Thursday, September 10, 2009

More CIA Torture Report Musings

Still plugging my way through the CIA Inspector General's Special Review on Counterterrorism Detention and Interrogation Activities (Sept. 2001-Oct. 2003) -- which can be found here -- having pushed my way through page 70.

I will admit, there are several passages that are hard to read, either because of trying to keep up with the plethora of acronyms throughout the report and what they mean, or reading partial sentences due to redacting, or facing the typically wordy and needlessly complicated language that so often accompanies a government document.

There's also the fact that from pages 46 through 68, there is only one sentence of text that is not redacted -- on the middle of page 53, which reads, "Interrogators are required to sign a statement certifying they have read and understand the contents of the folder."

Everything else in those 13 pages? Nothing but hideous black boxes of ink. Which, considering how bad some of the information that wasn't redacted makes CIA interrogators and the Bush Administration's Department of Justice look ... I worry about the relative filth of the text our government still doesn't want us to see.

Page 15 of the report lists 10 methods of "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" the CIA told the DoJ of in hopes of getting legal clearance to enact such measures. The CIA offered 11 methods, but one was discarded after the DoJ warned its presence could "delay the legal review."

In other words, it was blatantly illegal; no amount of fudging or hedging on the facts could've justified its use. Though I'm sure former Vice President Dick Cheney would've tried anyway.

The 10 methods the DoJ authorized were:

1) The attention grasp (grabbing a detainee by the shirt collar and jerking him forward).

2) Walling (pushing a detainee up against a wall).

3) A facial hold (grabbing a detainee's face with both hands to immobilize the head).

4) Slapping a detainee across the face.

5) Cramped confinement, in which a detainee spends anywhere from two to 18 hours confined in a small, dark room.

6) Stuffing detainees in said confinement boxes with "harmless" insects.

7) Having a detainee stand with his fingers supporting all of his body weight against a wall.

8) Stress positions (having detainees stand or sit in uncomfortable positions for lengthy periods of time).

9) Sleep drprivation that would not exceed 11 days at a time.

10) Waterboarding.

Waterboarding received the most media attention, due in part to its extreme visual nature and the fact that it's meant to simulate the sensation of drowning (which would theoretically lead the target into a panicked state and possibly make him more willing to cooperate). Some of the above techniques are things I've seen done on television and in movies (someone's seen a little too much 24 and Alias), while others -- such as the stress positions and having detainees stand near walls -- just make no sense.

At any rate, those 10 EITs were in accordance with both American and international anti-torture laws. A legal opinion written with regard to Abu Zubaydah mentioned the use of EITs on "an as-needed basis" and that they would be used in "some sort of escalating fashion, culminating with the waterboard, though not necessarily ending with this technique." Interrogators argued that Zubaydah would not offer intelligence without the use of such techniques, and that their use would not result in long-term mental or physical harm.

If that sounds nice and vague, that's because it is. Rule No. 1 of anything government-related: the more vague it is, the more leeway said government entity has to do whatever it pleases.

In this case, torture suspected terrorists.

Eventually, the use of EITs expanded beyond Zubaydah, leading to a document titled "Legal Principles Applicable to CIA Detention and Interrogation of Captured Al-Qaida Personnel." The report not only affirmed previous notions regarding torture, but it also said the federal War Crimes statute did not apply to members of al Qaeda because they were not considered prisoners of war.

Never mind the whole "War on Terror" thing ...

The report added that, "the [Torture] Convention permits the use of [cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment] in exigent circumstances, such as national emergency or war." Basically, this was Cheney's argument that we needed to torture detainees to prevent further terrorist attacks and keep Americans safe. Even though it was illegal, we had to do it.

You understand.

It's worth noting that Cheney's name does not appear in the first 70 pages of this report -- or if it does, it's part of the redacted text. The report also said EITs do not violate the Fifth of Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution because those provisions do not apply outside of American soil, and the Eighth Amendment was not violated because criminal sanctions had not been levied against the detainees.

And here I thought it was the Supreme Court's job to interpret the Constitution, not the CIA and DoJ ...

Detainees were required to receive basic medical care, and for a period, all interrogations were recorded so the CIA and DoJ could monitor the implementation of specific EITs. At this point, new CIA interrogators were being trained in the implementation of EITs. Only interrogators certified by the CIA could conduct such practices.

Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times, according to the report.

Beginning on page 41, the report goes into detail regarding unauthorized EITs implemented on Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri. Interrogators used EITs on Al-Nashiri for two weeks in Sept. 2002 and deemed him to be "compliant," though when a debriefer decided he was withholding information, Al-Nashiri was hooded and handcuffed.

At some point between Dec. 28, 2002 and Jan. 1, 2003, that same debriefer used a loaded semi-automatic handgun to frighten Al-Nashiri into talking -- not only did the debriefer have the gun visibly on him -- he pointed it directly at Al-Nashiri's head ... twice. During this same time frame, the debriefer also used a power drill, revving the device in the presence of Al-Nashiri will he was naked and hooded.

The debriefer did not request authorization for nor report the use of the handgun or the power drill. The DoJ was notified of the practices, but on Sept. 11, 2003, the DoJ decided not to prosecute the debriefer -- even though the report shows no evidence that such practices actually worked on Al-Nashiri.

According to a separate report, the same debriefer once threatened Al-Nashiri by saying if he didn't talk, "We could get your mother in here," and, "We can bring your family in here." The debriefer apparently wanted Al-Nashiri to think his female relatives would be sexually abused in front of him if he did not cooperate.

And this is the text that wasn't redacted, folks!

Interrogators were also accused of stepping on Al-Nashiri's shackles (resulting in cuts and bruises) and bathing him with a stiff brush designed to induce physical pain.

The report went on to say that Khalid Shaykh Muhammad, despite being more than cooperative by all accounts, was waterboarded a combined 183 times -- and when he was waterboarded, the execution went well beyond the practice approved by the DoJ.

I mentioned before how deplorable these charges are, and how I think everyone associated with them -- from the interrogators who doled out the EITs to those in the DoJ and the White House who knew of and authorized them -- should be brought to justice. There is no need for the United States of America to be acting in such a fashion in the name of national security.

Members of al Qaeda might not be prisoners of war, but they are human beings, and deserve some basic rights and dignities. When we threaten their families with sexual abuse, or we threaten them with power drills or waterboard them, we are in fact no better than those we are trying to protect our citizens from. I understand we are in a time where we need to be vigilant and strong in the face of terrorism, but at what cost to our own national identity?

What does it say about us as a country when we feel the need to spit in the face of the rule of law in order to keep our citizens safe?

This is disgusting, deplorable and horrible beyond words. I can only imagine what atrocities are being hidden beneath the redacted text, and I can't even fathom what slights against humanity await in the remaining 89 pages of this report.

Sickening. Absolutely sickening ...

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