Blowback from torture


Gina Haspel has been confirmed as head of the CIA with assistance from Democratic senators despite her appalling record of supervising brutal torture methods and then destroying evidence. Jeremy Scahill reports how Dr. Sondra Crosby, a professor of public health at Boston University and a doctor and a Naval reserve officer, described what she saw to the committee that was conducting the hearings, and that it was worse than what she had seen in torture victims in other places.

In her letter to [Democratic senator Mark] Warner, Crosby stated that among the known acts of torture committed against Nashiri while he was in U.S. custody at several U.S. facilities, included:

  • suffocated with water (waterboarding)
  • subjected to mock execution with a drill and gun while standing naked and hooded
  • anal rape through rectal feeding
  • threatened that his mother would be sexually assaulted
  • lifted off ground by arms while they were bound behind his back (after which a medical officer opined that shoulders might be dislocated)

Crosby told Senate staffers that the CIA’s “methodology consisted of strategic assaults — multiple traumas inflicted simultaneously, as well as consecutively, in a manner designed to instill terror and maximize harm in the prisoners.” The interrogation program, she stated, showed that “torture is not just a crime of physical violence, but a way of destroying someone’s humanity.” Crosby added: “It is important to note that the barbarity of the torture methods used were shrouded and concealed in sterile euphemisms.”

In the briefing, Crosby described the torture in graphic, albeit unclassified, terms:

The terror of being kept naked in pitch-black, shackled to the ceiling while music blared, covered in urine and feces while insects crawled on their bodies, in dank cells that were freezing cold or unbearably hot. The horrific conditions in between interrogations were in some cases as bad as the interrogations. These torture methods were inflicted for hours and days, for weeks at a time, over the course of years. The men became disoriented with no sense of when the abuse would stop. Some of the men wished for death.

Theo Padnos, an American journalist who was captured and tortured by al Qaeda, describes in an open letter to Haspel what he went through because of the actions of people like her.

For what it’s worth, at the time, as I tried to trace the violence that was being done to me through a chain of causes, my thoughts alighted on the psychologists, subcontractors, CIA agents and legal experts who had found it within themselves to aid in the torture of prisoners at your famous “black sites.” Those Americans, it seemed to me, had not cared enough to reflect on who might pay for their crimes when, in the fullness of time, the torture seeped into the Islamic world’s collective unconscious, fructified, embodied itself in younger people, then crept again into the streets. By the winter of 2013, when I was undergoing my ordeal in the Aleppo eye hospital, some of those American torture officials had returned to jobs on leafy campuses. Others were moving up in the ranks. (Perhaps this scenario sounds familiar to you?) While I was waiting in a heap of bloody clothing for my torturers to return, those career success stories, I was certain of it, were waiting in drawing rooms in Washington and Berkeley. Tea was in the offing there, perhaps a lecture. Those tea drinkers at home I did not want to forgive.

In an interview that I heard on the radio but cannot now trace, Padnos told the interviewer that his al Qaeda captors used special torture techniques on American prisoners that were mirror images of what Americans had done to their prisoners. It was a deliberate tit-for-tat move, which resulted in Americans being treated far worse than other prisoners and the captives would be told this.

The fact that the use of torture results in American captives being treated worse should deter the US from using these techniques to at least protect their own people. But it won’t. Because ultimately the people at the top don’t really give a damn if their own soldiers and citizens are brutalized because of their own brutal practices.

Comments

  1. komarov says

    What few excerpts I saw from those confirmation hearings were truly appaling. Admit nothing, keep stringing vaguely apologetic words together and, by Zeus, never actually answer the question. Just keep weaving around it. That alone should have been sufficient reason to toss her out.* “We have been here for hours. In that time you have spoken many words, yet you have said nothing. Next!

    *or into the arena with the lions, if only the senate were a court of law.

    The fact that the use of torture results in American captives being treated worse should deter the US from using these techniques to at least protect their own people. But it wont. Because ultimately the people at the top don’t really give a damn if their own soldiers and citizens are brutalized because of their own brutal practices.

    Time to revive the old custom of having the leader/god-king lead the charge. (I’m actually struggling to remember an instance that wasn’t mythical) Time to make America great again with Trump in the front row. Building a gilded chariot should be easy enough, I’m just not sure about the horses. Of course the USA are embroiled in several unadmitted wars and Trump can’t be everywhere at once. Luckily there are plenty of warhawks in the Senate and Congress who should be eager to get their hands dirty – if only they had the chance!
    As an added bonus, all those conflicts are so ill-defined that nobody can tell what ‘winning’ actually means. So when Trump and company meddle in their generals’ business, as is a despot’s wont, nobody will notice when they botch it up and make things even worse. Well, at least not in the US.

  2. jrkrideau says

    1. komarov
    I’m actually struggling to remember an instance that wasn’t mythical
    Alexander the Great, Richard the Lion-Hearted, Gustavus Adolphus & Charles XII of Sweden. These last two may have helped the custom go out of fashion.

  3. jrkrideau says

    Do Americans still ask, “Why do they hate us”?

    Gina Haskel’s appointment will go over well among jihadis and probably anyone else who needs support against US policies. Having watched George W. Bush do just about everything possible to bolster Al Quaeda, I had not thought that Trump could even begin to match him.

    With the travel ban on Muslims, moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, and appointing a known torturer as head of the CIA, he is making a gallant attempt. And this is only the support he is giving to jihadis.

    It does not reflect well on the USA.

  4. says

    I was furious at the questioners, who themselves danced around the fact that torture is a capital crime in the US; arguing about whether Haspel thought it is moral was a gigantic red herring. You can tell that the questioners on the committee were throwing softballs – which Haspel still refused to answer. A shameful performance all around.

    And nobody asked “what happened to Abu Zubaydah’s eye?”

  5. says

    It’s torture if ISIS does it. Those guys are already under an extrajudicial death warrant by the US; judge, jury, and executioner. So it’s not like they are going to change their behavior in the slightest.

  6. sonofrojblake says

    The fact that the use of torture results in American captives being treated worse should deter the US from using these techniques to at least protect their own people

    If only there was some sort of international agreement all civilised countries could come to that prohibited this sort of thing for pretty much this exact reason. Call it a, oh, I don’t know, a convention. Negotiate it and sign up to it somewhere pretty and neutral like, for instance Zurich, say.

    Nah, stupid idea it’d never work.

  7. says

    sonofrojblake@#6:
    Negotiate it and sign up to it somewhere pretty and neutral like, for instance Zurich, say.

    Yeah, it’s a good idea. But did you know that the US, while a signatory, declared that its citizens (especially not its leaders, natch!) will never be subject to the ICC in The Hague? Isn’t that cool? We’re really uber-super special.

  8. wereatheist says

    lifted off ground by arms while they were bound behind his back (after which a medical officer opined that shoulders might be dislocated)

    This technique was often used in Nazi concentration camps.

  9. komarov says

    Re: jrkrideau (#2):

    Oh, right. A book I’m currently reading actually mentioned Charles XII and how he died. Both he and his opponent, tsar Peter I (“The Great”) seem to have taken an active part in their war, but no actual charge-leading was mentioned. I’ll remember those names though, thanks.

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