”
Ironically, Obama’s successful
assassination of Osama bin Laden in
May 2011 provided an opening for
the right to complete this step. Creating
an a cappella media chorus, former
Bush officials appeared on television
to claim, without any factual
basis, that torture had somehow led
the Navy SEALs to bin Laden.
The final step toward full impunity
is to rewrite the past. Starting on
the tenth anniversary of 9/11 and
continuing to the present, top proponents
of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation
have published memoirs justifying
their recourse to torture.
Cheney claimed the CIA’s use of
“enhanced interrogation techniques”
on Abu Zubaydah had turned this
hardened terrorist into a “fount of
information” and saved “thousands of
But just two weeks later, a former
FBI counterterror agent named Ali
Soufan published his own memoirs,
stating he was the one who interrogated
Zubaydah and did so with noncoercive
techniques that quickly gained
“important actionable intelligence.”
If we juxtapose these dueling
memoirs, the interrogation of Zubaydah
becomes a scientific experiment,
testing, through four successive
rounds, the relative effectiveness of
the CIA’s coercive methods versus the
FBI’s empathetic techniques.
As soon as Zubaydah was captured
back in 2002, Soufan flew Pakistan
where he used empathetic Bangkok
questioning in Arabic to gain the first
information about “the role of KSM
[Khalid Sheikh Mohammed] as the
mastermind of the 9/11 attacks,” he
wrote. Angered by the FBI’s success,
CIA director George Tenet dispatched
his own team from
by James Mitchell, a psychologist who
developed the Agency’s harsh
“enhanced techniques.” After stripping
Zubaydah of his clothes and subjecting
him to “low-level sleep deprivation,”
Mitchell’s CIA team got “no
information,” Soufan said.
So, for a second time, the FBI men
resumed their empathetic approach,
The final step toward
full impunity is to rewrite
The Progressive _ 27
questioning Zubaydah quietly to
learn “the details of Jose Padilla, the
so-called ‘dirty bomber.’ ” Then the
CIA team took over once more and
moved “further along the force continuum,
introducing loud noise and
then temperature manipulation,” as
well as forty-eight hours of sleep
deprivation, according to Soufan.
But the CIA’s tough approach “wasn’t
working and Zubaydah wasn’t revealing
So, for a third time, the FBI men
were brought back. To soften the coercive
climate, Soufan gave Zubaydah
his clothes, “switched off the music,
and let him sleep,” Soufan said. After
days of harsh CIA interrogation, the
FBI agent “found it harder to reengage
him this time because of how the
[tough] techniques had affected him,
but eventually, we succeeded, and he
reengaged again,” giving more details
of the Padilla bomb plot.
When the CIA escalated to “the
next stage in the force continuum” by
squeezing Zubaydah into “a confinement
box,” Soufan felt this was “borderline
torture” and quit the interrogation.
By the time Soufan flew back
the FBI’s empathetic New York
methods had coaxed out all the valuable
intelligence that Zubaydah had
The results of this scientific test
were blindingly clear: FBI empathy
was consistently effective, while CIA
coercion proved counterproductive.
If anyone is still wondering whether
torture is the best way to get accurate
intelligence, then the answer should
be, after this extraordinary experiment,
absolutely, definitively no.
But this fundamental yet fragile
truth has been obscured by CIA censorship
and neoconservative casuistry.
Cheney’s secondhand account
completely omits the FBI presence,
ignores the clear comparison between
the two methods, and inaccurately
attributes all the information gained
from Zubaydah to the CIA’s
“enhanced techniques.” Moreover,
the CIA itself had demanded 181
pages of excisions from Soufan’s
memoirs that reduced his chapters
describing this interrogation to a
maze of blackened lines that no regular
reader can understand.
The Agency’s attempt to rewrite the
past has persisted right to the present.
Just last April, Jose A. Rodríguez, former
chief of CIA’s clandestine services
who supervised Zubaydah’s torture
published his Washington
memoirs under the provocative title
Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA
Actions after 9/11 Saved American
Lives. In an interview on 60 Minutes,
he called FBI claims of success with
noncoercive methods “bullshit.” After
the Agency got “everybody in government
to put their big boy pants on
and provide the authorities that we
needed,” the CIA’s harsh enhanced
interrogation, he claimed, extracted
vital intelligence. There has been no
indication that his laudatory account
has been subject to a single page of
With the past now rewritten to
vindicate the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation,”
the process of impunity in
But in an age of globalization and
universal jurisdiction for human rights
violations, even the most perfect
impunity within a nation’s borders has
become imperfect. In May 2009, an
Italian court issued an unprecedented
conviction of twenty-two CIA agents
and a U.S. Air Force colonel for the
2003 kidnapping of an Egyptian exile,
Abu Omar, and his illegal rendition to
One by one, similar European
investigations have uncovered the
location of the CIA’s secret prisons in
resulting in the Poland
indictment of that country’s former
security chief for aiding the Agency in
opening a black site. This was an
exemplary prosecution that will discourage
future cooperation with
And in February of last year, former
President George W. Bush canceled
a trip to
after hearing Switzerland
that human rights groups were
planning to present evidence of his
orders for torture, much of it drawn
from his own memoirs.
Today, the Obama Administration
says it has closed the CIA
black sites. Meanwhile, however,
it has covertly outsourced the
abuse to allied governments. Indeed,
according to reporter Jeremy Scahill,
the CIA still runs a secret prison in
cities and slums across
And the Pentagon continues to insist
on holding prisoners at Bagram Air
Base, despite the Obama Administration’s
agreement with the Karzai government
to hand over all the Afghan
prisoners. Lest we forget, the prison
in Guantánamo remains open,
though Obama promised he would
close it on day one in office.
In the critical field of human
rights, Obama has not restored
instead, perfected a policy of impunity
for torture, thereby confronting
this country with a fateful contradiction.
world leader while simultaneously
defying one of the international community’s
strongest moral sanctions
against the crime of torture. _
Outside our borders,
Alfred W. McCoy is the J.R.W. Smail Professor of History
. He is
author University of
of “A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the
Cold War to the War on Terror,” which provided documentation
for the Oscar-winning documentary feature
film “Taxi to the Dark Side.” His recent book, “Torture
and Impunity: The
Doctrine of Coercive Interrogation” U.S.
, 2012), explores the University of Wisconsin Press
American experience of torture during the past decade
“For Real: Torture
Style” by Peter C.
Rev. of Larry Siems, The Torture Report: What the Documents Say About
Post-9/11 Torture Program. O/R
Books, 2012. America
On October 7, 2003, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a Freedom of Information Act request for all documents related to post-9/11 detention and interrogation practices. The request was filed simultaneously with the Defense Department, the State Department, the Justice Department and the Central Intelligence Agency. By the following May, no response had been issued, so the ACLU filed a second request, and in June took the government to court in hopes of forcing it to comply. Three months later the ACLU prevailed, and by the end of 2004 the documents were beginning to flow. Since then, well over 130,000 pages have been released and posted to a searchable database on the ACLU website.
The database contains, of course, the now infamous “torture memos”: the arguments, crafted by George W. Bush’s closest legal advisers, that waterboarding and the like were neither torturous nor illegal—and that such considerations didn’t apply to US presidents (or indeed anyone else in government, so long as the infliction of pain was not provably his or her “specific intent”). But these were only a small handful of documents among thousands: interrogation and torture logs, prison administration memos, courtroom transcripts and minutes from policy meetings. Several such documents known to exist have still not been released: in regard to one, the government has argued that not only is its existence classified but so too is the font in which it may or may not be written. Other records have been destroyed, including at least ninety-two videos of CIA interrogations. Of the material that has been released, much has been significantly redacted.
Despite these gaps (and in part because of them), this vast forest of paper comprises a sprawling, fragmented alternative literature on post-9/11 torture—one that lacks the coherence and pacing of many useful books on the subject, but which is not without other values. To spend an afternoon clicking through the ACLU database is to make some acquaintance, in a way that only primary documents allow, with the fact that behind every
of torture is a massive, globe-spanning and poorly organized bureaucracy. Like
all bureaucracies, it has a language peculiarly its own, shot through with
jargon, euphemism and tics: empire whispering to itself in memo form. US
In 2009 the ACLU hired Larry Siems, a poet and
to head a website called The Torture Report.
His charge was to write about post-9/11 prisoner abuse, relying as exclusively
as possible on the primary documents. Siems posted sections of the report as he
finished them, and they received running commentary from a set group of people
with relevant expertise, including lawyers, civil rights bloggers and a former
military interrogator. There were links to all documents referenced. The site
went live in September 2009, and Siems posted his final installment in March
2011. Now the full report has been released as a book, with the commenters’
suggestions and insights incorporated into the text. PEN American
For much of The Torture Report, Siems focuses on a few particularly well-documented and egregious cases. By his own admission, he barely touches on large swatches of the post-9/11 torture project; there could easily be another fifty volumes of The Torture Report. Thankfully, he is also willing to roam freely through the document wilderness, straying far from his central cases in search of context or common themes, and quoting liberally along the way. The result is a compromise between the tidiness of most narrative reportage and the chaos of the primary texts: a story shaped by Siems, but very much co-narrated by his subjects.
* * *
Lingering with the documents as Siems does—offering a play-by-play of the abuse—is a grim antidote of sorts for the simplifications that have run rampant through the torture discourse of the past decade. The first such simplification was that any instance of torture by US forces was entirely the independent, extracurricular initiative of “bad apples” (“a perverse, kinky group,” per The Weekly Standard) on “the night shift”—a phrase that was repeated ad nauseam as if it meant anything, as if it was somehow obvious that what happens after sundown doesn’t really count. The “bad apples” line has been thoroughly debunked and seems to have fallen out of circulation, only to be replaced by a more accurate but equally thin cliché: that the torture went “straight to the top” of the government. Much less disclosed or understood is the exact nature of the channels running between “the top” and the interrogation chamber.
Often they were quite direct. Describing the early torture of Abu Zubaydah, a Saudi citizen, in a CIA prison in
Thailand, Siems notes that every move his
interrogators made was cleared in advance by a cable from . As one of them later described it,
“Before you laid a hand on him, you had to send in the cable saying, ‘He’s
uncooperative. Request permission to do X.’ And that permission would come.”
Whenever authorization was sought for more obviously torturous techniques, CIA
director George Tenet would bring the request to a meeting in the White House
Situation Room with his fellow National Security Council “principals,” a group
that included Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell and John
But as deceitful (and unsavory) as it was for the Bush administration to pin detainee abuse on a few “deviant” individuals, it is equally inaccurate to assert that every incident of torture was directly ordered or stage-managed from above, or that every technique involved had been cleared in advance by a memo from on high. Needless to say, some were. Yet again and again, the documents describe the process of new guidelines being drafted, debated, edited and circulated, spelling out exactly which torture techniques were now “legal”—only for interrogators to subsequently unleash a procedure not listed, or even one explicitly banned.
Then, too, the language in which the limits were set often betrayed their meaninglessness. “Approval of the use of all Category II techniques and one Category III technique…is hereby rescinded,” Rumsfeld wrote in a 2003 memo, responding to pressure from Alberto Mora, the Navy’s anti-torture general counsel. But: “Should you determine that particular techniques in either of these categories are warranted in an individual case, you should forward that request to me.” Later that year, Rumsfeld wrote another memo authorizing a new list of twenty-four techniques. It ended: “If, in your view, you require additional interrogation techniques for a particular detainee, you should provide me…a written request.” Predictably, more â€¨requests would come. Perhaps equally predictably, individual interrogators would continue improvising on the spot, as they had been from the start. In Siems’s report, torture is obviously not just a matter of a few bad apples, but equally obviously not just evil at the top. It is something else—something for which no ready phrase exists.
This is oddly apt: failures of understanding are part and parcel of institutionalized torture, which seems to require a systemic aversion to detail, especially the details of other people’s experiences. The most publicly visible manifestation of this aversion was the replacement of “torture”—in both the legal memos and the pages of the nation’s leading newspapers—with terms like “enhanced interrogation.” This same preference for detached vagueness pervades The Torture Report. “Cramped confinement involves the placement of the individual in a confined space,” the administration lawyer John Yoo wrote in a 2002 memo. “The confined space is usually dark.” Depending on the size of the space, “the individual can stand up or sit down.”
Abu Zubaydah’s descriptions of his “cramped confinement,” which Siems quotes, dwell on several aspects that Yoo passes over: how a cloth was draped over his confinement box to restrict his air supply; how the box was so small he could neither sit nor stand but instead had to crouch, which caused a wound in his leg to rupture; how he was given a bucket to use as a toilet, and how it tipped over and spilled while he remained inside for hours; how he lost all sense of time. It is unclear whether Yoo left such details out intentionally, or whether they simply never occurred to him. Similarly, it’s hard to know what to make of a note written by Donald Rumsfeld in ink at the bottom of a 2002 memo on detainee treatment that, among other things, set limits on forced standing. “I stand for 8-10 hours a day,” he wrote. “Why is standing limited to 4 hours?”
When the NSC principals met to consider authorizing “new” techniques, they did not seek out testimony from people—US citizens or otherwise—on whom they’d been inflicted in the past. Nor did they solicit advice from those who study the effects of such techniques on the body and mind. Instead, CIA agents would visit the principals in the Situation Room and describe what they wanted done. Sometimes they even put on demonstrations. Whatever these demonstrations showed, they surely did not include blood, urine, feces, dogs, nudity or the presence of anything resembling the total domination of one person by another, and the obliteration of his free will by fear.
In all likelihood, the CIA officers at those meetings were drawing on training sessions they’d received at the Air Force Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape school. SERE courses attempt, among other things, to prepare US soldiers, agents and private contractors for possible torture if captured abroad. But the differences between SERE simulations—even those in which students are, for example, waterboarded—and life in a
torture dungeon are many and crucial. SERE students have safe words. SERE
students know, somewhere in their minds, that it’s just training, which will
end at some point. If a SERE student is waterboarded, he is first made to do
jumping jacks, which increase his heart rate, making it easier for him to hold
his breath. (An insightful CIA report noted the difference between the
waterboarding on SERE’s curriculum and the CIA’s waterboarding in the field as
follows: “the Agency’s technique is different because it is ‘for real.’”) The
mental health of SERE students and instructors is closely monitored by
psychologists. In the most critical respects, SERE courses are more similar to
weekend camping than to a secret US prison. When the CIA
demonstrators went before the principals, then, they were likely presenting a
highly condensed and bowdlerized re-enactment not of torture but of a torture
simulation, creating a spectacle charged with torture’s frisson of power—the principals were,
after all, deciding the intimate fate of real people—but stripped clean of
every other defining detail. [ US
In The Torture Report, the players seem interested in precision only when it comes to distancing themselves from acts they knew to be vile. Time and again, the record shows Americans fixated on what might be called “bureaucratic truth”—on claims and distinctions that are meaningful primarily within a bureaucracy, but much less so outside it. For example, since early 2009 the FBI has repeatedly objected to the CIA’s preference for ineffective torture-based interrogation, especially as compared with its own, rapport-oriented techniques—and rightly so. But watch that concern in action, as described by Ali Soufan, an FBI agent who sparred with the CIA about the best way to handle Abu Zubaydah:
The Torture Report
What the Documents Say About
Post-9/11 Torture Program. America
By Larry Siems.
Buy this book.
What the Documents Say About
By Larry Siems.
Buy this book.
About the Author
Peter C. Baker lives in
Chicago and . Wilmington, North Carolina
Also by the Author
Gitmo in the present millennium is no departure at all from the American tradition in
In the stories of Deborah Eisenberg, life keeps piling up, unsolved and unsolvable.
I protested to my superiors in the FBI and refused to be a part of what was happening. The Director of the FBI, a man I deeply respect, agreed, passing the message that “we don’t do that,” and I was pulled out….
The “we” invoked here is not the
, but rather a single
division of its enormous government. It’s a near constant refrain: torture is
proceeding, and some group of interrogators—from the FBI, from the Defense
Department—is ordered by their superiors to “stand well clear.” Meanwhile,
another division proceeds, or farms out the dirty work to foreigners, and the
torture still happens. What does it matter—to, say, a detainee in the middle of
a waterboarding—whether it’s one agency or another doing the torturing? United States
This sort of hair-splitting goes straight to the top: during a principals’ meeting in 2002, Attorney General John Ashcroft is reported to have wondered, with some consternation, “Why are we talking about this in the White House?” He didn’t wonder, “Why is this being talked about?” (and certainly not “Why is this being done?”). Instead: not in this room. David Addington, Cheney’s legal counsel, echoed this sentiment during a discussion about destroying interrogation videos. As one participant put it, his response boiled down to “Don’t bring this into the White House.”
Once or twice, The Torture Report itself unwittingly parrots this mode of thinking, in annotations made by Matthew Alexander, the pseudonym of a former Air Force interrogator who is a prominent critic of torture. Pondering the use of techniques widely known to be useless for gathering intelligence, he asks: “If our men and women in uniform were able to accomplish their missions without the use of enhanced interrogation techniques through the World Wars,
and up to 9/11, what changed?” Leaving aside the question of exactly what
mission was accomplished in Vietnam ,
Alexander seems unaware of (or uninterested in) Project Phoenix, a torture and
execution program designed and operated by the CIA during that war. Tens of
thousands were tortured, and at least 25,000 people were tortured and then
murdered (“pump and dump,” it was called)—some by CIA agents (Americans, just
not “in uniform”), most by CIA-trained Vietnamese acting on CIA instructions.
The latter was preferable, at least from a bureaucratic standpoint. As William
Colby, Vietnam ’s
founder, put it: ideally, “not only were Americans not to participate…but they
were to make their objections known.” Phoenix
* * *
In 2004, after CBS broadcast the first photographs of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib, many writers—most prominently Luc Sante, Susan Sontag and the historian Hazel Carby—noted their striking similarity to the photographs of lynchings of African-Americans taken from the end of the Civil War through the middle of the twentieth century. As Carby in particular observed, both sets of images, along with the acts they referenced, were attempts by Americans with power to calm their anxieties about the uncer-â€¨tain future through ritualized spectacles of domination, typically erotically charged, and always enacted on nonwhite bodies.
Had the documents used in the composition of The Torture Report been available at the time, they might have played a useful supporting role in this argument. I say this not only because of all the forced nudity, sexual humiliation and threats of rape in the documents but also because of how often the interrogators admit, implicitly or otherwise, that they’re not primarily interested in gathering information. (Indeed, one fascinating CIA memo explains the distinction between an “interrogator” and a “debriefer” as follows: “A debriefer engages a detainee solely through question and answer. An interrogator is a person who completes a two-week interrogations training program, which is designed to train, qualify, and certify a person to administer [enhanced interrogation techniques].” Put more simply, in the CIA’s lexicon, “to interrogate” means “to torture.”)
At the beginning of Abu Zubaydah’s detention, his treatment was overseen by an FBI team that used rapport-building techniques only. George Tenet was impressed with the briefings they produced—until he found out they’d come from FBI agents. A CIA team was immediately dispatched to take over. Never mind that Tenet had already judged the intelligence good; torture came first. Some prisoners came to understand this. During one of his interrogations at Guantánamo’s
al-Qahtani asked his questioner, “Sergeant A,” whether she truly wanted answers
to her questions. The log reads bluntly: “SGT A states she doesn’t need an
answer.” An earlier memo, proposing new tools for use on Qahtani, suggested
that “if necessary the detainee may have his mouth taped shut in order to keep
him from talking.” Camp
Lynchings were highly public spectacles, attended by families bearing picnic lunches; the photographs people took were widely and proudly circulated, at least in the South, where they were commonly made into postcards. On this front, contemporary US torture and its associated documents seem at first different. Much of the visual evidence has been destroyed. The documents were classified and released only over strong government objections, and even then with key pieces withheld. The men and women who took the Abu Ghraib photos took them only for their co-workers and family members. In 2009 the Obama administration successfully blocked the court-ordered release of a cache of previously unseen photos documenting prisoner abuse in
Iraq and , and since then FOIA
requests have been made more difficult and less powerful. Afghanistan
Is torture simply less popular now than lynching was then? It seems more likely that one set of rituals—those involving violent subjugation—has become closely interwoven with another set: those designed to communicate a reassurance that every action of the US government is necessary, legal and, most of all, carefully thought out by â€¨well-intentioned officials. The spectacle of lynching, and the photos documenting that spectacle, served as a boast and a warning: look what we can do—and will. With post-9/11 detainee abuse, the exact same message is being communicated, only so too is its negation: look what we disown, what only the bad apples among us desire, and for which we will duly jail them. Endless memos dissecting torture techniques and parsing existing laws out of existence are a key part of this ritual: they insist that nothing terrible is happening. In a 2002 meeting, a military lawyer was surprisingly honest: “We will need documentation to protect us.” A CIA lawyer chimes in his agreement: “Everything must be approved and documented.”
Human Rights Court
Gives Torture the Green Light
September 26, 2012 | This article appeared in the October 15, 2012 edition of The Nation.
On September 24, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) bowed to pressure from the
and British governments and turned a blind eye to the torturous conditions at
the federal Supermax prison, ADX (short for Administrative Maximum), in ,
where prisoners languish in long-term solitary confinement. Dealing a blow to
human rights on both sides of the Atlantic, the court rejected an appeal by
five terror suspects held in Florence, Colorado Britain
to block their extradition to the . The filing in Babar
Ahmad and Others v. UK argued that if the defendants are convicted, the
conditions of their confinement at ADX would violate their human rights. United States
While the prison at
Guantánamo Bay has long attracted global condemnation, the
has been more successful in shrouding domestic facilities like ADX from public
view. The United States European Court
allowed itself to be misled—accepting facts and figures roundly disputed by human
rights advocates and researchers and ignoring an intervention submitted by the
UN special rapporteur on torture.
Opened in 1994 and described by a former warden as a “clean version of hell,” ADX was originally conceived by the Bureau of Prisons as a “behavior management” facility. Prisoners “earned their way in” through bad or dangerous behavior at other prisons (and could conceivably earn their way out). But after 9/11, BOP made any link to “terrorist activities” grounds for incarceration at ADX. And so with the proliferation of these “material support” prosecutions, the prison that holds Ted Kaczynski, Terry Nichols and Robert Hanssen has also become a prison that disproportionately holds Muslim prisoners (even those convicted on charges involving no specific plots, such as Fahad Hashmi, Dritan Duka, Oussama Kassir and Seifullah Chapman).
The most restrictive prison in the federal system, ADX was built to keep every prisoner in solitary confinement and designed to limit all communication among prisoners. Cells are the size of a small bathroom with thick concrete walls and steel doors. A prisoner must eat, sleep, shower, read, pray and use the toilet in the cell. For one hour a day, prisoners may exercise in an outdoor cage too small to run in or in a windowless indoor cell, empty except for a pull-up bar. The outdoor “recreation” cages are known as “dog runs” because they resemble kennels. The only “contact” ADX prisoners have with other inmates is shouting to each other through toilets, vents or the outdoor cages. They receive food through a slot and eat every meal alone within arm’s length of their toilet. Psychiatric care at ADX often consists of shouting to prisoners through their doors to inquire if they’re “OK.”
The isolation at ADX is even more severe for prisoners placed under Special Administrative Measures (SAMs), issued by the attorney general when “there is substantial risk that a prisoner’s communications…could result in death or serious bodily injury.” No further justification is required. Disproportionately used on terror suspects—and likely to be used on Ahmad et al.—SAMs typically prohibit communication with anyone except attorneys or immediate family. Letters to and from family can take up to six months to be cleared by the government; no other nonlegal correspondence is allowed. Lawyers and family members risk prosecution if they publicly disclose any detail from conversations with a prisoner—thereby shielding any ill treatment from view or sanction. Conditions for SAM prisoners at ADX have prompted hunger strikes and forced feeding, but the public hasn’t learned about them because of this wall of secrecy. Portions of declarations from SAM prisoners describing their treatment have been put under seal by the court at the government’s request.
Beginning in 2007, the ECHR stayed the extraditions of Babar Ahmad and his co-defendants to consider whether such transfers might breach the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits torture and inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment. The court made a series of requests for information about ADX—requests the
initially refused to accommodate,
citing logistical and national security reasons. United
After numerous extensions, on October 24, 2011, the Obama administration finally submitted a report based on a “random sample” of just thirty prisoners. (The facility holds 490 men.) The
touted the modern
conditions at ADX, noting that prisoners get TV and “outdoor recreation,” and
arguing that, in fact, conditions there do not constitute solitary confinement
since prisoners can talk to guards and shout to each other through the walls.
Using its cherry-picked sample, the government claimed that prisoners spend an
average of 3.2 years in solitary at ADX and refused to provide any information
on the Special Security Unit, where SAM prisoners are held. A larger sample of
110 ADX prisoners, from legal research conducted in 2010 and 2011 for a capital
case, found an average of 8.2 years. This and other rebuttal evidence from the
defense—including a submission by UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan
Mendez—was rejected by the court on technical grounds. United States
ECHR judges were likely influenced by a visit to Washington on March 1, when five current and former members attended a closed-door conference—“Judicial Process and the Protection of Rights”—with Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy and Sonia Sotomayor, as well as State Department legal adviser Harold Koh and Derek Walton, Britain’s lead lawyer in Ahmad. A month later, the ECHR ruled that the extradition could proceed.
* * *
The five defendants filed an appeal in July. More than 150 scholars (including Bruce Ackerman, K. Anthony Appiah, Judith Butler and Gayatri Spivak) and twenty-six human rights groups (including the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights and Human Rights First) wrote to the ECHR asking it to take the appeal. Their letter argued that the information provided by the Obama administration was “insufficient and misleading” and failed “to account honestly for the brutal conditions of confinement and isolation at ADX Florence that regularly contribute to acute and long-term psychological damage to prisoners housed there.” They further stressed that the decision would have “serious implications…for legitimizing the use of conditions of confinement that violate human rights.”
In rejecting the appeal, the ECHR ignored these entreaties, along with voluminous defense submissions on the practice of solitary confinement in the
United States and the inhumane treatment Muslim
prisoners encounter—not just at federal prisons but in pretrial facilities like
the Metropolitan Correctional
Center in . Conditions there have been
described as worse than at ADX; suspects are often held for years in pretrial
solitary confinement, degrading their ability to participate in their own
defense. SAM detainees exercise alone in an indoor cage. News from outside is
sharply restricted. The facility is dirty and prisoners have said it is so cold
in the winter they cannot concentrate. Prisoners placed under SAMs have a
camera on them at all times, including when they shower and use the toilet.
Some have been punished for attempting to speak through the walls; one man was
punished for using the Muslim greeting “Asalaam Aleikum.” New York
When other countries’ treatment of prisoners falls out of step with international standards, the world community (at times prompted by the United States) steps in to censure them. In January, the ECHR refused to extradite alleged Al Qaeda affiliate Abu Qatada to
on the grounds that the
legal system there countenances torture. But when the Jordan tortures prisoners
with years of solitary confinement, it gets away with it—with a stamp of
approval from a court designed to protect human rights. United States
In “New York’s Black Sites” (July 30-August 6), Jean Casella and James Ridgeway reported that that a "blue" state leads the nation in the use of “disciplinary segregation”—or as prisoners call it: torture. The “Guantánamos Here at Home” were exposed by Sally Eberhardt and Jeanne Theoharis in the February 11, 2011, issue—a story that, unfortunately, remains timely.
September 26, 2012 | This article appeared in the October 15, 2012 edition of The Nation. [With the title “A Green Light for Torture” and with an additional intro. paragraph.]
About the Author
Saskia Sassen (
blogs on finance for the Huffington Post, and regularly... Columbia University
Jeanne Theoharis holds the endowed chair in women's studies and is an associate professor of political science at...
Also by the Author
In a capitalist economy, the government needs channels to use taxpayers' money to work on social needs, needs that cannot easily be met through market mechanisms.
A deeply disturbing development that has been buried under the debris of
war talk is the fact that since 1998, in a major historical reversal,
most of the deaths and injuries from terrorism hav
war talk is the fact that since 1998, in a major historical reversal,
most of the deaths and injuries from terrorism hav
Also by the Author
Bradley Manning is not the only person in the
held in pretrial solitary confinement. For many facing terrorism charges, it
has become standard procedure. US
“Terror suspects are held in US prisons on dubious evidence under inhumane conditions” by Jeanne Theoharis
TIETZ, JEFF. “SLOW Motion Torture.” Rolling Stones (Dec. 6, 2012). “How solitary confinement…became standard practice in US prisons.”
"The Persecution of John Kiriakou: Torture and the Myth of Never Again"
By Peter Van Buren, TomDispatch.com, posted September 11
By Peter Van Buren, TomDispatch.com, posted September 11
, MIT, 2011.
Contents of #3
UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture
Celebrating June 26 Manila
Torture Tolerated by US Public
Newsweek, Arab Dictators, and US
Books on US Torture
Contents of #4
Prosecute Bush et al.
Hunsinger, Book, People of Faith Speak
Torture Since 1950s Book, US
Danner. Book: US History
UN Torture Report
Oppose Torture: Leahy
Former Contractor Suing Donald Rumsfeld
Physicians, Report: Medical Evidence for Torture
Film: Taxi to the Dark Side
Film: Five Fingers, CIA Torture
Olbermann on Gen. Petraeus and Torture
Prosecutors Drop Case Against CIA “Advanced Interrogators”
War, Torture, Execution: Displays of Sovereign Power
END TORTURE NEWSLETTER #7