Monday, March 06, 2006

Tomgram: Dahr Jamail Follows the Trail of Torture

The other day on Jerry Agar's radio show
<>, Secretary
of Defense Donald Rumsfeld responded to accusations about American
atrocities at our prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He accused the
detainees there of manipulating public opinion by lying about their
treatment. He said, in part:

"They're taught to lie, they're taught to allege that they have been
tortured, and that's part of the [terrorist] training that they
received. We know that torture is not occurring there. We know that for
a fact… The reality is that the terrorists have media committees. They
are getting very clever at manipulating the media in the United States
and in the capitals of the world. They know for a fact they can't win a
single battle on the battlefields in the Middle East. They know the only
place they can win a battle is in the capitol in Washington, D.C. by
having the United States lose its will, so they consciously manipulate
the media here to achieve their ends, and they're very good at it."

Statements like this have been commonplaces from an administration whose
President repeatedly insists it doesn't do "torture,"
<> while its
assembled lawyers do their best to redefine torture out of existence.
Here's how, for instance, our Vice President has described the lives of
detainees at Guantanamo Bay: "They're living
in the tropics… They're well fed. They've got everything they could
possibly want. There isn't any other nation in the world that would
treat people who were determined to kill Americans the way we're
treating these people."

As a matter of fact, the record of detainee abuse, humiliation, and
torture at Guantanamo and elsewhere is by now overwhelming -- and it's
been laid out by a remarkably wide-ranging set of sources. In June 2005,
for example, Time Magazine
released excerpts from official interrogation logs on just one
Guantanamo prisoner, Mohammad al-Qahtani, reputedly the 20th September
11th hijacker who never made it into the U.S. This stunning record
<> of mistreatment over time so
threatened the detainee's health that it should certainly have qualified
as torture under this administration's definition ("must be equivalent
in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as
organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death") in its
famed "torture memo
<>" of

Or let's remember two years' worth
of blistering memos and e-mails by disgusted FBI agents stationed at
Guantanamo Bay (obtained and released by the American Civil Liberties
Union) laid out styles of detainee mistreatment that should have
staggered someone's imagination:

"'On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee
chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair,
food or water,' the FBI agent wrote on Aug. 2, 2004. ‘Most times they
had urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18
to 24 hours or more.' In one case, the agent continued, ‘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

Just in the last week, the administration that doesn't do torture found
itself in court fighting hard for a torture exemption from the McCain
anti-torture amendment, thanks to extreme force-feeding methods being
used on a prisoner on a Guantanamo hunger strike. According to Josh
White and Carol D. Leonnig of the Washington Post
"Bush administration lawyers, fighting a claim of torture by a
Guantanamo Bay detainee, yesterday argued that the new law that bans
cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees in U.S. custody does
not apply to people held at the military prison. In federal court
yesterday and in legal filings, Justice Department lawyers contended
that a detainee at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, cannot use legislation drafted
by Sen. John McCain... to challenge treatment that the detainee's
lawyers described as ‘systematic torture.'"

In the meantime, U.S. military officers, "breaking with
domestic and international legal precedent," refused to rule out the
admission of evidence obtained by torture at the military trials the
Pentagon is now running at Guantanamo.

The week before, Jane Mayer
<> wrote a thoroughly
depressing New Yorker piece, "Annals of the Pentagon," about former U.S.
Navy General Counsel Alberto J. Mora, a conservative military man who
just happened to believe in the law. Hers was a gripping tale of Mora's
losing battle to stop Donald Rumsfeld and his followers from
circumventing the Geneva Conventions and instituting a "gloves-off"
policy of torture and abuse at Guantanamo. Tim Golden and Eric Schmitt
of the New York Times produced a front-page story that same week
(Growing Afghan Prison Rivals Bleak Guantanamo
pointing out something well covered by the British Guardian
almost a year ago: We now have a second Guantanamo on our hands, a
prison at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan that may indeed make
Guantanamo look like the "tropics." There, 500 or so detainees, beyond
all law or oversight, have been kept under barbaric conditions, in some
cases for two to three years.

The week before that, the latest Abu Ghraib photos
<> were released, even
grimmer than the previous batch -- a huge story around the world -- to
largely "been there, done that" coverage in the United States. Each day,
it seems, more and worse pours out, largely to no obvious effect here.
It is in this context that Dahr Jamail, who began hearing of American
torture practices while covering the war in Iraq in 2003 as an
independent journalist, looks back on the last several years and
considers the nature of our torture regime. Tom

*Tracing the Trail of Torture
Embedding Torture as Policy from Guantanamo to Iraq*
By Dahr Jamail

They told him, "We are going to cut your head off and send you to hell."

Ali Abbas, a former detainee from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, was filling
me in on the horrors he endured at the hands of American soldiers,
contractors, and CIA operatives while inside the infamous prison.

It was May of 2004 when I documented his testimony in my hotel in
Baghdad. "We will take you to Guantanamo," he said one female soldier
told him after he was detained by U.S. forces on September 13, 2003.
"Our aim is to put you in hell so you'll tell the truth. These are our
orders -- to turn your life into hell." And they did. He was tortured in
Abu Ghraib less than half a year after the occupation of Iraq began.

Continue reading this piece here