First let me state the obvious: the May 7, 2004 “Special Review” on interrogations from the Central Intelligence Agency’s Inspector General is a heavily redacted document. Pages and pages of the report, titled “Counterterrorism Detention and Interrogation Activities (September 2001-October 2003),” are either completely blackened out or mostly so. As a historian with a lot of experience with these kinds of documents, I can tell you that whenever the narrative gets juicy, that’s when all the black ink spills over everything (you should see Robert F. Kennedy’s FBI file!).
Whenever I read these types of censored government records, like those I recently encountered at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, I always get the feeling that I live in the old Soviet Union instead of in a representative “democracy.” Having said that, there is much in this wretched government text that should make any human being with a soul (Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck need not apply) to feel quite uneasy, even sick at heart. It’s another piece of evidence chronicling one of the most despicable episodes in American history, brought to you by the George W. Bush/Dick Cheney administration.
Given the fact that the power drill later became the low-cost torture device of choice among those fighting in Iraq when the sectarian bloodbath was in full swing it’s stunning that Americans working for the CIA used power drills back in 2001 for “interrogations.” “[T]he debriefer used a power drill to frighten Al-Nashiri. With [redacted] consent, the debriefer entered the detainee’s cell and revved the drill while the detainee stood naked and hooded.” (p. 42)
And given that attacks aimed at the family members of “high-value” Iraqis who were involved in the insurgency became commonplace in the mid-2000s, the CIA interrogators’ threats against the family members of prisoners held in U.S. custody also stands out: “During another incident [redacted] the same Headquarters debriefer, according to a [redacted] who was present, threatened Al-Nashiri by saying that if he did not talk, ‘We could get your mother in here,’ and ‘We can bring your family in here.’ . . . interrogation technique involve[d] sexually abusing female relatives in front of the detainee.” (p. 42). And, according to the report, CIA interrogators told Khalid Shaykh Muhammad, the guy they waterboarded 183 times, that “if anything else happens in the United States, ‘We’re going to kill your children.'” (p. 43). This “we’re going to kill your children” line I found particularly interesting since whenever I’ve found myself in debates with torture apologists I’ve always asked them how far they would go and used the harming of children and family members as a kind of Socratic question. They almost always drew a line there — not the CIA.
Add to this macabre mix the use of mock executions and it becomes painfully clear that the U.S. had totally lost its bearings in the aftermath of 9-11 under the “steady-hand” leadership of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.
Finally, Attorney General John Ashcroft has some explaining to do to Congress. Ashcroft testified to Congress that waterboarding was performed only a few times. The report states: “The Attorney General was informed the waterboard had been used 119 times on a single individual.” (p. 45)
Yes, the CIA tortured thousands of people in Vietnam under the Phoenix Program; yes, the CIA trained torturers who went off to practice their dismal craft all over the world; yes, the CIA has engineered coups that brought torturing regimes to power and provided “liaison services” to security services such as SAVAK in Iran, DINA in Chile, and ORDEN in El Salvador that were known to be notorious torture outfits; and yes, the CIA continues even under the Obama administration to use “rendition” of prisoners to U.S. client regimes that are well known to torture people. But this report shows that when Cheney and other Bush administration officials talked about “working the dark side” — Wow! — they really meant it. Someone has got to go to jail for this.
Attorney General Eric Holder’s appointment of John Durham to investigate this sordid episode should be only the first step in a wholesale reevaluation of American national security priorities in the post-9-11 world.
Originally published by The Huffington Post. Reprinted with permission from the author
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