The Rendering: Sub-Contracting Torture in the U.S. GWOT

Revolutionary Worker #1232, March 14, 2004, posted at

Last summer, the Pentagon put on a special showing of The Battle of Algiers,a famous leftwing film about the brutal French attempt to destroy resistance forces during Algeria's anti-colonial revolution. This was such a significant event that the New York Times wrote a whole article about it called, "What Does the Pentagon See in The Battle of Algiers ." For just that moment, the Times took the opportunity to talk about something that is otherwise usually suppressed, ignored or denied in the U.S. media: The official use of torture by the U.S. government.

The New York Times (Sept. 7, 2003) chose its words carefully: "The Pentagon's showing drew a more professionally detached audience of about 40 officers and civilian experts who were urged to consider and discuss the implicit issues at the core of the film--the problematic but alluring efficacy of brutal and repressive means in fighting clandestine terrorists in places like Algeria and Iraq. Or more specifically, the advantages and costs of resorting to torture and intimidation in seeking vital human intelligence about enemy plans."

In other words, The Battle of Algiers is studied in the Pentagon because the U.S. government sees torture as an important means of its "GWOT"--the "global war on terrorism."


"The reports have been emerging only slowly, but they are chilling. American intelligence agents have been torturing terrorist suspects, or engaging in practices pretty close to torture. They have also been handing over suspects to countries, such as Egypt, whose intelligence agencies have a reputation for brutality."

The Economist , Jan. 11, 2003

"If you don't violate someone's human rights some of the time, you probably aren't doing your job."

Unnamed CIA official Washington Post, Dec. 26, 2002

The Nightmare of Maher Arar

Maher Arar was on his way home to Canada when he landed in New York City to change planes. It was there he saw his life abruptly slammed into wall.

Unknown to Arar, his name was on a "terrorist" watch list, and when it came up at JFK airport, the authorities jumped all over him. FBI and NYPD agents first questioned him, then arrested him, then threw him in shackles.

He was interrogated about everything from Osama bin Laden to Iraq to Palestine. He asked for a lawyer and was denied. He said he was innocent of anything, and his captors rejected it.

At one point, according to a report on60 Minutes , an immigration official came in and asked him to "volunteer" to go to Syria. To which he responded, "No way." They pushed a statement before him, and demanded his signature. Maher Arar said, "They would not let me read it, but I just signed it. I was exhausted and confused."

After this, he was given a document accusing him of being a member of al-Qaida. After a 3 a.m. hearing, he was flown to Washington, and then to Jordan, where he was handed over to Jordanian authorities.

As Arar described it, "They put me in the van, they started beating me."

Ten hours later he arrived in Syria where he was taken to the Palestine branch of the Syrian military intelligence.

Over the course of the next months Arar Maher was subject to numerous brutalities. He was beaten with an electrical cable, confined to a small cell he described as "a grave," and forced to listen to the screams of other prisoners being tortured. As he told60 Minutes , "I had moments I wanted to kill myself. I was like a dead person."

After ten months the Syrians released him. No evidence has ever emerged connecting Maher Arar with al-Qaida or any of the other activities the U.S. government accused him of.

Secrecy, Denial and Debate

"We don't kick the shit out of them. We send them to other countries so they can kick the shit out of them."

Unnamed U.S. official, Washington Post, Dec. 26, 2002

The United States government is forbidden by its own law from torturing captives and prisoners. It also signed the Geneva Convention which forbid torture. And, like the French occupiers in Algiers, the U.S. government blanketly denies that it condones or carries out torture.

The real operations are highly secret, and the authorities have worked hard to keep it so.

Meanwhile, there has been a semi-official public campaign of justifying torture--without actually acknowledging that it goes on. For example, the prominent Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz has made himself notorious for coldly arguing that the U.S. public should endorse government torture as part of the "war on terrorism." He said to the New York Daily News (Oct. 6, 2002), "The noble end of saving innocent lives justifies the ignoble means of employing torture."

There is an intense media clampdown. A slow leak of information on U.S.-sponsored torture gives a hint--just a hint--of what is being done in the name of "saving innocent lives."

The Practice of "Rendering"

The case of Maher Arar reveals one of the ways the U.S. carries out torture: The U.S. has been subcontracting a lot of the actual torture to various allies and client states. In the government-speak of GWOT, this is known as "rendering."

The Washington Post reports that the CIA "renders" captives "to foreign intelligence services--notably those of Jordan, Egypt, and Morocco--with a list of questions the agency wants answered." This way the blood does not splash directly or publicly onto the hands of U.S. interrogators.

A government official told the Post "sometimes a friendly country can be invited to `want' someone we grab"--so charges can be invented to justify the "renderings."

Among those "rendered," according to the Christian Science Monitor , have been Muhammad Saad Iqbal Madni, a Pakistani arrested in Indonesia who was put on a CIA jet and flown to Egypt; Mohammad Haydar Zammar, a Syrian-born German detained in Morocco and sent to Syria; Jamil Qasim Saeed Mohammed, a Yemeni student turned over to the U.S. by Pakistan and then flown to Jordan.

There are others--certainly dozens, and perhaps many more--but for obvious reasons, the exact number is unclear.

CIA Detentions

The second part of this U.S. torture apparatus are those interrogation prisons that are directly run by the U.S. at several locations around the world--which are especially for those prisoners that the CIA thinks too important to trust to a third party.

The Washington Post has cited U.S. officials saying that 3,000 people have been detained on various suspicions worldwide since Sept. 11, 2001. To hold and interrogate those captives, the U.S. has built special prisons in several places around the world. They have imprisoned over 630 at their camp on Guantánamo Bay, Cuba--and have openly admitted that in many cases these captives could not even be connected to al-Qaida or other organized political forces. There is another U.S. prison at Bagram air base outside Kabul, Afghanistan. And, there is a third known facility closer to the Persian Gulf region-- on the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.

The case of John Walker Lindh is one of the few where details are known--because Lindh is a U.S. citizen and evidence on his mistreatment was gathered by his lawyers to document how statements were extracted from him.

The Ottawa Citizen reports (Feb. 4, 2004), "During this time, Mr. Lindh received only minimal medical care from U.S. military personnel--the bullet was left in his leg for use as evidence. He was fed only 1,000 calories' worth of food a day--not enough to keep a man alive over the long term." He repeatedly asked to see a lawyer, but was ignored."

The seriously wounded Linh was blindfolded, stripped naked, bound to a stretcher with duct tape and put in a metal shipping container without windows, light, or heat. When he had to urinate, his stretcher was propped up by guards who constantly threatened to kill him.

Similarly, Abu Zubaida, who U.S. authorities consider an important al-Qaida member, had been seriously shot in the groin when he was captured in Pakistan in March 2002. His interrogators used the extreme pain of his wound to torture him. As the Washington Post put it, "Painkillers were used selectively in the beginning of his captivity."

The Washington Post quotes a specialist familiar with CIA interrogation who describes the use of "stress and duress" torture techniques--forcing captives to stand or kneel for hours in painful positions, covering them with hoods to increase fear and confusion, and depriving them of sleep.

The specifics of what else the CIA interrogators do--including drug injection and inflicting of extreme pain--is not yet fully documented. However, it is known at the U.S. "Camp Delta" on Guantánamo Bay there have been over 70 suicide attempts among their captives (which the military spin doctors call SIBs--short for "incidents of manipulative self-injurious behavior).

In this time of Orwellian doublethink--invasion is done the name of "liberation," colonial occupation is imposed in the name of "democracy," while aggressive pre-emptive war is threatened in the name of "defending the homeland." And now it is increasingly becoming clear that the cruel torture of captives, often without any charges or real evidence, is being organized on a global scale, cynically justified in the name of "saving innocent lives."