The Journal of History     Fall 2006    TABLE OF CONTENTS

'Nobody is talking'

Summary of The Guardian article

By James Meek
February 18, 2005

It is the British who refined these methods, and who have provided the precedent for legalised torture.

MI5 and MI6 had high hopes for war-shortening information from Juan Gomez de Lecube in 1942 during WW II. Milmo wrote to Kim Philby, seeking approval to apply special measures to the interrogation of the detainee.

Sixty years later, in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, Milmo and Philby's counterparts in US military intelligence and the CIA faced what they believed was a similar dilemma. All over the world, US agents and soldiers were seizing and interrogating hundreds of foreign men whom they suspected held information that would enable new terrorist attacks to be prevented. Like Milmo, they began coming up against stubborn prisoners. Like Milmo, they wrote to those higher up the chain of command seeking permission for special measures to make the prisoners talk.

Compared with the U.K.'s Camp 020, which took over 50 years to expose, America's secret overseas prison system - in Guantànamo, Abu Ghraib, Afghanistan and other locations - is emerging more quickly.

British readers will be able to read Torture and Truth by US journalist Mark Danner, and The Torture Papers, edited by two US lawyers, Karen Greenberg and Joshua Dratel, which is the US torture that emanated from 9/11.

Unlike the US's plan, however, the British attempt to torture was limited to "Plan Squealer," which involved nothing more brutal than trying to convince Lecube that another spy had betrayed him.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, it was suggested that moral courage demanded support for torture. A CIA veteran was quoted in the LA Times: "A lot of people are saying we need someone at the agency who can pull fingernails out." Alan Dershowitz, a professor of law at Harvard, wrote that judges should be able to issue warrants licensing the torture of suspects where the authorities somehow knew that the suspects were concealing information about "an imminent large-scale threat."

Literature confirms that torture leads to both uncontrolled proliferation of the practice and long-term damage to the perpetrator society and that it saves lives is bogus.

Alberto Gonzales, who became Bush's attorney general in January 2002, wrote to Bush claiming that there have never been wars before in which civilians are "wantonly" killed, or where it has been necessary to "quickly obtain information" from prisoners. The Geneva Convention, he argued, is a quaint relic. "In my judgement," he told the president, "this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners."

In October 2002 the commander of the interrogation teams at Guantànamo, Lt-Col Jerald Phifer, pleads to be allowed to inflict more suffering on the prisoners there. "The current guidelines ... limit the ability of interrogators to counter advanced resistance," he writes. He asks for his people to be able to force prisoners to stand for up to four hours, put prisoners in solitary for 30 days or more, hood them, interrogate them continuously for up to 20 hours, subject them to sensory deprivation, take away their Korans, strip them naked, forcibly shave them, frighten them with dogs, deceive them into thinking they or members of their family are about to be killed or savagely tortured, "expose them" to cold temperatures or cold water, grab them, poke them, push them, and use the "waterboarding" technique, which involves covering the prisoner's mouth and nose with a cloth and pouring water into it so it forces itself down his throat and makes him believe he is about to drown. Phifer's memo makes it plain that a torture school exists in the US. "Any of these techniques that require more than light grabbing, poking, or pushing, will be administered only by individuals specifically trained in their safe application," he wrote.

Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defence, approved a watered-down version of Phifer's request which, as the testimony of released prisoners shows, still left in place a harsh interrogation regime of extremes of hot and cold, confinement in solitary cells, depriving prisoners of everything except their prison clothes, deafening music and "short-shackling," the painful and perhaps permanently disabling practice of binding prisoners with short lengths of chain.

Most of the detainees who have been released from Guantànamo have described being tortured and ill-treated. Nuri Mert of Turkey spoke of "psychological and physical torture." Mehdi Ghezali of Sweden described systematic sleep deprivation, and extremes of temperature, noise and light. Mamdouh Habib of Australia said he had what appeared to be menstrual blood thrown at him by a woman interrogator. Shafiq Rasul of Britain still has back pain from short-shackling. Martin Mubanga of Britain has described being painted with his own urine while being racially abused and being trodden on while chained. Moazzam Begg of Britain was kept in solitary confinement in Guantànamo for 19 months, Feroz Abbasi of Britain for 18 months. Ayrat Vakhitov, of Russia, has described a system of sleep deprivation that automatically moved prisoners from one cell to another every 15 minutes. None of the released men had been charged with a crime.

Greenberg and Dratel's book includes a series of internal memos from the FBI, dating from last spring, in which the agency plainly expresses its alarm at the failure of the Guantànamo interrogations to get results any better than the FBI's techniques, and warns that the agency could be implicated. Since the book went to press, still more disturbing FBI memos have been obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union using the Freedom of Information Act.

One FBI agent describes leaving the interview room at Camp Delta one evening. "I heard and observed in the hallway loud music and flashes of light ... From the monitoring room, I looked inside the adjacent interview room. At that time I saw another detainee sitting on the floor of the interview room with an Israeli flag draped around him, loud music being played and a strobe light flashing."

Another writes: "On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a foetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18-24 hours or more. On one occasion, the air conditioning had been turned down so far ... that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold."

"On another occasion, the air-conditioning had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room probably well over 100 degrees ... The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his own hair out throughout the night."

Guantànamo is only part of the network of US prisons overseas that the Bush administration has created since 9/11. What emerges from the paper trail assembled in these new books is the way in which military interrogation techniques migrated from installation to installation. Danner's book, for instance, includes the report by Major-General Geoffrey Miller, the Guantànamo commander, after he was asked to advise interrogators at Abu Ghraib and other US prisons in Iraq how to get better information from prisoners about the wave of attacks on US forces.

It was following his visit that torture and humiliation by the guards began in earnest. Prisoners were hooded, threatened with rape, threatened with torture, had pistols held to their heads, made to strip naked, forced to eat pork and drink alcohol, beaten till they bled - sometimes with implements, including a broom and a chair - hung from doors by cuffed hands, deceived into thinking they were to be electrocuted, ducked in toilet buckets, forced to simulate masturbation, forced to lie naked in a pile and be photographed, urinated on, menaced and, in one case, severely bitten by dogs, sodomised with a chemical light, ridden like horses, made to wear women's underwear, raped, deprived of sleep, exposed to the midday summer sun, put in stress positions and made to lie naked, in empty concrete cells, in complete darkness, for days on end.

On one visit to Abu Ghraib, the International Committee of the Red Cross came across a Syrian prisoner lying in an unlit cell, two metres long and less than a metre wide, without a window, latrine, water tap or bedding. "The Gollum" was written on the door.

In Afghanistan, eight deaths in US custody remain unexplained, and an internal military report remains unpublished. In an essay accompanying the documents, Danner, the US journalist who authored The Torture Papers, stated that Schlesinger could as easily have written: "American interrogators have tortured at least five prisoners to death."

The worst treatment in Afghanistan seems to have been reserved for those who have been, in effect, kidnapped by the US from third countries, held in Afghanistan, and subsequently transferred to Guantànamo. In a previously unpublished sworn affadavit obtained by the lawyer Clive Stafford-Smith, Hussain Adbulkadr Youssouf Mustafa, a teacher of Islamic law with Palestinian citizenship, describes how he was arrested in Pakistan, in May 2002, handed over to the Americans and taken to Afghanistan.

While at Bagram air force base, Hussain said, he was blindfolded, tightly handcuffed, gagged and earplugged and sodomised with a stick while three soldiers held him down. "It was excruciatingly painful," said Hussain. "I have always believed that I am not a person who would scream unless I was really hurt. Only when the pain became overwhelming did I think I would ever scream. But I could not stop screaming when this happened. This torture went on for several minutes, but it felt like hours, and the pain afterwards was almost as bad as anything I experienced at the time."

Hussain said that besides the physical pain, he could not go to the bathroom to this day without remembering what had happened. "The Americans never said anything about why they were doing it to me," he said. "I think maybe they wanted to make me so embarrassed that it would live with me for the rest of my life. It would dehumanise me." Hussain has never been charged with a crime. He was kept without explanation and released without apology after more than two years.

A memo written by Jay Bybee, who was assistant attorney general, to Alberto Gonzales voices Bybee's concern is not with the wellbeing of suspects, but with the risk that a US government employee might be prosecuted. Bybee goes to great lengths to differentiate between "torture," which US citizens are forbidden by law from inflicting on foreigners, and "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment," which they aren't. "Physical pain amounting to torture must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death," he wrote. "The infliction of pain or suffering per se, whether it is physical or mental, is insufficient to amount to torture."

Bybee mentions something regarding the US law criminalising the torture of foreigners overseas, which was passed in the 1990s as the final stage in Washington's ratification of the United Nations Convention Against Torture (CAT). Worse, the Reagan and elder Bush administrations added a rider to the law which would allow US organisations such as the CIA an opt-out from punishment for all but the most savage treatment of captives.

There was one country, however, which had sought an even narrower definition of torture: Britain. And, Bybee writes, the Reagan administration had relied on a legal precedent in Europe for its argument that torture was a word which meant only "extreme, deliberate, and unusually cruel practices." That legal precedent also involved Britain. It concerned the brutal treatment of detainees in Northern Ireland.

Britain, the US, and Canada began talking about psychological warfare together at least as early as June 1951. Early photographs show volunteers, goggled and muffled, looking eerily similar to prisoners arriving at Guantànamo.

Panicked by the ability of communists in Korea, China, and the Soviet Union to "turn" captured westerners, the CIA took over the funding of the sensory deprivation programme and gave it to one of Hebb's colleagues, Ewen Cameron. After six years of damaging experiments with drugs, electricity, taped messages and isolation on often unwitting subjects, Cameron simplified his techniques and, according to McCoy, "laid the scientific foundation for the CIA's two-stage psychological torture method."

It is exactly the British distinction the European Court made 30 years ago that the White House has used as a precedent to claim that the US government may inflict pain and suffering on any foreigner it suspects of doing something it doesn't like. The European Court ruling was cited not only by Bybee but by Diane Beaver, a US military lawyer based at Guantànamo, when she gave a formal written opinion in 2002 that the water-boarding technique didn't constitute torture.

In 1977, the British government gave a solemn undertaking to the European Human Rights Commission that it would never again use the "five techniques," but it still is at the US base in Guantanamo Bay and in Afghanistan while they were being subjected to hooding, noise and sleep deprivation, as well as beating and short-shackling.


The Journal of History - Fall 2006 Copyright © 2006 by News Source, Inc.