On August 7, 2007, The WIP, in its Byline Portal, linked to an outstanding and shocking article, “The Black Sites: A rare look inside the C.I.A.’s secret interrogation program” by Jane Mayer, a reporter for The New Yorker. Mayer conducted a “major investigative report” amassing interview after interview with C.I.A. analysts and interrogators, with professors, journalists, and Washington insiders. Despite the Bush Administration’s repeated declarations that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed divulged information of tremendous value during his detention, she concludes that the CIA and the US government have been lying both about many of their “successes” in uncovering terrorist networks and crimes, and have been lying to hide the degree to which they have tortured detainees. What a shock.
It’s hard to say which are the most surprising revelations in Mayer’s report. Several of the experts she cites have serious doubts as to whether the notorious captured terrorist Khalid Sheikh Mohammed actually is guilty of killing murdered American journalist Daniel Pearl -- even though Condoleezza Rice herself told Mariane Pearl in 2003 that Mohammed had confessed not only to masterminding that crime, but to the actual beheading of her husband.
It seems, as Mayer relates, that “A surprising number of people close to the case are dubious of Mohammed’s confession.” She goes on to quote Mariane Pearl herself, who is highly suspicious of the “confession,” because it was so clearly obtained through torture. The widow of the murdered Wall Street Journal reporter says, “It’s not enough for officials to call me and say they believe it. You need evidence.”
Although Pearl is relying on the Bush Administration to bring justice in her husband’s case, she spoke very carefully about the investigation. “You need a procedure that will get the truth,” she said. “An intelligence agency is not supposed to be above the law.”
Those suspicions were echoed by the former Journal reporter Asra Nomani, a longtime friend of Pearl’s, and in whose Karachi house the Pearls were staying at the time of his abduction. When Alberto Gonzales, just as the Justice Department’s controversial dismissal of eight United States Attorneys had been exposed, suddenly went public with the supposedly secret confession, she said, “...Why now? They’d had the confession for years.”
Even officials of the US government who were in a position to know the most about Pearl’s assassination doubted that Mohammed did it, despite his “confession”: Special Agent Randall Bennett, head of security for the U.S. consulate in Karachi when Pearl was killed, who took the lead role in investigating the murder …said that after interviewing all the convicted accomplices in custody in Pakistan, …none of them named Mohammed as playing any role in that particular crime. “K.S.M.’s name never came up.”
Robert Baer, a former C.I.A. officer, said, “My old colleagues say with one-hundred-per-cent certainty that it was not K.S.M. who killed Pearl.”
So why does someone as ruthless as Mohammed, someone who hates the US with a fanatic’s fervor and who is undeniably guilty of many atrocities for which he has no regret, why would he confess to a crime he did not commit?
Since the drafting of the Geneva Conventions, the International Committee of the Red Cross has been the international guardian of safeguarding the rights of prisoners of war. However, the Red Cross was not allowed access to the prisoners for the first five years of the War on Terror. Finally, last year, Red Cross officials were allowed to interview fifteen of the detainees who had been held abroad, mostly in Pakistan, Afghanistan or Europe, and then had been transferred to Guantanamo. (This move followed the Supreme Court ruling, Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, that all detainees—including those held by the C.I.A.—had to be treated in a manner consistent with the Geneva Conventions.) The Red Cross filed a report on what it learned from the Guantanamo prisoners, but the report has been kept from the public.
In fact, officials at the congressional intelligence-oversight committees and at the public-affairs office at the C.I.A. would not even acknowledge the existence of the report when Mayer questioned them.
Mayer reports that Washington sources said the report sharply criticized the C.I.A. interrogation practices. Apparently, the Red Cross described the agency’s detention and interrogation methods as tantamount to torture, and declared that American officials responsible for the abusive treatment could have committed serious crimes. The report warned that US officials may have committed “grave breaches” of the Geneva Conventions, and may have violated the U.S. Torture Act, which Congress passed in 1994.
Europe has known for several years that the U.S. has operated secret detention centers abroad and has been engaging in abductions and torture. In an editorial from Germany, WIP contributor Vera von Kreutzbruck commented on the U.S.’s flagrant disregard for international law. “The expectation here is that America will continue to abide only by its own rules on the world stage and will therefore keep ignoring international law.” She continued,
Another example of America’s borderless and unrestricted “war on terror” and the consequences within the old continent is the existence of secret CIA prisoner flights across Europe to third countries for interrogation. When this story hit the headlines at the end of 2005, Europeans were outraged and politicians demanded an investigation.
According to a June 2006 report released by the Council of Europe, there were “1,245 CIA flights carried out across European airspace, or stopped over at European airports.” The Swiss senator Dick Marty, in charge of the special investigation for the Council of Europe, wrote in this report that he believed that in total, 14 European countries were involved or affected.
The June 2006 Council of Europe’s report claims that the countries not only failed to aid in investigations into the matter, but also actively obstructed them by classifying the subject of the investigation as “state secrets.”
Around 720 suspicious flights are thought to have taken off from German airports alone between 2001 and 2006. Shortly after the CIA scandal erupted, an investigative committee was established in Parliament.
What should have been a wake-up call for Europe was quickly buried and forgotten by its politicians. This very serious issue, involving the violation of human rights of dozens of people, once again proves how far the US is willing to go. It shows the world one more time that it not only holds, but plans to continue holding the monopoly of power across the globe.
This sparked further dialog on The WIP. Our news editor, Louise Belfrage of Argentina, participated in the commentary with her response, “1,245 CIA flights carried out across European airspace, or stopped over at European airports.” This is an outrageous number. Is it still going on? What is the American Democrats take on this?”
To this, von Kreutzbruck replied dryly, “I'm sorry to inform you that according to recent reports released by human rights organizations such as "Human Rights Watch" and "Amnesty International", the secret flights and the illegal detention of "terror suspects" is still going on.”
Another of the major shocks Mayer delivered was the volume of information available on not only disgraceful but immoral policies implemented by the C.I.A. in the name of winning the War on Terror. She provides grim details of the participation of doctors and especially psychologists in these brutal procedures, and records the profound doubts that many responsible officials have about the reliability of information obtained through torture.
Mayer quotes an outside expert familiar with the protocol: “It’s one of the most sophisticated, refined programs of torture ever,” he said. “At every stage, there was a rigid attention to detail. Procedure was adhered to almost to the letter.”
The first version of the C.I.A. interrogation program surfaced in March of 2002. However, without much in-house expertise in interrogation the agency appealed to outside contractors. These men implemented techniques that one well-informed former adviser to the intelligence community described as “a ‘Clockwork Orange’ kind of approach.” Retired military psychologists with backgrounds in training Special Forces soldiers how to survive torture were employed by the C.I.A. They adopted a program known as SERE—an acronym for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape—that was originally developed at the end of the Korean War. It subjected trainees to simulated torture, including waterboarding (simulated drowning), sleep deprivation, isolation, exposure to temperature extremes, enclosure in tiny spaces, bombardment with agonizing sounds, and religious and sexual humiliation. The SERE program was designed strictly for defense against torture regimes, until today when the U.S. began using SERE offensively. Apparently, the use of psychologists rather than Special Forces soldiers was also considered a way for C.I.A. officials to skirt measures such as the Convention Against Torture.
As Mayer notes, “They were very arrogant, and pro-torture,” a European official knowledgeable about the program said. “They sought to render the detainees vulnerable—to break down all of their senses. It takes a psychologist trained in this to understand these rupturing experiences.”
But most appalling are the psychologists who designed this system. One particularly reprehensible psychologist advising on the “treatment,” James Mitchell, argued that prisoners needed to be reduced to a state of “learned helplessness.” “…learned helplessness was his whole paradigm,” said Steve Kleinman, a reserve Air Force colonel and an experienced interrogator himself. He said Mitchell “draws a diagram showing what he says is the whole cycle. It starts with isolation. Then they eliminate the prisoners’ ability to forecast the future—when their next meal is, when they can go to the bathroom. It creates dread and dependency. It was the K.G.B. model. But the K.G.B. used it to get people who had turned against the state to confess falsely. The K.G.B. wasn’t after intelligence.”
Alfred McCoy, a widely quoted history professor at the University of Wisconsin, in Madison, who wrote a history of the C.I.A.’s experiments in coercing subjects, said detainees become so desperate for human interaction that “they bond with the interrogator like a father, or like a drowning man having a lifesaver thrown at him. If you deprive people of all their senses, they’ll turn to you like their daddy.”
The WIP featured another devastating article in our Byline Portal in June. “Psychologists Aiding and Abetting Torture” by Deborah Kory and published in the magazine Tikkun, pointed out that while there are “divisions inside the American Psychological Association organizing against the Bush Administration’s policies and trying to have an impact on public discourse about the war in Iraq, they are marginalized and fighting an uphill battle in a professional organization whose adherence to the status quo allows it continued legitimacy and access to power.”
She is highly critical of the American Psychological Association. She says the APA is "not just another professional association so caught up in the excitement of its own advancements in research that it has become disconnected from our current social reality. [Instead ]some of its respected members have been actively aiding and abetting torture at illegal detention sites set up by the Bush Administration, and the leadership of the APA has actively blocked attempts by its members to ban any and all engagement with interrogation proceedings at sites like Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and the secret detention centers set up through the Administration’s policy of “extraordinary rendition."
Kory identifies one psychologist uniquely responsible for the methodical use of torture, especially psychological torture.
"The SERE program’s chief psychologist, Col. Morgan Banks (who later served on the APA’s PENS Ethics Task Force), was involved in training BSCT (or “Biscuit”) teams in Guantanamo and served at the Bagram detention center in Afghanistan. According to Human Rights First, the interrogation that led to the death of Iraqi Major General Abed Hamed Mowhoush involved the use of techniques learned in the SERE training program. Internal FBI memos and press reports have pointed to SERE training as the basis for some of the harshest techniques authorized for use on detainees by the Pentagon in 2002 and 2003."
The WIP’s staff and readers are not alone in finding the U.S. participation in such systematic abuse of humanity antithetical to the principles on which the country was founded. These are the comments of a few US officials, both military and in congress, who find it equally appalling. These are among the people Mayer interviewed:
Colonel Dwight Sullivan, the top defense lawyer at the Pentagon’s Office of Military Commissions, which is expected eventually to try Mohammed for war crimes, called his serial confessions “a textbook example of why we shouldn’t allow coercive methods.”
Representative Alcee Hastings, a Democratic member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, said, “We talk to the authorities about these detainees, but, of course, they’re not going to come out and tell us that they beat the living daylights out of someone.” He recalled learning in 2003 that Mohammed had been captured. “It was good news,” he said. “So I tried to find out: Where is this guy? And how is he being treated?” For more than three years, Hastings said, “I could never pinpoint anything.”
Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat on the intelligence committee, quietly put a “hold” on the confirmation of John Rizzo, who as acting general counsel was deeply involved in establishing the agency’s interrogation and detention policies. “I am not convinced that all of these techniques are either effective or legal. I don’t want to see well-intentioned C.I.A. officers breaking the law because of shaky legal guidance.”
But perhaps Asra Nomani, Daniel Pearl’s colleague and friend, said it best. “I’m not interested in unfair justice, even for bad people…Danny was such a person of conscience. I don’t think he would have wanted all of this dirty business. I don’t think he would have wanted someone being tortured. He would have been repulsed. This is the kind of story Danny would have investigated. He really believed in American principles.”
We urge the government to cease and desist: torture has to stop. It doesn’t work, and, much worse, it is a disgrace that degrades us, not only those on whom it’s practiced.