The subject of torture is back with a vengeance not only in the latest Abu Ghraib photos obtained by Salon, but in “The Memo,” Jane Mayer’s latest exposé, which pins the blame on a gang of war criminals running the U.S. government.
So before it disappears into the past, here’s a must-see: Alfred McCoy speaking with Amy Goodman in a Democracy Now! interview that aired on Friday. He is the author of “A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror,” published last month by Metropolitan Books. McCoy, who is also a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, gives an absolutely riveting account of the history of torture techniques perfected by the CIA over the past 50 years.
Some of it may surprise you. For instance, McCoy says that all the CIA’s research with electroshock, hallucinogens, and other drugs came to nothing as interrogation tools. LSD, mescaline, and sodium pentathol, the so-called truth serum, simply did not produce useful results.
Instead the agency discovered that the two principal tools that worked were simple, even boring techniques: 1) sensory deprivation, and 2) self-inflicted pain. With these two techniques alone CIA researchers were able to induce psychosis in research subjects, he says. Since then the CIA has added sensory overload (such as loud music) and two more techniques, perfected at Guantanamo and later brought to Abu Ghraib: 3) cultural sensitivity (“particularly Arab male sensitivity to issues of gender and sexual identity”), and 4) individual fears and phobia.
McCoy’s presentation is far more striking and detailed than you get from my outline. He also traces the development of Army and CIA interrogation manuals, actual practices, and Congressional legislation regulating them. And much of what he says may be confirmed with ease, he adds, by typing KUBARK into the Google search engine. (Or just click the link.) This will get you to a list of relevant documents, including the formerly secret 1963 CIA counterintelligence interrogation manual. McCoy suggests reading the manual footnotes because that’s where some of the most interesting information is. If you click on this, you can see the actual training manual documents, which illustrate the linkage at key points from 1963 to 1983 to 1992. And don’t forget to have fun.
Now read this from Bob Herbert’s column on Monday, “The Torturers Win.” Herbert describes what he calls “the quintessential example” of extraordinary rendition — the CIA’s “reprehensible practice” of outsourcing torture, i.e., kidnapping suspected terrorists and secretly packing them off, drugged, hooded and shackled, to foreign countries for interrogation — along with proof that the U.S. regime’s war criminals have already subverted the American justice system.
Terrible things were done to Maher Arar, and his extreme suffering was set in motion by the United States government. With the awful facts of his case carefully documented, he tried to sue for damages. But last week a federal judge waved the facts aside and told Mr. Arar, in effect, to get lost.
What were those terrible things? Just this: Arar, right — “a 35-year-old software engineer who lives in Ottawa, [Canada], with his wife and their two young children [and had] never been in any kind of trouble” — was subjected to extraordinary rendition. In other words, he was “seized and shackled by U.S. authorities at Kennedy Airport in 2002, and then shipped off to Syria, his native country, where he was held in a dungeon for the better part of a year.”
His guards beat him with electrical cable. Cats pissed on him. He himself had no place to piss or shit except in his unheated, rat-infested cell, which was the size of a grave and just as dark, Herbert writes. After 10 months, “when even Syria’s torture professionals could elicit no evidence that he was in any way involved in terrorism,” he was released and no charges were ever filed against him.
The Center for Constitutional Rights in New York filed a lawsuit on Mr. Arar’s behalf, seeking damages from the U.S. government for his ordeal. The government said the case could not even be dealt with because the litigation would involve the revelation of state secrets. …
… U.S. District Judge David Trager dismissed Mr. Arar’s lawsuit last Thursday [and] wrote in his opinion that “Arar’s claim that he faced a likelihood of torture in Syria is supported by U.S. State Department reports on Syria’s human rights practices.”
But in dismissing the suit, he said that the foreign policy and national security issues raised by the government were “compelling” and that such matters were the purview of the executive branch and Congress, not the courts.
He also said that “the need for secrecy can hardly be doubted.” … As an example of the kind of foreign policy problems that might arise if Mr. Arar were given his day in court, Judge Trager wrote:
“One need not have much imagination to contemplate the negative effect on our relations with Canada if discovery were to proceed in this case and were it to turn out that certain high Canadian officials had, despite public denials, acquiesced in Arar’s removal to Syria.”
Oh yes, by all means, we need the federal courts to fully protect the right of public officials to lie to their constituents.
Sidenote: A front-page article in today’s New York Times says another case “has come to symbolize the C.I.A. practice known as extraordinary rendition” — that of Khaled el-Masri, “a German citizen of Arab descent who was arrested Dec. 31, 2003, in Macedonia before being flown to [a] Kabul prison.” Well, takes yer cherce: Arar or Masri. And doncha just love that description, “arrested” and “flown”? Soooooo travel agent.
Postscript: Speaking of terminology, a friend messages: “Contemporary, uh, ‘book burning’?”