July 1, 2009
Today was supposed to be the day that the Justice Department — after two delays — released an unclassified version of the CIA Inspector General’s 2004 Report into the interrogations of "high-value detainees" in the "War on Terror," which Democrat Congressional staffers described as the "holy grail," according to Greg Sargent of the Plum Line, writing in May, "because it is expected to detail torture in unprecedented detail and to cast doubt on the claim that torture works."
Sargent was following up on an article in the Washington Post, "Hill Panel Reviewing CIA Tactics," which described how Senate Intelligence Committee investigators were interviewing those involved in the interrogations, "examining hundreds of CIA e-mails and reviewing a classified 2005 study by the agency’s lawyers of dozens of interrogation videotapes" (which were later destroyed), and also examining the CIA Inspector General’s Report.
The Post explained that "government officials familiar with the CIA’s early interrogations" said that the "top secret" CIA report, "based on more than 100 interviews, a review of the videotapes and 38,000 pages of documents," contained "the most powerful evidence of apparent excesses," and added that the officials indicated that, although the report remained "closely held," White House officials had told political allies that they intended to "declassify it for public release when the debate quiets over last month’s release of the Justice Department’s interrogation memos." These four memos, issued by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel in 2002 and 2005, and released in April, provided a companion piece to the notorious "torture memo" of August 2002 (leaked in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal), and, notoriously, involved lawyers in one of the DoJ’s most prestigious departments — charged with interpreting the law as it applies to the Executive branch — seeking to rewrite the rules on torture so that it could be used in the CIA’s "high-value detainee" program.
According to the Post, officials familiar with the contents of the report said that it "concluded that some of the techniques appeared to violate the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, ratified by the United States in 1994." The Post also added that, according to excerpts included in the OLC memos, the report "concluded that interrogators initially used harsh techniques against some detainees who were not withholding information."
This was a fair précis of the "excerpts" from the report that were included as footnotes in the three memos from May 2005, written by the OLC’s Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Steven G. Bradbury, but as I explained in an article at the time, when analyzed in the context of the memos, the "excerpts" were even more alarming.
To establish the context, the footnotes followed Bradbury’s lame attempts to explain why it was "necessary to use the waterboard 'at least 83 times during August 2002,’" on Abu Zubaydah, and "183 times during March 2003" on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. This apparently involved an appraisal that "other … methods are unlikely to elicit this information within the perceived time limit for preventing [an] attack" (in other words, the fictional ticking time-bomb scenario), but I was obliged to conclude that these "mind-boggling figures" seemed to reveal "not that each horrific round of near-drowning and panic, repeated over and over again, defused a single ticking time-bomb, but, instead, that it became a macabre compulsion on the part of the torturers, which led only to the countless false alarms reported by CIA and FBI officials who spoke to David Rose for Vanity Fair last December."
What amazed me, however, was that, while filling his memos with largely implausible justifications for the use of torture, Bradbury cited from the Inspector General’s Report, even though it was so clearly critical of the manner in which interrogations had been conducted. These are the key passages from my article at the time:
One sign that this was indeed the case [in other words, that the CIA overreacted] comes in a disturbing footnote, in which Bradbury noted, "This is not to say that the interrogation program has worked perfectly. According to the IG Report, the CIA, at least initially, could not always distinguish detainees who had information but were successfully resisting interrogation from those who did not actually have the information … on at least one occasion, this may have resulted in what might be deemed in retrospect to have been the unnecessary use of enhanced techniques. On that occasion, although the on-scene interrogation team judged Zubaydah to be compliant, elements within CIA Headquarters still believed he was withholding information [passage redacted]. At the direction of CIA headquarters, interrogators therefore used the waterboard one more time on Zubaydah [passage redacted]."
Furthermore, as another revealing footnote makes clear, the IG Report also noted that, "in some cases the waterboard was used with far greater frequency than initially indicated," and also that it was "used in a different manner" than the technique described in the DoJ opinion and used in SERE training [the torture techniques taught in US military schools to enable US personnel to resist interrogation, which were reverse engineered for use in the "War on Terror"]. As the report explained, "The difference was in the manner in which the detainees’ breathing was obstructed. At the SERE school and in the DoJ opinion, the subject’s airflow is disrupted by the firm application of a damp cloth over the air passages; the interrogator applies a small amount of water to the cloth in a controlled manner. By contrast, the Agency interrogator … applied large volumes of water to a cloth that covered the detainee’s mouth and nose. One of the psychiatrist / interrogators acknowledged that the Agency’s use of the technique is different from that used in SERE training because it is 'for real’ and is more poignant and convincing."
In addition, the IG Report noted that the OMS, the CIA’s Office of Medical Services, contended that "the experience of the SERE psychologist / interrogators on the waterboard was probably misrepresented at the time, as the SERE waterboard experience is so different from the subsequent Agency usage as to make it almost irrelevant." Chillingly, the report continued, "Consequently, according to OMS, there was no a priori reason to believe that applying the waterboard with the frequency and intensity with which it was used by the psychologist/interrogators was either efficacious or medically safe."
I’m not surprised that the release of the report — delayed for a week from June 19, at the CIA’s request, and again from June 26 to July 1 — has been delayed again, as it clearly contains information that is vital to those of who believe that President Obama cannot "restore America’s moral stature in the world" (as he pledged in November) without holding to account those who authorized the use of torture by US personnel. However, every delay only increases the fear that, on arrival, the report will be barely less comprehensively redacted than the laughably censored version that was released to the ACLU in May 2008 (PDF).
In order to keep the debate about torture alive, I therefore recommend a visit to the ACLU’s Accountability for Torture project, which has been running for the last few weeks, and which states, "We can’t sweep the abuses of the last eight years under the rug. Accountability for torture is a legal, political, and moral imperative." I also recommend a number of articles from the last few days, as part of what blogger and psychologist Jeff Kaye has described as "a mini-blog storm on behalf of the ACLU’s Accountability Project," looking at how the Bush administration’s torture program was not just reserved for the waterboarding of three "high-value detainees" in the custody of the CIA, but was a poisonous virus that also infected the US military, and that led to over a hundred deaths in US custody in Iraq and Afghanistan.
First up is Glenn Greenwald’s article for his blog at Salon, "The suppressed fact: Deaths by US torture," in which he states, "Those arguing against investigations and prosecutions — that we "Look to the Future, not the Past" — are literally advocating that numerous people get away with murder." Then there are articles by Marcy Wheeler, bmaz and Jeff Kaye at Firedoglake, by Digby, and by drational and mcjoan at Daily Kos, and there’s also my article, "When Torture Kills: Ten Murders In US Prisons In Afghanistan," which draws largely on passages in my book The Guantánamo Files, but also on testimony by former Guantánamo prisoner Omar Deghayes, and researcher John Sifton, and which, I believe, exposes three murders at the US prison at Bagram airbase that have never been investigated.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed, and see here for my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.
For a sequence of articles dealing with the use of torture by the CIA, on "high-value detainees," and in the secret prisons, see: Guantánamo’s tangled web: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Majid Khan, dubious US convictions, and a dying man (July 2007), Jane Mayer on the CIA’s "black sites," condemnation by the Red Cross, and Guantánamo’s "high-value" detainees (including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed) (August 2007), Waterboarding: two questions for Michael Hayden about three "high-value" detainees now in Guantánamo (February 2008), Six in Guantánamo Charged with 9/11 Murders: Why Now? And What About the Torture? (February 2008), The Insignificance and Insanity of Abu Zubaydah: Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner Confirms FBI’s Doubts (April 2008), Guantánamo Trials: Another Torture Victim Charged (Abdul Rahim al-Nashiri, July 2008), Secret Prison on Diego Garcia Confirmed: Six "High-Value" Guantánamo Prisoners Held, Plus "Ghost Prisoner" Mustafa Setmariam Nasar (August 2008), Will the Bush administration be held accountable for war crimes? (December 2008), The Ten Lies of Dick Cheney (Part One) and The Ten Lies of Dick Cheney (Part Two) (December 2008), Prosecuting the Bush Administration’s Torturers (March 2009), Abu Zubaydah: The Futility Of Torture and A Trail of Broken Lives (March 2009), Ten Terrible Truths About The CIA Torture Memos (Part One), Ten Terrible Truths About The CIA Torture Memos (Part Two), 9/11 Commission Director Philip Zelikow Condemns Bush Torture Program, Who Authorized The Torture of Abu Zubaydah?, CIA Torture Began In Afghanistan 8 Months before DoJ Approval, Even In Cheney’s Bleak World, The Al-Qaeda-Iraq Torture Story Is A New Low (all April 2009), Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi Has Died In A Libyan Prison , Dick Cheney And The Death Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, The "Suicide" Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi: Why The Media Silence?, Two Experts Cast Doubt On Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi’s "Suicide", Lawrence Wilkerson Nails Cheney On Use Of Torture To Invade Iraq, In the Guardian: Death in Libya, betrayal by the West (in the Guardian here), Lawrence Wilkerson Nails Cheney’s Iraq Lies Again (And Rumsfeld And The CIA) (all May 2009) and WORLD EXCLUSIVE: New Revelations About The Torture Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (June 2009). Also see the extensive archive of articles about the Military Commissions.
For other stories discussing the use of torture in secret prisons, see: An unreported story from Guantánamo: the tale of Sanad al-Kazimi (August 2007), Rendered to Egypt for torture, Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni is released from Guantánamo (September 2008), A History of Music Torture in the "War on Terror" (December 2008), Seven Years of Torture: Binyam Mohamed Tells His Story (March 2009), and also see the extensive Binyam Mohamed archive. And for other stories discussing torture at Guantánamo and/or in "conventional" US prisons in Afghanistan, see: The testimony of Guantánamo detainee Omar Deghayes: includes allegations of previously unreported murders in the US prison at Bagram airbase (August 2007), Guantánamo Transcripts: "Ghost" Prisoners Speak After Five And A Half Years, And "9/11 hijacker" Recants His Tortured Confession (September 2007), The Trials of Omar Khadr, Guantánamo’s "child soldier" (November 2007), Former US interrogator Damien Corsetti recalls the torture of prisoners in Bagram and Abu Ghraib (December 2007), Guantánamo’s shambolic trials (February 2008), Torture allegations dog Guantánamo trials (March 2008), Sami al-Haj: the banned torture pictures of a journalist in Guantánamo (April 2008), Former Guantánamo Prosecutor Condemns "Chaotic" Trials in Case of Teenage Torture Victim (Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld on Mohamed Jawad, January 2009), Judge Orders Release of Guantánamo’s Forgotten Child (Mohammed El-Gharani, January 2009), Bush Era Ends With Guantánamo Trial Chief’s Torture Confession (Susan Crawford on Mohammed al-Qahtani, January 2009), Forgotten in Guantánamo: British Resident Shaker Aamer (March 2009), A Child At Guantánamo: The Unending Torment of Mohamed Jawad (June 2009) and the extensive archive of articles about the Military Commissions.