by Waseem Shehzad (Main Stories, Crescent International Vol. 53, No. 6, Muharram, 1445)
America is notorious for pointing fingers at others’ wrongdoing but completely denies its own crimes. Consider torture.
June 26 is commemorated worldwide as the ‘International Day in Support of Victims of Torture’. US President Joe Biden, reflecting customary arrogance, issued a statement saying his regime is committed to “eliminating torture” and “supporting its victims”. Really?
The glaring hypocrisy in Biden’s statement was pointed out by Sarah Gannett, Assistant federal public defender, District of Arizona (US). She wrote:
“While he [Biden] named various countries and entities that have engaged in torture, he failed to name his own country. He did not acknowledge the use of torture against hundreds of people US forces had taken to black sites around the world, dozens of whom remain imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay.”
America’s apologists would protest. The US does not do torture; it subjects victims only to “enhanced interrogation techniques”, they would say. What kinds of exotic techniques the US has indulged in—and continues to indulge in—will be highlighted shortly but first let us consider the report released the same day (June 26) by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Fionnuala Ni Aolain.
Following a visit by a team of UN experts to Guantanamo Bay last February—the first in two decades—they released their report on June 26. It makes grim reading.
The detainees, held close to two decades after being seized as suspects following the 911 attacks, have endured a litany of abuse. These include forced cell extractions, forced feeding with tubes inserted through their nose, in some cases even anal feeding (for what purpose, we don’t know), and poor medical and mental health care. Family visits are not permitted. Even phone calls to family members are extremely restricted. The same applies to lawyers whose phone conversations are monitored.
“The totality of all of these practices and omissions ... amounts in my assessment to ongoing cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment under international law,” said Ms Ni Aolain.
Introducing the team’s report, she said Washington had yet to address the most glaring rights violation related to the detainees: their secret seizure and transfer—called ‘extra-ordinary rendition’—to Guantanamo in early 2002. Many endured extreme torture at the hands of US operatives in the first years after the September 11 attacks. While the Americans coined such fancy phrases as “enhance interrogation techniques,” and “extra-ordinary rendition,” in common language these meant torture and kidnapping.
Let us recall what the 780 men that were held at Guantanamo Bay at its peak went through. They were stripped naked, always shackled, held in extremely stressful position for prolonged periods of time, slammed against a concrete wall, subjected to prolonged sleep deprivation, and that most horrible of all tortures, water boarding.
Detainees such as Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Muhammad were each water-boarded 83 times in one month. They were taken to black sites in Thailand, away from public view and horribly tortured.
Abu Zubaydah, a Palestinian but holding Saudi citizenship, was accused of being a senior Qaeda operative. American defence secretary Donald 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 used his case to justify the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation program,” (i.e., torture) 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.
True, Abu Zubaydah was involved in the Khaldan camp in Afghanistan but it was during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s. At that time, the CIA was also actively involved in the Khaldan camp, financing and training the Afghans to fight the Soviets.
The Khaldan camp was shut down by the Taliban in 2000 because serious differences had emerged with Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. Some American writers now admit that Abu Zubaydah had nothing to do with al Qaeda including Kevin Ryan writing in the Foreign Policy Journal and Rebecca Gordon in Counterpunch.
Ryan revealed that “in September 2009, the US government admitted that [Abu] Zubaydah was never a member or associate of al Qaeda at all.” Rebecca Gordon was even forthright in her dismissal of US allegations against Abu Zubaydah. She wrote 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. Waterboarding involves strapping a victim to a wooden board, placing a cloth over his entire face, and gradually pouring water through the cloth until he begins to choke.
At one point during this endless cycle of torture, according to the US Senate committee report on ‘torture and extra-ordinary rendition’ (dated December 9, 2014), Abu Zubaydah became “completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.” This was the “learned helplessness” that the psychologists induced in him but he had no information to give.
Even when the FBI concluded that he had no new information to give, the CIA continued to torture him. Dick Cheney, then serving as US vice president, insisted that ‘torture was working’ and useful information had been extractd from Abu Zubaydah through torture!
In addition to waterboarding, the Senate torture report indicates that Abu Zubaydah was subjected to excruciating stress positions causing 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 CIA’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.
The role played by the now-dead Pakistani dictator, General Pervez Musharraf and his henchmen can only evoke revulsion. Acting as bounty hunters, they collected millions of dollars by grabbing and handing over hundreds of innocent people to the Americans. Musharraf admitted in his book, In the Line of Fire, that Pakistan arrested 689 terror suspects and handed over 369 of them to the Americans. These included Abu Zubaydah, Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, Abdul and Ahmed Rabbani, Ammar al Baluchi and many others.
The human rights lawyer Clive Stafford-Smith has revealed that out of 780 detainees at Guantanamo Bay, 750 have been released. Another 19 are cleared for release. That means 98.6% of all detainees were completely innocent. Stafford-Smith represented 87 of the detainees and secured their release including Moazzam Beg (released in 2005), Binyam Mohamed (2009), the Rabbani brothers (in February 2023) and the 75-year-old Saifullah Piracha (in October 2022).
Before a detainee is released, at least six US agencies have to sign off on their release form. These include the CIA, FBI, National Security Agency, National Intelligence, Homeland Security, and the Pentagon.
The CIA videotaped Abu Zubaydah’s torture sessions 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”? Gina Haspel was the CIA official in charge of torture in Thailand. She was appointed director of CIA by Donald Trump.
The UN report on Guantanamo detainees calls on the US regime to not only apologise for its use of torture and provide redress for the victims but also to make sure they have proper access to healthcare and rehabilitation, which at the moment they do not.
Nobody should hold their breath for the US to do the right thing. It is simply incapable of doing so.