More ghastly details of US torture practices revealed

That excellent news source ProPublica has published internal CIA cables that outline the torture that was done to Abu Zubaydah when he was picked up following the 9/11 attacks. The article describes in detail what he was subjected to as well as his own account of his reactions during the process, and it makes for sickening reading. To make it worse, the person who oversaw this barbarous treatment is Gina Haspel, who has just been named by Donald Trump to be deputy head of the CIA.

For 20 days in 2002, the CIA interrogated Abu Zubaydah at a secret “black site” prison in Thailand, believing him to be a top al-Qaida operative with information about impending attacks on the United States.

Through recently released cables obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union and Zubayadah’s own account to his lawyers, which has also been recently declassified, a chilling picture has emerged of just what transpired on those days and who oversaw it. According to John Kirakou, a former CIA counterterrorism official, the “chief of base” personally managing the operation was Gina Haspel. President Donald Trump recently named Haspel to the number two spot at the CIA.

The details are disgusting and reveal a level of inhumanity that should put the lie to any claim that the US acts more honorably than other nations in the way it treats its prisoners. One can only imagine what the reaction would be in the US if (say) North Korea or Iran treated someone they captured whom they considered a US spy even a fraction as badly as the way Zubaydah was treated. No one reading this can have any illusions that US behavior is superior to that of many of the nations it criticizes.

During the days when he was tortured, Abu Zubaydah was kept in what was essentially a coffin.

A “confinement box” was built especially for Zubayadah: 85 inches long, 30 inches wide and 20 inches deep. He was told it would be “his new home.”

Zubayadah describes being placed into the box for the first time, still shackled, and supplied with a bucket for his waste.

In addition to being waterboarded, he was subjected to a practice known as ‘walling’, which consisted of slamming him against a plywood wall. After the walling, he would be placed in an even smaller confinement box that was 21 inches wide, 2.5 feet deep and 2.5 feet high, so that he had to remained crouched.

ProPublica has another article going into more detail about Haspel’s role in torture.

Haspel was sent by the chief of the CIA’s counterterrorism section, Jose Rodriquez, the “handpicked warden of the first secret prison the CIA created to handle al-Qaida detainees,” according to a little-noticed recent article in Reader Supported News by John Kiriakou, a former CIA counterterrorism officer. In his memoir, “Hard Measures,” Rodriquez refers to a “female chief of base” in Thailand but does not name her.

Kirakou provided more details about her central role. “It was Haspel who oversaw the staff,” at the Thai prison, including James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, the two psychologists who “designed the torture techniques and who actually carried out torture on the prisoners,” he wrote.

Kiriakou pleaded guilty in 2012 to releasing classified information about waterboarding and the torture of detainees, and served 23 months in prison.

The CIA officials in Thailand understood that the methods they were using could kill Zubaydah and said that should that happen, they would cremate his body. If he survived questioning, Haspel sought assurances that “the subject will remain in isolation and incommunicado for the remainder of his life.”

So far, that promise has been kept. Zubaydah is currently incarcerated at Guantanamo. His lawyers filed a court action in 2008 seeking his release, but the federal judges overseeing the case have failed to issue any substantive rulings.

Note that none of the people responsible for torture has been prosecuted but Kiriakou was punished for revealing some of this information. Kiriakou is unapologetic about what he did and has said that he would do it again. Presidents Bush and Obama have played disgraceful roles in carrying out these war crimes and punishing whistleblowers who exposed their own criminality and that of those who served under them. It is they who should have gone to prison for presiding over, condoning, and covering up torture.

They have kept the door wide open for an even more callous and brutal person like Trump, someone who seems to actively enjoy the thought of inflicting torture, to do even worse things, if that is even possible.


  1. says

    That excellent news source ProPublica has published internal CIA cables that outline the torture that was done to Abu Zubaydah when he was picked up following the 9/11 attacks.

    And yet, “nobody” knows who broke US law doing this, and the FBI is too busy investigating presidental candidates’ emails to worry about a capital crime.

  2. says

    Torture (18 U.S.C. 2340A)
    Torture is defined to include acts specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering. (It does not include such pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions.) The statute applies only to acts of torture committed outside the United States. There is Federal extraterritorial jurisdiction over such acts whenever the perpetrator is a national of the United States or the alleged offender is found within the United States, irrespective of the nationality of the victim or the alleged offender.

    he was subjected to a practice known as ‘walling’, which consisted of slamming him against a plywood wall

    “(It does not include such pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions)”
    Doesn’t cut it.

  3. jrkrideau says

    Why do I think the Gestapo would have been shocked?

    And as any reliable source I have read suggests, torture is totally unreliable as a way to get information.

    As Maher Arar the Canadian citizen whom the US renditioned to Syria said when asked why he confessed to having been an a Al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan despite having never been near Afghanistan, “I was ready to confess to anything if it would stop the torture”.

    And his experience sounded horrible but not anywhere near as bad compared to what was done to Abu Zubaydah.

  4. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Get then all. Everyone involved in the torture, from the top to the bottom, should have the book thrown at them. Spare no one. “I was just following orders” should not become a widely recognized defense.

  5. jrkrideau says

    As a follow-up to my note about Maher Ahar, another Canadian Omar Khadr was tortured and held in Guantanamo for 10 years. In some ways his treatment was worse than that of Abu Zubaydah since he was a badly wounded juvenile when the torturing began. He should have been treated as a child soldier not a prisoner.

    From the wiki
    Khadr states that he was refused pain medication for his wounds, that he had his hands tied above a door frame for hours, had cold water thrown on him, had a bag placed over his head and was threatened with military dogs, was flatulated upon, and forced to carry 5-gallon pails of water to aggravate his shoulder wound. Not allowed to use a washroom, he was forced to urinate on himself

    I have not seen the complete transcript of the kangaroo court AKA “military tribunal” where he pleaded guilty to get out of Guantanamo but I have read the transcript of the prosecution’s expert witness psychologist/psychiatrist. He may have said something truthful in his testimony but if so it was accidental.

    Apparently his knowledge of Islam was gained by reading a book review in a European skinhead magazine but, to give him credit, he did actually talk to the author. He did not read the book since he did not read Danish. From his testimony one could see that he knew nothing about Islam but he definitely knew who was paying him.

  6. jrkrideau says

    Blast, italics failure. The last two paragraphs are me not the wiki.

    [I corrected the italics as indicated by you. Hope you don’t mind. -- Mano]

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