by Khadijah Ali (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 51, No. 1, Rajab, 1443)
American hypocrisy knows no limits. It not only acts as the policeman of the world but has also appointed itself the judge of human rights. Its own despicable conduct at home and abroad cannot be discussed, nor that of its friends and allies such as the Zionist regime in Occupied Palestine.
The US has even coined fancy terms to camouflage its horrific conduct. Torture is euphemistically called “enhanced interrogation technique”, while kidnapping is referred to as “extra-ordinary rendition”. One would love to subject some US officials to “enhanced interrogation techniques” and ask how they feel.
These hypocritical expressions were coined in the aftermath of 911 and the people that were arrested accusing them of involvement in the attacks. The torture chamber at the illegally occupied Cuban island of Guantanamo Bay was opened in February 2002 where according to Donald Rumsfeld, the people shipped there were the “worst of the worst”. These included boys as young as 12 and men as old as 70.
Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan, Abdus Salam Zaeef was among them. He was arrested in Islamabad and General Musharraf’s regime, in violation of all diplomatic norms, handed him over to the Americans. Zaeef was released from Guantanamo Bay in 2005 and went on to write a book about his experiences in that torture chamber.
At its height, there were 700 prisoners held at Gitmo. Today, there are less than 40 but lest we forget them, it is important to highlight their plight. The rest have since been released because there was absolutely no evidence of their involvement in any of the crimes the Americans accused them of committing.
Let us recall that among those incarcerated like animals in cages was Omar Khadr, barely 15 when he was brought to Gitmo in October 2002. He had multiple bullet wounds in his body after a firefight between American troops and some Taliban fighters in the village of Ayubkhel. He was accused of killing an American soldier even though forensic analysis showed he had American grenade shrapnel in his body.
Omar Khidr was subjected to extreme torture—prolonged sleep deprivation, held in extremely stressful positions as well as dogs set upon him scratching into his still fresh wounds. He was accused of being an al-Qaeda family member since his father, Ahmed Saied Khadr lived in the same compound in Jalalabad where Osama bin Laden had lived.
It was through the efforts of his lawyers Dennis Edney that he was rescued from the torture chamber in 2012. The Stephen Harper regime in Canada did everything in its power to keep him there. Khadr was forced to enter into a plea bargain to secure his release from Gitmo even though he initially refused to do so. In return for accepting his “guilt” in throwing the grenade that killed Sergeant Spears, he was given a reduced sentence of which he served one year in Gitmo and the rest to be served in Canada.
Abu Zubaydah, whose real name is Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn, was accused of being an al-Qaeda leader. The extreme torture he was subjected to is illustrative of US criminal conduct. He was captured, along with about 50 other men, in a joint operation in August 2002 by a group of FBI and CIA agents aided by Pakistani forces in Faisalabad, Pakistan. Abu Zubaydah was severely injured—shot in the thigh, testicle, and stomach and might have died but the CIA flew in an American surgeon to patch him up. It was not a humanitarian gesture; CIA officials wanted to keep him alive to interrogate him. Even so, his captors continued to torture him by withholding pain medication.
Abu Zubaydah is a Saudi citizen who in the 1980s helped run the Khaldan camp, a mujahedeen training facility set up in Afghanistan with CIA help during the Soviet occupation. So, the CIA knew precisely who he was: an American ally in the fight against the Soviets.
Yet Rumsfeld said he was “if not the number two, very close to the number two person” in al-Qaeda. The CIA informed Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee that he “served as Osama bin Laden’s senior lieutenant. In that capacity, he has managed a network of training camps… He also acted as al-Qaeda’s coordinator of external contacts and foreign communications,” the agency alleged.
George W. Bush, a complete dunce, used his case to justify the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation program,” claiming that “he had run a terrorist camp in Afghanistan where some of the 9/11 hijackers trained” and that “he helped smuggle al-Qaeda leaders out of Afghanistan” so they would not be captured by US military forces.
But as Rebecca Gordon reveals in her brilliant piece in Counterpunch, “none of it was true.” American officials lied through their teeth to justify their crimes against Abu Zubaydah and many other innocent people.
The CIA hired two contractors, the psychologists Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell to work on Abu Zubaydah. Their mission was to induce what they called “learned helplessness,” meant to reduce a suspect’s resistance to interrogation. They charged $81 million for their ‘services’ to test their theories about using torture to extract information.
Using a plan drawn up by Jessen and Mitchell, Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times in the course of a single month. What is waterboarding? It included strapping a victim to a wooden board, placing a cloth over his entire face, and gradually pouring water through the cloth until he began to choke.
At one point during this endless cycle of torture, the Senate committee reported that Abu Zubaydah became “completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.”
Each of those 83 uses of what was called “the watering cycle” consisted of four steps:
“1) demands for information interspersed with the application of the water just short of blocking his airway; 2) escalation of the amount of water applied until it blocked his airway and he started to have involuntary spasms; 3) raising the water-board to clear subject’s airway; 4) lowering of the water-board and return to demands for information.”
Throughout the CIA videotaped Abu Zubaydah’s torture but destroyed the tapes in 2005 when news of their existence leaked and the embarrassment (and possible future culpability) of the Agency seemed increasingly to be at stake. CIA Director Michael Hayden would later assure CNN that the tapes had been destroyed only because “they no longer had ‘intelligence value’ and they posed a security risk.” Whose “security”, one wonders.
In addition to waterboarding, the Senate torture report indicates that Abu Zubaydah endured excruciating stress positions (which cause terrible pain without leaving a mark); sleep deprivation (for up to 180 hours, which generally induces hallucinations or psychosis); unrelenting exposure to loud noises (another psychosis-inducer); “walling” (the Agency’s term for repeatedly slamming the shoulder blades into a “flexible, false wall,” though Abu Zubaydah told the International Committee of the Red Cross that when this was first done to him, “he was slammed directly against a hard concrete wall”); and confinement for hours in a box so cramped that he could not stand up inside it.
All of these methods of torture had been given explicit approval in a memo written to the CIA’s head lawyer, John Rizzo, by Jay Bybee, who was then serving in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. In that memo Bybee approved the use of 10 different “techniques” on Abu Zubaydah.
Make no mistake: American officials are war criminals and torturers. The US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence torture report of December 2014 confirmed this in writing.