Almost every day, a new revelation surfaces regarding the United States’ role in spreading and perpetuating the crime of torture. In only the past few weeks, we’ve seen reported the following:
U.S.-backed Iraqi Regime Ran Secret Torture Prisons
First reported by Ned Parker at the Los Angeles Times, an April 19 story revealed that Iraqi army operations in the province of Ninevah last October swept up hundred of Sunnis, sending them off to a secret prison at the Muthanna military airfield run by Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s own security office.
According to a Human Rights Watch report, as the New York Times noted, "The torture of Iraqi detainees at a secret prison in Baghdad was far more systematic and brutal than initially reported." Approximately three hundred prisoners were said to have been tortured between September and December 2009. During this period, Maliki was a visitor to the Obama White House, complete with Oval Office photo ops.
All the detainees interviewed described the same methods of torture employed by their Iraqi interrogators. The jailers suspended the detainees handcuffed and blindfolded upside down by means of two bars, one placed behind their calves and the other against their shins. All had terrible scabs and bruising on their legs. The interrogators then kicked, whipped and beat the detainees. Interrogators also placed a dirty plastic bag over the detainee’s head to close off his air supply. Typically, when the detainee passed out from this ordeal, his interrogators awakened him with electric shocks to his genitals or other parts of his body….
The detainees told Human Rights Watch of other torture methods as well. They described how interrogators and security officials sodomized some detainees with broomsticks and pistol barrels and, the detainees said, raped younger detainees, who were then sent to a different detention site. Some young men said they had been forced to perform oral sex on interrogators and guards. Interrogators also forced some detainees to molest one another.
Security officials whipped detainees with heavy cables, pulled out fingernails and toenails, burned them with acid and cigarettes, and smashed their teeth. If detainees still refused to confess, interrogators would threaten to rape their wives, mothers, sisters, or daughters. The interrogation sessions usually lasted three or four hours and occurred every three or four days.
Maliki now raves that the entire torture-in-secret-prison story is a lie manufactured by "embassies and media organizations," and that the prisoners simulated torture scars by "rubbing matches on some of their body parts."
The Obama White House and State Department has not commented on the news reports, though a State Department report last March noted over 500 cases of Iraqi torture in 2009, a figure that we now know for sure was some hundreds too low.
Another Guantanamo Prisoner Wins Habeas Case, as Judge Finds Evidence Came from Torture — Yet Prisoner Still Not Freed
Imagine the living nightmare of Saeed Hatim, a Yemeni held at Guantanamo for the past eight years, who was granted a habeas corpus petition by Judge Ricardo Urbina late last year. (The ruling was only recently released, and can be accessed via PDF.) As Andy Worthington describes it, Mr. Hatim was held in custody for years for his statements regarding his supposed presence at the Al Farouq training camp, and on testimony from a seriously mentally ill prisoner, whom even the Office of Administrative Review of the Detention of Enemy Combatants had considered of dubious reliability since at least 2005.
Hatim claimed that his repetition of inculpatory statements at Guantanamo were made because of fear of being tortured again. The government claimed that even if there were torture, the statements should still stand. But Judge Urbina disagreed (emphasis added):
The petitioner claims that after he was captured in Pakistan, he was held for six months at a military base in Kandahar, Afghanistan, where he was severely mistreated, including being beaten repeatedly, being kicked in the knees and having duct tape used to hold blindfolds on his head. To this day, he cannot raise his left arm without feeling pain. The petitioner also alleges that he was threatened with rape if he did not confess to being a member of the Taliban or al-Qaeda….
Hatim’s unrefuted allegations of torture undermine the reliability of the statements made subsequent to his detention at Kandahar. Thus, the government faces a steep uphill climb in attempting to persuade the court that the petitioner’s detention is justified based on the allegation that he trained at al-Farouq, given that the sole evidence offered in support of that allegation is tainted by torture.
The Hatim decision follows that of Judge Henry Kennedy decision granting the habeas corpus petition of Uthman Abdul Rahim Mohammed Uthman, because the evidence against him was tortured out of two presumed Al Qaeda prisoners. In the Hatim case, Judge Urbina cited Judge Gladys Kessler’s ruling in yet another case of evidence tainted by torture. (This may have been the case of Farhi Saeed Bin Mohammed, famously known because the tortured evidence came from UK prisoner Binyam Mohamed.)
The victories of Hatim and Uthman remain bittersweet, as the men are not being released from Guantanamo, even as U.S. courts agree there is no legal reason to hold these men, and there are at least 100 more like them, as Worthington explains in his article.
"Treats" or Torture in Case of Child Soldier Prosecuted by U.S.
There’s already lots of coverage at this site of the Omar Khadr pre-trial proceedings, where the 23-year-old Khadr’s defense team is trying to obtain suppression of statements made by the defendant after he was tortured soon after capture at Bagram prison. I haven’t heard the U.S. deny that they started the interrogations with Khadr lying almost mortally wounded in a battlefield hospital. Only 15 years old at the time, and with two wounds from being shot in the back, emerging as a gaping wound in front, and blinded from shrapnel, the interrogations began. Before long, they were turned over to the likes of Sgt. Joshua Claus, an interrogator later courtmartialled for his brutality to prisoners, including the infamous killing of Afghan taxi driver, Dilawar.
The U.S. government is trying a different spin. Carol Rosenberg at the Miami Herald described the testimony at the Guantanamo hearing of a female interrogator of Khadr’s — pseudonym "Agent 11" — that she enticed him to talk with M&Ms and fig newtons, and how happy he was to talk with her, rather than be "bored" in his cell.
Since the press has never given a shit that prisoners at Guantanamo routinely are placed into solitary confinement, and kept in isolation for months on end, you can’t expect them to understand, much less report, that one of the desired effects of isolation is to produce a desire to talk, and to foster a positive feeling toward anyone who would spend time with them after endless bouts of boredom, spawned by deprivation of social contact and perceptual stimulation. To produce Omar Khadr’s statement that he’d rather be with Agent 11 than "bored" in his cell speaks to the effects of solitary confinement, and if he should go to trial, I would hope his defense team would seek to get expert testimony on the effects of isolation upon prisoners.
This article could go on and on, describing other evidence in the press of torture and abuses conducted by the U.S. or its allies. Let some brief linked headlines suffice:
[An Afghan-Canadian interpreter] told a House of Commons committee hearing that he believes every Canadian armed forces member who was involved in transferring detainees in Afghanistan knows the NDS tortures people. "All along the chain of command, they know what is going on — everybody," he asserted.
19 Convicted in Killing Despite Earlier Acquittal, Lack of Evidence, Coerced Confessions
Allegations that Afghan detainees were routinely handed over to Afghan authorities for torture – up to now a largely Canadian scandal – are poised to envelop fellow NATO countries with a London court case that claims Britain exposed hundreds of prisoners to abuse in similar circumstances.
Feeling overwhelmed yet? If not, peruse a new article just posted today by Professor E. San Juan, Jr., who discusses the ongoing use of CIA KUBARK-style forms of torture and interrogation in the Philippines. Or read any number of histories of how the U.S. exported torture techniques abroad to Latin America, even before the U.S. gave the green light to death squads that killed or disappeared tens of thousands in that part of the world in the 1970-1980s (one could start with the works of John Dinges or J. Patrice McSherry.
Of course, my intent is not to truly overwhelm, but to educate and incite. Yes, incite readers to become active in protesting and helping eradicate this virus of torture from the body politic. By what special right does anyone in this society, after Abu Ghraib, after the 20,000 tortured to death by the CIA’s Vietnam-era Operation Phoenix, after Guantanamo, Bagram, and the teaching of torture to foreign militaries, by what special right can anyone in this society claim any superiority, any moral right to pursue a foreign policy that demands U.S. right of military action anywhere in this world? (And this at a time when NATO sources are claiming combat operations in Afghanistan are likely to go on for another four years.)
It is difficult to read even the well-intentioned and researched articles at this blog (among the best around) and not feel that behind all the politics stand crimes of such monstrosity that one cannot take seriously any of the entire circus. It is not enough that the rulers of this country cannot even administer the country with anything like equity or even competence. The recent oil well blow-out in the Gulf of Mexico testifies to an ineptitude and willful blindness on environmental issues that shouts out mistrust for those who now claim they will fix things.
The same goes for the empty promises and gestures about torture that emanate from the PR-decked halls of the Obama administration. Immersed in attempts to expand Bush-era claims over "state secrets," it has broken its promise to close Guantanamo, even as it expands secret prisons (now run by JSOC instead of CIA) in Afghanistan, or as in Iraq, turns over the torture franchise to their Iraqi strongmen buddies, just as they had long ago given Saddam Hussein the green light to assassinate Iraqi leader Abd al-Karim Qasim. (Hussein failed and had to temporarily flee Iraq, but returned after a CIA-linked coup and as head of security made his bones torturing and killing thousands of Iraqi leftists.)
No day for the tortured is a usual day. It is a struggle for sanity and moments of peace, while the trauma lies distributed throughout the nervous system like an internal army of persecutors. A society that has tortured so many cannot be a just society, its very legitimacy is at question. What happens in the future depends on all of us. Make torture the issue of the day. Demand its eradication. Don’t let "national security" tropes disguise the crimes committed by the state in your name.