Impunity will persist on CIA torture, killings

By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star

Somehow it comes as a surprise, if not a let-down.

Reacting to the US Senate intelligence committee report which condemns the CIA’s extensive use of torture in interrogations of Al Qaida suspects and concludes that such didn’t produce convincingly positive results – 51% of Americans surveyed by Pew Research thought the CIA methods were justified.

Only 29% said the CIA methods weren’t justified; 20% expressed no opinion. Moreover, 56% said they believed – contrary to the Senate committee conclusion — the torture provided intelligence that helped prevent terrorist attacks. Just 28% said otherwise.

The survey results are foreboding, given three factors:

1) CIA director John Brennan vehemently defends the agency – lauding the interrogators as “patriots” and refusing to call their methods torture;

2) President Obama backs up Brennan (his previous chief counter-terrorism adviser, his choice to head the CIA); and

3) His administration has desisted from filing charges against those responsible for the torture.

Thus one can reasonably assume that torture will likely continue with impunity, alongside the killing of civilians (euphemistically called “collateral damage”) through lethal bombings from CIA-operated drones, as America pursues its seemingly endless “war on terror” started in 2001.

Let’s look at certain facts disclosed in the Senate committee report (only the 500-page executive summary of a 6,000-page report has been made public) and reactions to it.

1. Of the 119 persons detained by the CIA in secret prisons called “black sites,” 26 were acknowledged to have been “wrongfully detained.” Two examples and what they went through:

• Mohamed Bashmilah (from Yemen) was held for 19 months, shackled alone in freezing cells in Afghanistan, with loud music played 24 hours daily. He attempted to kill himself three times, cut his wrist and wrote with his blood this message on the wall: “This is unjust!”

After he was freed through the efforts of his lawyer, Meg Setterthweite, head of the New York University Law School’s global justice program, Bashmilah asked, “Would there be an apology? Would there be some kind of compensation?”

No apology has come from the CIA. Worse, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of Bashmilah and others, but it was dismissed. Reason: it might “expose state secrets.”

• Algerian Laid Saidi was detained for 16 months also in Afghanistan, subjected to “ice water bath” and deprived of sleep standing up for 66 hours. He was released only after the CIA “discovered he was not the person he was believed to be.”

Altogether, the 26 were freed for not meeting the standards set under President George W. Bush’s Memorandum of Notification: “persons who pose a continuing, serious threat of violence or death to US persons and interests or who are planning terrorist activities.”

2. The CIA relied on two psychologists from the US Air Force, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who drew up and personally implemented a program of “enhanced interrogation.” The tactics used included: locking the detainees in cramped boxes, shackling them in painful positions, covering them with biting insects, sleep deprivation, and “waterboarding” or simulated drowning.

(Waterboarding is known as “water cure” among those tortured in the Philippines, including me. There are various methods. What was used on me by Marcos martial-law torturers was relatively mild: pushing down my face into a water-filled toilet bowl till I gasped for breath.)

Note: American soldiers started using “waterboarding,” among other torture modes, on suspected Filipino “insurgents” during the Philippine-American War (1899-1902). How it was done is graphically depicted in a recent book, “Honor in the Dust: Theodore Roosevelt, War in the Philippines, and the Rise and Fall of America’s Imperial Dream,” written by journalist Gregg Jones.

Mitchell and Jessen formed a company, which contracted private individuals to help them interrogate detainees held in Afghanistan, Lithuania, Poland and Romania. By 2006 contractors constituted 73% of the personnel of the CIA Rendition and Detention Group. (“Rendition” means sending detainees to foreign prisons for interrogation-torture.)

The CIA paid the company $81 million, and committed to pay for its legal expenses until 2021.

3. In the early part of the program, the CIA assigned a junior officer on his first foreign assignment to take charge of interrogations at a prison in Afghanistan. He ordered a detainee, Gul Rahman, shackled to a wall naked. The next day Rahman was found dead of hypothermia (subnormal body temperature).

Yet, four months later his superiors recommended the junior officer for a $2,500 award for “consistently superior work.”

4. When Brennan commended the CIA torturers as “patriots” and wouldn’t call what they did as torture, he contradicted what he had declared in 2009. As chief counter-terrorism adviser then, he said that the CIA methods – which Obama had acknowledged as torture and banned from further use – “led us astray from our ideals as a nation.” Specifically, he said that “tactics such as waterboarding were not in keeping with our values as Americans.”

5. The Obama administration opposes a freedom-of-information lawsuit, filed by the New York Times, urging the court to order the disclosure of 10 Justice Department reports and memos on its own investigation of the CIA torture practices and documents justifying why no charges have been filed.

No accountability. No public access to investigation documents. The US government must practice what it preaches.

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Published in The Philippine Star
December 20, 2014

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