By Bala Sai:
“We can never let the world know what I have done to you.”
There aren’t many scenarios where that line wouldn’t send a tremor down your spine. Chilling words, designed to destroy any hope in the victim’s mind. This is what a CIA agent said to a detainee, after he was subjected to inhuman torture in the guise of interrogation. This is just an inkling of the skeletons that came tumbling out of the CIA’s closet on Tuesday, as the US senate released a heavily censored report about the horrors inflicted by the CIA on terror suspects during the Bush administration.
There is no justification for the 9/11 attacks. It was an act of such audacity that it sent shock-waves across the world. But what it initiated was perhaps an equally gruesome crime on humanity, which in contrast was never spoken out loud or acknowledged officially. The CIA launched a series of operations around the world to hold and interrogate suspects captured in relation to the USA’s crackdown on terror. It built a series of lairs, clandestine facilities isolated from the rest of the world, devoid of laws, reason or humanity. It was a strong, silent reign of terror that went un-noticed or was shrugged off, because hey, these are supposed to be the good guys.
There must be some of you out there who are currently shrugging your shoulders, saying “Who cares? They are terrorists. They deserved it.” To cringe at the following paragraphs you don’t need to be guilty or innocent; you only need to be human.
In 2002, the CIA captured (purchased) Abu Zubaydah after paying a grand sum of $10 million to Pakistan, a sum which was promptly converted into a new headquarters and a shiny new helicopter for the ISI. Abu Zubaydah is not an innocent man. He was, at best, a low level operative, and even his links to Al Qaeda haven’t been established conclusively. However, the CIA made him out to be one of the masterminds in the planning of the 9/11 attacks, Al Queda’s third-in-command and a close aide of Osama bin Laden. This is what the CIA said and this is what the world believed.
Lying in a hospital bed recovering from severe gunshot wounds he suffered during his capture, Abu Zubaydah agreed to extend his full co-operation to the CIA. Merely six days into the interrogation, it was clearly apparent that he had nothing to do with any of those allegations. The CIA knew, way back in 2002, that Abu Zubaydah did not have any answers. They also knew that he would never be charged for any crime.
However, he has spent the last twelve years languishing in several of CIA’s torture chambers, being used as a guinea pig for testing out their ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’. Till date, as was predicted, he has never been charged with any crime. Still, his name will go down in history for the horrors he was put through.
It began in Thailand, where the CIA planned to “overcome Abu Zubaydah’s resistance to interrogation”. He was held in isolation for 47 days, before being questioned for 20 straight days, using ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’, which in simple English means torture.
He was hooded and stripped naked and slammed repeatedly against a concrete wall with a towel wrapped around his neck. The report lists at least 10 different techniques used on him, ranging from sleep deprivation for days together, to stress positions that almost dislocated his joints . Abu Zubaydah was water-boarded for an inhuman 83 times in a span of 17 days, a process described as “evolving into a series of near-drownings”. At one point, Zubaydah was “completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open full mouth”, when the agent finally decided to stop. Abu Zubaydah spent 266 hours (11 days, 2 hours) locked up inside a coffin, sometimes with live insects “placed” in them.
A CIA agent promised him that the only way he would leave the facility was in the coffin – and he meant it. The CIA was prepared to handle any “serious medical conditions” or death resulting from their interrogations. The CIA knew that its actions were illegal and urged the Department of Justice to look the other way, to promise in advance that they wouldn’t be persecuted. Contrary to what was told to the DOJ, personnel were told that Zubaydah’s interrogation would take precedence over treating his bullet wounds.
Even CIA veterans who witnessed the interrogation were horrified by the scenes before them, according to the senate report. In one cable, a staffer said “several on the team [were] profoundly affected … some to the point of tears and choking up.”
Abu Zubaydah isn’t an isolated case. Gul Rahman died from hypothermia after being chained to a wall and forced to sit on cold concrete while naked from waist down. In at least two other cases, the CIA used techniques despite warnings from medical personnel that they could exacerbate physical injuries. They performed rectal-feeding (forced sodomy), placed them in “ice-water baths”; they threatened to make the detainee watch as they sexually abused his mother. A foot-note points out that an interrogator had engaged in “Russian Roulette” with a detainee. In one case, a mentally challenged innocent was forcefully detained so that another suspect could be threatened with his life. CIA detainees who underwent these interrogation tactics were later found to experience “hallucinations, paranoia, insomnia and attempts at self-harm and self-mutilation.”
Shockingly, at least 26 of the 119 were “wrongly detained”.
Junior Officials with little or no prior experience were left in-charge to conduct interrogations as they pleased. Where were the folks who were supposed to monitor the detainees’ mental health? Well, of course, they doubled up as interrogators themselves. Most accounts pertaining to the interrogations were destroyed by the CIA and conveniently omitted from communications with the government.
As if they hadn’t broken enough laws already, the CIA persistently lied to the White house and the Congress about the severity of their techniques and many times misled them about the successes of the same. Allegedly, even the President was unaware of their practices until 2006.
Was it at least worth the blood on their hands? The answer, embarrassingly, is a big NO. The interrogations supposedly did more harm to the war against terror than any good. The senate report has examined the 20 success stories the CIA flaunts as examples for the effectiveness of their methods and has slammed every one of them as critical information that was either already available, obtained from other sources or obtained before the detainees were tortured. The CIA “provided extensive amounts of inaccurate and incomplete information” to the White House and top national security staff. Many detainees lied or repeated information already known to the CIA to escape torture, leading them to waste valuable resources tracking down tales and fables and running into dead-ends. The interrogations in no way helped nab Osama bin Laden.
But oh yes, money was made. The entire program cost $300 million. Psychologists who designed the “enhanced interrogation methods” made $81 million on the interrogations. Tens of millions of dollars was spent on interrogators while the agency paid bribes to foreign governments willing to look the other way as the CIA set up its black site prisons. Countries that were unwilling at first, subsequently made “wish-lists”– in other words- named a price.
The CIA has systematically broken every single bone that holds up the skeleton of civilization; it has violated the morals we as a civilized society stand by and crushed the hope of justice, of fairness. Under the cloak of war on terror, it has waged a war on humanity itself. What can you say of an organization that lied to its government, fudged records, and manipulated the legal process, all to have its way? What can you say of an organization that held, above all else, a contempt for the judiciary, and far worse, a contempt for humanity?
The US President Barrack Obama might be of the opinion that all these were “mistakes of the past”, but the CIA is responsible for the ghastly crimes it has committed and severe action needs to be taken against the people responsible for them. What the CIA carried out in those dark, lawless cells wasn’t a war on terror. It was no more than two mafia gangs taking it out on each other, one blatantly illegally and one under the veil of legality.
There is a reason why the primal laws of power and survival have been replaced with the laws of justice. Civilization is built on the hope that men and women will believe in what is just and stand by it. If justice could be overridden so easily, with such cold impunity, then what is left that makes us human?