Human Rights Watch has a new report out that indicates that the Bush administration used waterboarding and other forms of torture far more extensively than previously reported — including working with the Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi to capture and torture those who were fighting against his regime. That would be the same regime we just helped overthrow, on the grounds that he committed terrible human rights abuses.
Spencer Ackerman shows a drawing of a 3×3 box that the detainees say they were put into and discusses their stories:
It wasn’t the only box that the CIA allegedly placed him inside. Another was a tall, narrow box, less than two feet wide, with handcuffs at the top. The detainee, Mohammed Ahmed Mohammed al-Shoroeiya, says he was placed into that one with his hands elevated and suspended by the handcuffs, for a day and a half, naked, with music blasting into his ears constantly through speakers built into the box. A different detainee describes being placed into a similar box for three days and being left with no choice but to urinate and defecate on himself.
Getting shoved into those boxes was only the start of Shoroeiya’s woes. The CIA would later deliver him and at least four others into the hands of the Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who further brutalized them for opposing his regime. Accordingly, a new Human Rights Watch report telling the stories of those detainees strips away a euphemism in the war on terrorism: how the CIA says it holds its nose and “works with” unsavory regimes. ”It can’t come as a surprise that the Central Intelligence Agency works with foreign governments to help protect our country from terrorism and other deadly threats,” spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood told the Wall Street Journal. What may indeed come as a surprise is what that actually means in practice, as recounted by at least five Libyan ex-detainees Human Rights Watch interviewed.
Media reports on Thursday morning understandably focused on what Human Rights Watch called “credible allegations” of waterboarding by CIA officials, since the U.S. has only ever acknowledged waterboarding three detainees. But what Human Rights Watch has uncovered in Libya tells a broader story. It’s a story about how repressive governments used the war on terrorism to get the U.S. to deliver their political opponents to their custody. It was as easy as calling them terrorists — which was enough for the U.S. to play along.
As both Human Rights Watch and Ackerman note, these are only allegations at this point, but they are consistent with what is already known about how detainees were treated in other cases. Scott Horton has more:
In an important speech last year at Harvard University, CIA veteran and Obama counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan stressed that the administration’s Middle East policies emphasize the rule of law and respect for human rights. If that’s true, then the cache of evidence disclosed by the Libyan revolution and the comparable evidence that has emerged in Egypt point to the CIA as a rogue institution operating at dangerous cross-purposes with official U.S. policy. The agency aligned itself closely with the most abusive institutions in the countries where it was operating, and enabled the wanton torture of political opponents. Those tight relationships appear to have seriously warped its intelligence posture, leaving it dangerously blind to the developments that swept the Arab world early last year. Moreover, much of the conduct highlighted in the HRW report violated criminal statutes, including the Anti-Torture Act and the prohibition on renditions of persons to countries where they were likely to face torture.
The Justice Department’s systematic whitewashing of these crimes can best be explained by the fact that it was a key actor in the crimes. It cannot be expected to prosecute its own senior staffers, nor can it be expected to take actions that would further stain its already badly soiled reputation. But this very whitewashing raises fundamental doubt about the Obama Administration’s commitment to ending torture by American intelligence operatives. To the contrary, the Obama Administration’s handling of the matter appears to retain torture as a viable option for American foreign policy—one that Mitt Romney, with Michael Hayden at his side, would happily resume.
And he describes one instance that shows exactly why torture doesn’t work:
One former prisoner described having been waterboarded on repeated occasions during U.S. interrogations in Afghanistan. The report notes that the prisoner never used the phrase “waterboarding,” but described the procedure in detail: his captors put a hood over his head, strapped him onto a wooden board, “then they start with the water pouring. . . . They start to pour water to the point where you feel like you are suffocating.” He added: “[T]hey wouldn’t stop until they got some kind of answer from me.” He said a doctor was present during the waterboarding and that it happened so many times he could not keep count.
No one knows this better than John McCain, who has described his own torture at the hands of the Vietcong in much the same way. And he broke, as everyone does eventually, and told them whatever he thought they wanted to hear. The purpose of torture is not to get accurate information, it is to get false information that can be used for propaganda purposes, which is how the Vietcong used it against our own soldiers.