Liars, Torturers and the Open Secrets of Empire

Revolutionary Worker #1265, January 23, 2005, posted at

Damning new details are coming out, from many new sides, about a global network of U.S. torture. And, meanwhile, at the highest levels of government such torture is both denied and actively defended.

From the Trial of a Sadistic Guard

"Corporal Graner is a smart guy, professional, and he was doing his job in Iraq, "

Graner’s defense attorney, Guy Womack

"They took us and tortured us."

Hussein Mutar, former Abu Ghraib prisoner,testimony at trial of Cpl. Graner

The trial of Army Specialist Charles A. Graner Jr. reopened the horrors of Abu Ghraib. Testimony at the hearings described Graner and other guards forcing prisoners to masturbate in groups, beating them with fists and batons, chaining them in painful positions that dislocated their shoulders, and throwing naked people into wet cells during cold weather. Prisoners described guards urinating on them and forcing them to eat from toilets. Graner sexually abused women prisoners, touching one young woman, forcing her to expose her breasts to his camera.

Prisoners described that guards would force them to renounce Islam, and eat religiously forbidden pork. Graner threatened to rape them and their wives. One prisoner said, "Graner told me to thank Jesus for keeping me alive."

In the trial, Graner’s lawyer, Guy Womack, argued that these actions were not abuse. He asked, "Don’t cheerleaders all over America form pyramids six to eight times a year? Is that torture?"

When discussing the photos of naked prisoners wearing dog collars and leashes, Womack said, "You’ve probably been at a mall or airport and seen children on tethers. They’re not being abused." He added, "In Texas we’d lasso them and drag them out of there."

Meanwhile, Womack made one point worth thinking about. He said the U.S. government had picked Graner for Abu Ghraib, given him orders, praised him for his actions, and now wanted Graner, " one of the junior people there, to take the hit for it."

Graner was convicted January 14 of 10 charges of abusing prisoners — after a trial that deliberately protected those in high places who had given the orders. The military judge had ruled senior officers did not need to testify about their roles.

From Internal FBI Reports

"I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position on 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.’’

Email from an FBI agent formerly stationed at Guantánamo prison

"These documents raise grave questions about where the blame for widespread detainee abuse ultimately rests. Top government officials can no longer hide from public scrutiny by pointing the finger at a few low-ranking soldiers."

Anthony Romero, ACLU Executive Director

Despite government claims, torture has not been confined to Abu Ghraib in Iraq. Internal FBI memos and documents prove that similar methods were applied at the Southern Command’s prison camp at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba.

In an internal FBI review, 530 agents were asked if they had witnessed abusive interrogations and treatment at Guantánamo. At least 26 answered yes.

A few of their reports were obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union through the Freedom of Information Act.

These FBI reports describe prisoners being beaten, choked, and burned with lit cigarettes. FBI agents heard intense screams coming from interrogation cells. One FBI agent reported seeing a prisoner left to smother in a stiflingly hot sealed cell. The agent wrote, "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." In one interrogation a prisoner was wrapped in a Zionist/Israeli flag, and tormented with ear-splitting music and strobe lights.

Other reports said Pentagon interrogators impersonated FBI agents while using "torture techniques" on prisoners. (This impersonation infuriated some FBI agents more than the torture itself!)

Guantánamo’s camp holds about 550 men and boys, most of them captured three years ago during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. No formal charges have ever been made against these men.

The ACLU charges that the FBI Director saw these reports of torture, but nothing was done to expose or oppose it.

Last November, a confidential report of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) leaked into the press that charged the U.S. has "intentionally used psychological and sometimes physical coercion ‘tantamount to torture’ on prisoners at Guantánamo Bay."

From the Secret Maneuvers of Congress

"At the urging of the White House, congressional leaders scrapped a legislative measure last month that would have imposed new restrictions on the use of extreme interrogation measures by U.S. intelligence officers."

New York Times , January 14, 2005

The White House denies that it approves torture. But it acted aggressively to stop a new law that would make it illegal for the CIA to torture.

The Senate approved restrictions on torture as part of their so-called "intelligence reform" bill (by a 96-2 vote). This would have made it illegal for the CIA and other federal intelligence agents to carry out torture, and would have required both the CIA and the Pentagon to report to Congress on the interrogation methods they use.

In October, Condoleezza Rice, Bush’s national security adviser, sent Congress a letter which denounced the bill because it "provides legal protections to foreign prisoners to which they are not now entitled under applicable law and policy."

Bush constantly babbles, "The liberty we prize is not America’s gift to the world. It is god’s gift to humanity." But obviously, "god’s gift" does not include protecting the people of the world from U.S. torture!

Under White House pressure, a closed-door meeting was held by four leading members of the House and Senate where they simply removed the anti-torture restrictions from the final bill.

The meeting included two leading Democrats. Democratic Rep. Jane Harman of California justified the decision saying, "If there are special circumstances around some intelligence interrogations, we should understand that before we legislate." Translation: On second thought, I support the CIA torturing their captives.

From the Flight Records of N379P

"Since Sept. 11, 2001, secret renditions have become a principal weapon in the CIA’s arsenal against suspected al Qaeda terrorists, according to congressional testimony by CIA officials. But as the practice has grown, the agency has had significantly more difficulty keeping it secret."

Washington Post , December 27

"The mind-set of the bureaucracy was, ‘Let someone else do the dirty work.’ "

Michael Scheuer, former CIA officerwho participated in renditions

The Washington Post (Dec. 27) investigated a single Gulfstream V Turbojet with the tail number N379P. It’s the kind of private plane used by corporate CEOs. But this particular jet provides a gruesome international shuttle service—flying hooded prisoners to torture chambers around the world. It is a process called "rendition," where the U.S. government outsources torture by handing over prisoners to collaborating governments, especially the allied Muslim countries of Pakistan, Syria, Jordan, Indonesia and Egypt.

"Rendition" is forbidden by international law—specifically the UN Convention on Torture. Despite that, Bill Clinton signed a Presidential Directive authorizing the CIA to "render" prisoners, and the Bush White House continues the shadowy practice.

N379P is officially owned by "Premier Executive Transport Services Inc.," a CIA "proprietary company" (like those that shipped arms in secret wars in Nicaragua or Laos). Over the last three years, this plane has landed in Islamabad; Karachi; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Dubai; Tashkent, Uzbekistan; Baghdad; Kuwait City; Baku, Azerbaijan; and Rabat, Morocco. It frequently uses Dulles International Airport, Jordan’s military airport in Amman and airports in Frankfurt, Germany; Glasgow, Scotland; and Larnaca, Cyprus. And in one episode, the jet took on hooded prisoners during a stop in Stockholm, Sweden.

The headline on this Post article was: "Jet Is an Open Secret in Terror War."

Those words "open secret" are revealing. They mean that this operation was documented all through the last three years — but its operations were kept out of the mainstream press.

Like that jet, the whole larger system for outsourcing torture has long been an "open secret." And it is an "open secret" that all this is organized at the highest level — by the White House and the President himself.

From the Hearing on Gonzales’ Promotion

Senator Arlen Specter: "Do you approve of torture?"
Alberto Gonzales: "Absolutely not, Senator."

Senate Judiciary Hearing on Gonzales’ nomination for Attorney General, January 6, 2005

As White House Legal Counsel, Alberto Gonzales was supposed to make sure George Bush could authorize torture without facing international charges as a war criminal. So he was at the center of high- level government discussions over how to justify and cover up U.S. torture.

Meanwhile, everyone in power claims they would never condone torture. And the techniques propping up this lie are straightforward:

First, they keep their global torture apparatus secret.

Then, when torture is documented, they deny that they authorized it.

Then, when documents show that they did authorize extreme abuse during interrogation, they simply claim that the actions authorized should be considered "painful coercion" and not really torture.

In short, these men are both torturers and liars.

Gonzales is about to be elevated to a new job: Attorney General. After almost-certain confirmation by the Senate, he will be in charge of federal prisons, prosecutions and police agencies like the FBI. He will also play a key role in selecting the future White House nominees for the Supreme Court (and he may well be one of those nominees himself).

Gonzales is one of those monsters who gets boosted to high posts by his crimes against humanity. This apologist for government torture will now be in a key place to interpret and re-interpret the protections and rights of the Constitution and legal system.

What kinds of domestic changes can we expect a man like him to carry out?