27/08/08 “The Guardian” — - The book, The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals, published in mid-July, is written by US journalist Jane Mayer, whose specialty is writing about counter-terrorism for The New Yorker.
The book has particularly peeved the CIA and its boss in the White House for, apparently, Ms Mayer has had access to a secret report by the International Committee of the Red Cross issued last year labelling the CIA’s interrogation methods for “high-level Qaeda prisoners” as “categorically” torture. In consequence, the Bush administration officials who approved these methods would be guilty of war crimes.
The book says the Red Cross report was shared with the CIA, President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
It would not be the first time of course that US authorities (civil, intelligence or military) have indulged in or turned a blind eye to torture or other forms of horrifying brutality.
One thinks of their blood-soaked activities to thwart the former Communist Resistance leaders from gaining political power in Western Europe after WW2, or their even more bloody destruction of democracy in Guatemala or Chile, El Salvador and pre-Castro Cuba.
The many atrocities by US forces in Korea and Vietnam were far too numerous to be the work of “rotten apples”; they were clearly the result of US government and military policy, just like the actions of the US military in charge of the Abu Graib prison in Iraq.
A society that bases itself on force and brutality, on state terrorism, while simultaneously indulging in the most hypocritical lip-service to the ideals of humaneness and justice, cannot but find excuses for torture.
Only last year or the year before, Amnesty International — an organisation not noted for being hostile to the USA — stated that the procedures in many US civilian jails amounted to torture. Military prisons operated by the US in other countries must surely be hell on earth.
Red Cross representatives were only permitted to interview high-level “terrorist” detainees in late 2006, after they were moved to the military detention centre in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Until then, while the prisoners were being “interrogated” in the CIA’s secret prisons, the Red Cross was not given access to them.
It is now well known that these secret prisons are located in US client states, some in Eastern Europe where anti-Communist regimes are all too willing to co-operate with their US backers, and some in states like Egypt that are equally dependent on US support. Significantly, they all practice torture.
We have all seen the images from Guantánamo Bay of prisoners, shackled and manacled, stumbling along with a guard on either side. But all the time, the particularly frightening threat hangs over them of being taken from there and returned to one of the secret prisons away from any prying eyes.
In testimony to the Red Cross, Abu Zubaydah, the first major Al Qaeda figure the United States captured, told how he was confined in a box “so small he said he had to double up his limbs in the foetal position” and was one of several prisoners to be “slammed against the walls”.
The CIA has admitted that Abu Zubaydah and two other prisoners were water-boarded, a form of torture in which water is poured in the nose and mouth of the victim to simulate the sensation of suffocation and drowning.
The Pentagon and the CIA have both defended water-boarding on the same grounds: “because it works”, the torturer’s classic justification. Jane Mayer’s book says Abu Zubaydah told the Red Cross that he had been water-boarded at least ten times in a single week and as many as three times in a day.
The Red Cross report says that another high level prisoner, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the alleged chief planner of the attacks of September 11, 2001, told them that he had been kept naked for more than a month and claimed that he had been “kept alternately in suffocating heat and in a painfully cold room”.
A New York Times article on the report says the prisoners considered the “most excruciating” of the methods was being shackled to the ceiling and being forced to stand for as long as eight hours. This is a well-known torture technique that has severe physical effects on the victim’s body.
According to The New York Times article, eleven of the 14 prisoners reported to the Red Cross that they had suffered prolonged sleep deprivation, including “bright lights and eardrum-shattering sounds 24 hours a day”.
The New York Times reported that a CIA spokesman had confirmed that Red Cross workers had been “granted access to the detained terrorists at Guantánamo and heard their claims”.
The same CIA spokesman said the agency’s interrogations were based on “detailed legal guidance from the Department of Justice” and had “produced solid information that has contributed directly to the disruption of terrorist activities”. There’s that justification of torture again.
Bernard Barrett of the International Committee of the Red Cross declined to comment on the book when asked by The New York Times. He did not deny any of the book’s claims, but regretted “that any information has been attributed to us” because, it seems, the International Committee of the Red Cross “believes its work is more effective when confidential”!
He went on to say: “We have an ongoing confidential dialogue with members of the US intelligence community, and we would share any observations or recommendations with them.”
So that’s OK then.