The Trail of Torture: Orders from High Places

Revolutionary Worker #1241, May 23, 2004, posted at

The following article sums up what was already known before the latest revelations came out.

"After September 11 the gloves came off."

Cofer Black, a former head of CIA Counter Terrorism, Senate testimony, September 26, 2002

"If you don't violate someone's human rights some of the time, you probably aren't doing your job. I don't think we want to be promoting a view of zero tolerance on this."

Anonymous official who "supervised the capture and transfer of accused terrorists," Washington Post , December 25, 2002

"Abu Mustafa, 24, said he was arrested 10 months ago by U.S. forces who accused him of being a leader of a terrorist group. He said that early in his detention he was hung from a wall by his hands for about five hours. On another occasion two American soldiers had sex in front of him while he was in the prison hospital. Another inmate said he saw wires being attached to the tongue and genitals of his cousin."

Interview with newly released prisoners, Telegraph , May 15, 2004

After September 11, the U.S. government unleashed a global offensive. Thousands of people were rounded up by U.S. agents both within the U.S. and around the world. U.S. intelligence agencies, with a long history of torture, were ordered to go all out to get "actionable intelligence" and punish adversaries by any means necessary.

The now familiar forms of abuse and torture were applied from the beginning.

During the Afghan war, thousands of prisoners were taken to the Qala-i-Janghi fortress where CIA interrogators beat and humiliated them. The captives rose up, killing a CIA agent on the spot. The U.S. Army called in air strikes, killing hundreds. The survivors were sealed into metal cargo containers by U.S. Special Forces, 300 at a time, without water or sanitation, for days of convoy transport under horrific conditions. Hundreds died of thirst, suffocation, and untreated wounds--while the living remained locked up in the oven-like heat with the decomposing bodies of the dead. Most of the survivors were then simply shot on arrival and thrown into mass graves at Dasht Leile. It is one of great war crimes of modern times.

Asked about it, Rumsfeld said: "I do not feel even the slightest concern about their treatment."

The U.S. government then set up major prison camps--first at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and then Camp X- ray in Guantánamo Bay. Prisoners arrived from all over the world, in shackles and hoods, bypassing the extradition treaties and laws of a dozen countries, to be held without charges or trial under the most extreme, isolating and brutal conditions.

The Washington Post reported on prison conditions after the conquest was complete (Dec. 25, 2002): "Persons being held in the CIA interrogation center at Bagram air base who refuse to cooperate, are sometimes kept standing or kneeling for hours in black hoods or spray-painted goggles, according to intelligence specialists familiar with CIA interrogation methods. At times they are held in awkward, painful positions and deprived of sleep with a 24-hour bombardment of lights subject to what are known as stress and duress techniques."

Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld denied such claims in 2002: "Notwithstanding the isolated pockets of international hyperventilation, we do not treat detainees in any manner other than a manner that is humane." He added, "We will continue to treat them consistent with the principles of fairness, freedom and justice that our nation was founded."

Now, in the glare of scandal, the Pentagon has produced its once secret "rule of engagement for interrogations" in order to defend them. The document describes how the military command, including the Secretary of Defense and his top generals, can approve sensory deprivation through hoods and isolation, "stress positions" that force prisoners into painful contortions, "dietary manipulation," denial of sleep, and the use of dogs.

This makes it clear: Many of the techniques used in Abu Ghraib were elaborated and approved at the highest levels of the U.S. government by the chain of command.

One law school dean defended the Pentagon's methods on TV, saying, "This is not much different from what happens in any police precinct house." A shameful argument--from a man who must believe murderous police "street justice" is OK too!

International law forbids interrogation and mistreatment of prisoners of war. And so the U.S. government has put forward a blizzard of double-talk.

First they claim that their captives were neither soldiers nor civilians--but "illegal combatants." This is an attempt to exploit a counterrevolutionary loop-hole in the Geneva Accords: The international laws only protect uniformed soldiers of established governments. "Non-governmental" armed groups--which includes both revolutionary and non-revolutionary forces--are not covered. Rumsfeld then also claims that the Pentagon prisons comply with Geneva standards, even if (he insists) those Conventions don't actually apply to the prisoners.

But Rumsfeld's own list of approved torture techniques shows that this is a lie. Amnesty International said, "These techniques of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment are grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention, amounting to war crimes." When one senator said these approved methods obviously went "far beyond the Geneva Conventions," Rumsfeld simply said that his top Pentagon "legal shop" didn't think so.

Meanwhile, these secret operations of this so-called War on Terrorism are so extreme that even some of the Pentagon's own judge advocates general (JAGs) tried to blow the whistle! The Washington Post reported (May 13) that eight JAG military lawyers met with the New York State Bar Association during 2003. In particular, they revealed that the Pentagon had abolished an earlier rule requiring JAGs be present during tough interrogations. By eliminating such internal oversight, the high command gave a green light for the most extreme tortures.

Welcome to Orwellian Amerikkka, where Rumsfeld "takes responsibility" for torture in Abu Ghraib--while denying any real guilt. Where the Pentagon produces its secret list of approved tortures, while insisting it is all reasonable, legal and not really torture at all!

CIA: Secrecy, Tortureand Murder

"The agency must give people the authority to do things they might not ordinarily be allowed to do."

CIA head George Tenet, memo called "We are at war!" New York Times, Oct. 7, 2001

"The president has given the agency the green light to do whatever is necessary. Lethal operations that were unthinkable pre-September 11 are now underway."

Unnamed senior official, Washington Post, Oct. 21, 2001

"We can't legalize torture; it's contrary to American values. But as we continue to speak out against human-rights abuses around the world. we'll have to think about transferring some suspects to our less squeamish allies, even if that's hypocritical."

Jonathan Alter, Senior Editor, Newsweek , Nov. 5, 2001

More has also come out about the methods used by CIA interrogators. Generally, the military's interrogators are assigned to extract information about the anti-U.S. resistance forces in Iraq, while the CIA agents focus on smaller numbers of prisoners with suspected international ties.

The New York Times documented (May 13) that CIA interrogators used "graduated levels of force"--including techniques like "water boarding," where a prisoner is strapped down, pushed under water, and brought to the edge of drowning. Several prisoners have died under CIA interrogation.

The Times wrote: "These techniques were authorized by a set of secret rules for the interrogation of high-level Qaeda prisoners, none known to be housed in Iraq, that were endorsed by the Justice Department and the CIA. The rules were among the first adopted by the Bush administration after the Sept. 11 attacks for handling detainees and may have helped establish a new understanding throughout the government that officials would have greater freedom to deal harshly with detainees."

So both the U.S. military and the CIA got new rules concerning torture--approved by the Pentagon lawyers and Justice Department.

The Times reports that senior officials of the FBI had ordered their agents to stay out of CIA interrogations of prisoners. This shows that the FBI knew, at its highest levels, that the CIA was using torture techniques that are illegal under U.S. and international law. The FBI did not oppose or reveal (and certainly didn't prosecute!) these torture violations. The two agencies set up a division of labor--the CIA would torture these captives, and the FBI agents would avoid seeing how confessions and information was obtained, so the torture would not "taint" FBI testimony in future prosecutions.

The CIA itself knew this was politically explosive. "Some people involved in this have been concerned for quite a while that eventually there would be a new president, or the mood in the country would change, and they would be held accountable," one intelligence source told the Times . "Now that's happening faster than anybody expected."


"There was a debate after 9/11 about how to make people disappear."

Former intelligence official, New York Times , May 13, 2003

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

Official directly involved in rendering prisoners to torture overseas, Washington Post , Dec. 25, 2002

One method for avoiding exposure has simply been to maintain total secrecy about CIA torture and interrogations. People are simply seized, somewhere in the world, and disappear. The CIA keeps both the names and locations of many of its prisoners under top secret conditions. Inspections of conditions by organizations like the Red Cross are simply forbidden.

Another method is to keep CIA prisoners officially "under the supervision of foreign governments." When the CIA and Justice Department wrote up their guidelines approving extreme interrogation techniques (including water boarding) they stressed a legal loophole that would allow for the most extreme tortures.

The Times wrote: "One set of legal memorandums, the officials said, advises government officials that if they are contemplating procedures that may put them in violation of American statutes that prohibit torture, degrading treatment or the Geneva Conventions, they will not be responsible if it can be argued that the detainees are formally in the custody of another country."

The result is called "rendering." The CIA simply moves the prisoners to Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Uzbekistan and Pakistan when they want to apply the most extreme and violent forms of torture--far from prying eyes, far from U.S. legal jurisdictions, and using the simple method of renting the torture chambers and torturers of allied governments.

Spreading the Methods

"It appears to be exactly the same techniques used in Afghanistan as were used in Iraq. I don't think they're getting their techniques over the Internet. There's obviously some systemic training."

Senator Patrick Leahy, May 12, 2003

Human Rights Watch published a report in March 2004 on prison abuses in Afghanistan--documenting the same techniques seen in photographs of Abu Ghraib: including severe beatings, exposure to freezing temperatures, "stress and duress" techniques; sleep and sensory deprivation; forced nakedness and being photographed while humiliated.

Two British citizens, Shafiq Rasul and Asif Iqbal, who were detained at Guantánamo Bay for more than two years, stepped forward to say that they were regularly abused and humiliated while held at the camp. They were chained, forced to squat for hours, and threatened with dogs. They saw prisoners beaten and deprived of their clothing for days. They said that this was all videotaped so evidence can be uncovered.

The Camp Delta guards had a special word for this abuse: They called it "earthing" the prisoners-- bringing people to the ground through extreme mistreatment. Former prisoners also charge sexual humiliation--specifically that prostitutes were brought into Camp Delta to mock and insult the prisoners.

Torture techniques that were developed and approved for "high-level detainees with ties to al-Qaida" were soon applied to anyone considered "a terrorist" and that soon meant just about anyone in U.S. custody, including thousands of people picked up randomly in Baghdad sweeps.

Last fall, Major General Geoffrey Miller was sent from Guantánamo Bay to Abu Ghraib and said his mission was to "Gitmo-ize" the Abu Ghraib operations. He insisted that military police (MPs) should prepare prisoners for interrogation by subjecting them to extreme and humiliating treatment. We have all seen the photos of the results.

The Lies Are Deep and Getting Deeper

"My impression is that, so far, it's abuse, which I believe technically is different from torture. I don't know that torture has taken place, therefore I won't address the torture word."

Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, discussing the atrocities of Abu Ghraib

Now, in the face of this exposure, we are treated to a campaign of half-hearted apology and energetic coverup. The top U.S. general in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, has announced that he will no longer approve the more extreme methods on the Pentagon's approved list. Gen. Miller (who now directly commands the whole U.S. prison system in Iraq!) released hundreds of Iraqi prisoners to crowds of weeping family members.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon carefully refused to charge any of the seven soldiers facing court martial with "torture"--they are only accused of lesser crimes like maltreatment and failing to protect detainees. The first trial is the case of Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits, a man only accused of photographing the atrocities--obviously sending the threat to any soldiers still photographing atrocities. Sivits made a guilty plea for reduced charges and insisted the abuse of Abu Ghraib was not approved: "Our command would have slammed us. They believe in doing the right thing." Sivits' claim is laughable--given all the evidence from prisoners, other guards and the photographic record.

His claims are obviously intended to help the Pentagon's damage control.

Meanwhile, Rumsfeld announced to the Senate: "We're going to keep at it." And as he spoke, U.S. tanks assaulted Najaf and other cities in Iraq--putting large numbers of people at risk and sending more people streaming to the massive desperate refugee camps springing up in Iraq.


Former prisoner Saddam Saleh Aboud, 29, described in detail how he was tortured and beaten within Abu Ghraib and then challenged an American reporter:

"What would you do if I occupied your country, tortured people and violated all the laws of your country? Would you resist?"