Archive for the ‘Torture’ Category
For a quick orientation, read the Wikipedia article on incarceration in the United States. Martin Garbus reviews a book in the NY Review of Books:
Hell Is a Very Small Place: Voices from Solitary Confinement
edited by Jean Casella, James Ridgeway, and Sarah Shourd, with an afterword by Juan E. Méndez
New Press, 226 pp., $25.95
If you look inside a solitary confinement cell such as the ones I have visited in New York’s Sing Sing prison, you’ll see a gray-walled, eight-by-eight-foot room with a concrete slab bed; it’s underground, more like a tomb than a cell. The light is always on. Usually there aren’t any windows, but there is a toilet (no toilet seat or paper) and a shower.
The solitary cell is home to a single prisoner, twenty-three or twenty-four hours a day; the extreme isolation and sensory deprivation imposed by the cell can last for days, months, years, or decades on end. Someone who visits a solitary cell might not notice the feces or the urine that leaks from the cells above, down the walls into a puddle on the floor. He or she would not be shown prisoners mutilating themselves or fighting guards or one another to the death, or men in their underwear, or naked, shackled by their hands to the bottom of bunks, deprived of books, paper, radio, pens, or pencils. I have represented a range of defendants in constitutional and criminal cases during the last fifty years, and my clients who have spent time in solitary consistently testify to having witnessed, or been subjected to, these abuses.
They describe being shackled to their bunks by their feet and hands, and moved from place to place like animals. They report being fed slop and also left without food in a state of extreme hunger. They tell me that hooded guards, armed with tasers and bats, in body armor and riot gear, extract prisoners from their cells and leave them lying on the floor, beaten, bruised, and unexamined by doctors. Once you see—and smell—a solitary cell, you will never forget it.
I first saw a solitary cell at Sing Sing in 1963, when I went to visit Fred Wood, an inmate there. (Mr. Wood, who had the odd distinction of being the next-to-last man executed by New York State, laughed as he sat down in the electric chair and said, “You are about to witness the damaging effect electricity has on wood.”) Since then, I have had many occasions to visit clients and talk with inmates in solitary cells in federal and state facilities throughout the country. Each of the many solitary cells I saw was an abomination.
Hell Is a Very Small Place: Voices from Solitary Confinement is a collection of seventeen essays by men and women who have been held in solitary confinement in American federal and state prisons. They were collected by Jean Casella, James Ridgeway, Sarah Shourd, and Solitary Watch, a national organization that opposes solitary confinement. For readers who have no sense of the nature of the punishment that is exacted in their name, this collection offers an unforgettable look at the peculiar horrors and humiliations involved in solitary confinement.
America’s prisons hold 2,193,000 people. That is more than the number of people who live in Manhattan. It is also more than the total number of prisoners in either Russia or China, the countries with the second- and third-highest prison populations. The United States shares with North Korea the distinction of having the world’s highest incarceration rate. With 5 percent of the world’s population, America houses 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.
Approximately 400,000 people in our prison population move in and out of solitary, and many of America’s over two million prisoners know they can be put in solitary even if they are jailed for the most minor offenses. Between 80,000 and 120,000 men and women are held in solitary confinement every day. Every federal and state prison has solitary cells. More than 100,000 American children inhabit prisons in which solitary is considered a standard management practice. Men, women, and children can be put there for years on end, solely at the whim of a prison guard. There is no legal process that gets them there and no legal process that can prevent them from being put there.
“Cruel” and “unusual” are likely two of the first words most inmates—and most readers—would use to describe solitary confinement. But no United States court has ever held that solitary confinement violates the Eighth Amendment and its proscription against cruel and unusual punishment. It seems that few American judges have ever been inside a solitary confinement cell.
Hell Is a Very Small Place provides a harrowing guided tour of some of the country’s solitary units. The essays in the collection were written by inmates, some of whom have been confined for months to decades in solitary, as well as by one lawyer, two professors and legal activists, and two psychiatrists, including Stuart Grassian, a former Harvard Medical School professor who writes about the psychiatric effects of solitary confinement. Together these essays are both a condemnation of our prison system and an indictment of America. It is difficult to read this book without feeling shame.
The first American experiment in solitary confinement sprang from utopian ideals. In their introduction, Casella and Ridgeway observe that there are many historical accounts of people confined alone in towers and dungeons, and that, before the nineteenth century, many different societies used solitary as a way to torture and punish miscreants. But, they argue persuasively, “solitary confinement as a self-conscious, organized, and widespread prison practice” is a uniquely American creation.
The “penitentiary system” was introduced in the late eighteenth century in Philadelphia and was intended by its Protestant founders to quietly house “penitents” for as long as necessary in solitary so that they could have ample time to read the Bible, reflect, and change. Proud penitentiary supporters invited and encouraged important visitors from abroad to observe them; Casella and Ridgeway describe the appalled findings of Alexis de Tocqueville, Gustave de Beaumont, and Charles Dickens, who were among those who came to visit.
In their 1833 treatise on US penitentiaries, Tocqueville and Beaumont wrote that, from the very beginning, the whole system had gone horribly, murderously wrong:
The convicts had been submitted to complete isolation; but this absolute solitude, if nothing interrupts it, is beyond the strength of man; it destroys the criminal without intermission and without pity; it does not reform, it kills.
Charles Dickens visited the Eastern State Penitentiary in Pennsylvania in 1842, and the editors call him “one of the earliest—and still one of the most eloquent—critics of solitary confinement.” He described the penitents there as men “buried alive.” . . .
Alex Emmons reports in The Intercept:
One of the many alarming facts that came to light with the release of the executive summary of the Senate Torture Report in 2014 was that the Justice Department’s Bureau of Prisons had sent a “delegation of several officers” to Afghanistan to conduct an assessment an infamous CIA detention site and concluded the CIA “did not mistreat the detainees.”
Senate investigators found that the bureau officers visited a detention site codenamed Cobalt north of Kabul in November 2002. That site — also known as the Salt Pit — has become infamous for the brutal torture inflicted on detainees there, including rectal exams conducted with “excessive force.” According to Senate investigators, the CIA’s own employees described the facility as “a dungeon,” where detainees “cowered” as interrogators opened the door and “looked like a dog that had been kenneled.”
In April, the ACLU filed suit to obtain documents related to the visit, which the Bureau of Prisons initially claimed did not exist.
The bureau has now turned over several emails mentioning the visit — along with a written declaration by a senior Bureau of Prisons lawyer explaining the attempted cover-up. That declaration states that the officers were tasked orally, so that there was no record of their travel, and that the CIA forbade the two officers from producing records of or about the visit.
In a newly released 2011 email, one of the officers tells a supervisor that “we were not even allowed to speak with a supervisor about what was going on.”
The declaration says that due to the lack of records, searches for documents based on keywords like “CIA, Afghanistan, and COBALT,” initially turned up no documents. After the ACLU filed suit, the bureau conducted a more thorough search, identifying the individuals who traveled to Afghanistan, and searching their communications.
The declaration confirms that two Bureau of Prisons officers traveled to “an international location,” in November 2002 to provide “basic correctional practices training” to the CIA. . .
Later in the report:
While BOP officers toured the facility, interrogators tortured detainee Gul Rahman to death. A CIA team dragged Rahman out of his cell, beat him, immersed him in cold water, and put him in an isolation cell, where he died of hypothermia overnight.
According to the Senate report, the Bureau of Prison officers remarked that “there is nothing like this in the Federal Bureau of Prisons,” but nonetheless concluded that the prison was “sanitary,” and “not inhumane.”
M. Gregg Bloche reports in the NY Times:
President-elect Donald J. Trump on Tuesday expressed reservations about the use of torture. But he did not disavow the practice, or his promise to bring it back. And if he does, C.I.A. doctors may be America’s last defense against a return to savagery. But they’ll need to break sharply with what they did the last time around.
Buried in a trove of documents released last summer is the revelation that C.I.A. physicians played a central role in designing the agency’s post-Sept. 11 torture program. The documents, declassified in response to an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit, show in chilling detail how C.I.A. medicine lost its moral moorings. It’s long been known that doctors attended torture as monitors. What’s new is their role as its engineers.
The documents include previously redacted language from a directive by the C.I.A.’s Office of Medical Services telling physicians at clandestine interrogation sites to flout medical ethics by lying to detainees and collaborating in abuse. This language also reveals that doctors helped to design a waterboarding method more brutal than what even lawyers for the George W. Bush administration allowed.
The directive counsels that clinical care “not undermine the anxiety and dislocation that the various interrogation techniques are designed to foster.” It instructs physicians not to “appear overly attentive” and to confound patients’ expectations via deceit. Recommended tactics include doing clinical exams while pretending to be guards, changing medication schedules to disrupt detainees’ sense of time and hiding drugs in food.
It also outlines protocols for prolonged shackling in painful positions that would permit development of skin lesions and edema (swelling because of leakage of fluid from blood vessels) up to the knees. Sleep-deprivation protocols call for a balance between breaking detainees’ resistance and preserving their capacity to provide information.
If forced wakefulness “is intended to be one element in the process of demonstrating helplessness in an unpleasant environment,” the directive counsels, two-hour “naps” between days of sleeplessness are “sufficient.”
Previously redacted language also discloses the origin of the degrading practice of “rectal hydration,” first reported by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in 2014: The medical service advised that “individuals refusing adequate liquids” be given fluids forcibly, through a “rectal tube.”
Other language shows that C.I.A. physicians collaborated in waterboarding more terrifying and dangerous than what government lawyers permitted. The Justice Department allowed interrogators to simulate drowning for up to 40 seconds by using a wet cloth to block air flow through the nose and mouth. But according to the directive, the medical service determined that a good air seal “was not easily achieved by the wet cloth.” So it instead went along with pouring “up to several liters of water” onto captives’ faces.
“The resulting occlusion,” the directive said, “was primarily from water filling the nasopharynx, breathholding, and much less frequently the oropharynx being filled — rather than the ‘sealing’ effect of the saturated cloth.” The drowning experience, in other words, wasn’t simulated; it was real.
That C.I.A. interrogators actually employed this method is consistent with videotapes of waterboarding sessions. A 2004 review of these since-destroyed videos found that instead of using the wet-cloth technique, interrogators “continuously applied large volumes of water.” The review, by the C.I.A.’s inspector general, noted that this “differed” from what the Justice Department had authorized. The agency’s method, a psychologist-interrogator told the inspector general, was “more poignant and convincing.”
The medical service instructed physicians to manage waterboarding’s dangers by combining the practice with sleep deprivation and shackling of detainees in stressful positions; this, the service advised, could “prolong the period of moderate use of the waterboard by reducing the intensity of its early use.”
The service conceded in the recently released text that the abuse its doctors helped to plan put detainees at deadly risk. Inhalation of water, spasm of the larynx, hypothermia and lung and limb infections are among the hazards physicians were told to watch for.
The role of physicians included assessing the comparative efficacy of abusive methods. The medical service judged extended sleep deprivation “most effective” because of its “demonstrably cumulative” contribution toward “demonstrating helplessness in an unpleasant environment.” But it concluded that confinement in tiny boxes worked poorly since this offered “a respite from interrogation,” and it expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of waterboarding.
Some of the agency’s doctors challenged the torture program’s efficacy and questioned why the psychologists who created it served in conflicting roles as both its managers and evaluators. There were objections, as well, to the ethics of putting behavioral science to such brutal use. But the program’s advocates prevailed, and the medical service instructed its physicians accordingly. There have been no public indications that any refused to go along.
Unlike the contractor-psychologists who created the torture program and have faced public excoriation, the C.I.A. physicians who helped design it remain anonymous. . .
And the Obama administration established that torturing prisoners carries no penalty. Those who torture people at the government’s orders received decorations and promotions but no punishment or accountability
The belated discovery that physicians were directly involved in torturing prisoners and in devising ways to make the torture worse is exactly why there should have been a serious investigation rather than a cover-up, and the findings should have been shared with the public.
Beginning with George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks, the Federal government has embraced tough (and sometimes illegal) security measures. Obama did not fix it. Charlie Savage reports in the NY Times:
As a presidential candidate, Donald J. Trump vowed to refill the cells of the Guantánamo Bay prison and said American terrorism suspects should be sent there for military prosecution. He called for targeting mosques for surveillance, escalating airstrikes aimed at terrorists and taking out their civilian family members, and bringing backwaterboarding and a “hell of a lot worse” — not only because “torture works,” but because even “if it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway.”
It is hard to know how much of this stark vision for throwing off constraints on the exercise of national security power was merely tough campaign talk. But if the Trump administration follows through on such ideas, it will find some assistance in a surprising source: President Obama’s have-it-both-ways approach to curbing what he saw as overreaching in the war on terrorism.
Over and over, Mr. Obama has imposed limits on his use of such powers but has not closed the door on them — a flexible approach premised on the idea that he and his successors could be trusted to use them prudently. Mr. Trump can now sweep away those limits and open the throttle on policies that Mr. Obama endorsed as lawful and legitimate for sparing use, like targeted killings in drone strikes and the use of indefinite detention and military tribunals for terrorism suspects.
Two decisions by Mr. Obama in 2009 set the tone for his leave-it-on-the-table approach. They involved whether to keep indefinite wartime detentions without trial and to continue using military commission prosecutions — if not at the Guantánamo prison, which he had resolved to close, then at a replacement wartime prison.
Told that several dozen detainees could not be tried for any crime but would be particularly risky to release, and that a handful might be prosecutable only under the looser rules governing evidence in a military commission, Mr. Obama decided that the responsible policy was to keep both the tribunals and the indefinite detentions available.
The president refused to use either power on newly captured terrorism suspects, instead prosecuting them in civilian court. But by leaving the options open, he helped normalize them and left them on a firmer legal basis.
Mr. Obama followed a similar course with several national security practices that became controversial during his first term. After his use of drones to kill terrorism suspects away from war zones led to mounting concerns over civilian casualties and other matters, he issued a “presidential policy guidance” in May 2013 that set stricter limits. They included a requirement that the target pose a threat to Americans — not just to American interests — and that there would be near certainty of no bystander deaths.
But the Obama administration also successfully fought in court to establishthat judges would not review the legality of such killing operations, even if an American citizen was the target. Mr. Trump — who has said he would “bomb the hell out of ISIS,” beyond what Mr. Obama is doing, and go after civilian relatives of terrorists, prevailing over any military commanders who balked — could scrap the internal limits while invoking those precedents to shield his acts from judicial review.
Similarly, after a surge of criminal prosecutions against people who leaked secret information to the news media and bipartisan outrage at aggressive investigative tactics targeting journalists, the Obama Justice Department issued new guidelines for leak investigations intended to make it harder for investigators to subpoena reporters’ testimony or phone records. It also decided not to force a reporter for The New York Times to testify in a leak trial or face prison for contempt.
But the Obama administration also successfully fought in court to establish that the First Amendment offers no protection to journalists whom the executive branch chooses to subpoena to testify against confidential sources. Mr. Trump, who has proposed changing libel laws to make it easier to sue news organizations, could abandon the Obama-era internal restraints and invoke the Obama-era court precedent to adopt more aggressive policies in leak investigations.
Geoffrey R. Stone, a University of Chicago law professor who is a friend and adviser to Mr. Obama, defended the president’s approach. He said that after 2010, when Republicans took over the House, internal executive branch restraints were the only option because Congress was not going to enact legislation limiting national security powers.
He also said that even if Mr. Obama had gotten rid of indefinite detention or military tribunals, Mr. Trump could have brought them back.
“Short of legislation that restricts things, there is not much a president could do in these matters to restrain a successor,” Professor Stone said.
Still, Bruce Ackerman, a Yale University law professor who is helping with a lawsuit alleging that Mr. Obama is waging an illegal war against the Islamic State because Congress never specifically authorized it, said Mr. Obama had contributed to the growth of executive powers that Mr. Trump would inherit. That includes “the fundamental institutional legacy” of relying on executive branch lawyers to produce creative legal opinions clearing the way for preferred policies, Professor Ackerman said.
The two areas where Mr. Obama broke most cleanly with Bush-era practices were torture and the indefinite military detention of Americans and other terrorism suspects arrested on domestic soil. Mr. Obama issued an executive order requiring interrogators to use only techniques approved in the Army Field Manual, and he later signed a bill codifying that rule into statute. He also resisted repeated calls by Republicans to put newly captured terrorism suspects arrested in the United States into Guantánamo-style military detention.
But the Obama administration also ruled out criminal investigations into Bush-era officials for involvement in torture practices that the Justice Department had blessed as legal under a sweeping theory that the commander in chief could not be bound by anti-torture laws.
And the Obama administration fought lawsuits brought by Jose Padilla, an American terrorism suspect who had been imprisoned and interrogated as an “enemy combatant.” The administration successfully argued that courts should dismiss the litigation without ruling on whether his treatment had been lawful, preventing any clear repudiation of the Bush-era legal theory.
A spokesman for Mr. Obama’s National Security Council declined to comment. But Gregory B. Craig, who was Mr. Obama’s first White House counsel and participated in early policy deliberations about what to do about Guantánamo-style policies, said that in 2009, the president “was not thinking about 10 years out, but about 10 days out.” And he especially did not want to send signals to Republicans that he was a zealot or out for revenge, Mr. Craig said.
Mr. Obama, Mr. Craig said, “was thinking about working with Republicans and developing postpartisan relations on Guantánamo-related national security issues, not about what was going to happen a decade later.” . . .
So Trump has ready access to a big drawer of sharp tools to use in various ways.
An unfortunate pattern can be seen in how having the power to act with impunity leads to the abuse of that power, using it in ways that are immoral, unethical, and/or illegal, with the expectation that there will be no accountability for the action. (Lord Acton’s dictum: Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.) Some examples of this pattern in recent reports:
- Law enforcement actions against hostages in Atticus uprising and against John F. Edland, reported here.
- US government in its drone warfare program in terms of killing civilians and bystanders.
- Wells Fargo scam of secretly opening multiple accounts for customers, which continued for years despite internal complaints and whistle-blowing. See also this report in the NY Times.
Each of the above exemplifies the idea that might makes right; additional examples are easy to find when you look at the actions of the powerful.
And note that he was held without charges, tortured, and then released because he was not a terrorist and posed no threat. The US has a lot to learn about winning hearts and minds. James Risen reports in the NY Times:
At first, the Americans seemed confused about Suleiman Abdullah Salim. They apparently had been expecting a light-skinned Arab, and instead at a small airport outside Mogadishu that day in March 2003, they had been handed a dark-skinned African.
“They said, ‘You changed your face,’” Mr. Salim, a Tanzanian, recalled the American men telling him when he arrived. “They said: ‘You are Yemeni. You changed your face.’”
That was the beginning of Mr. Salim’s strange ordeal in United States custody. It has been 13 years since he was tortured in a secret prison in Afghanistan run by the Central Intelligence Agency, a place he calls “The Darkness.” It has been eight years since he was released — no charges, no explanations — back into the world.
Even after so much time, Mr. Salim, 45, is struggling to move on. Suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress, according to a medical assessment, he is withdrawn and wary. He cannot talk about his experiences with his wife, who he says worries that the Americans will come back to snatch him. He is fearful of drawing too much attention at home in Stone Town in Zanzibar, Tanzania, concerned that his neighbors will think he is an American spy.
When he speaks, not in his native Swahili but in the English he learned from his jailers, Mr. Salim nearly whispers. “Many times now I feel like I have something heavy inside my body,” he said in an interview. “Sometimes I walk, and I walk, and I forget, I forget everything, I forget prison, The Darkness, everything. But it is always there. The Darkness comes.”
Mr. Salim was one of 39 men subjected to some of the C.I.A.’s most brutal techniques — beatings, hanging in chains, sleep deprivation and water dousing, which creates a sensation of drowning, even though interrogators had been denied permission to use that last tactic on him, according to a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation into the agency’s classified interrogation program.
In a series of recent interviews in Dubai, Mr. Salim described his incarceration by the C.I.A. and the United States military as a terrorism suspect. His account closely parallels those provided by other detainees, witnesses and court documents, and confirms details in the Senate report about his treatment.
Today, back in Stone Town, Mr. Salim is trying to support his family, though some of his attempts at jobs have not worked out. He now breeds pigeons, raising them for a local market. They are both his livelihood and his solace.
They help him, Mr. Salim said. They quiet his mind.
Exactly why Mr. Salim fell into American hands remains murky; leaks to the press at the time of his capture suggested that intelligence officials suspected he had links to Al Qaeda, but the C.I.A. has never publicly disclosed the reasons. An agency spokesman declined to comment for this article.
Mr. Salim had been drifting into a nomadic life in one of the world’s poorest regions, where the C.I.A. after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks had promised allies cash rewards for terrorism suspects. Governments and warlords turned over hundreds of men to the United States, in many cases with little evidence of wrongdoing.
Mr. Salim grew up on Africa’s eastern edges, but from boy to man never quite found himself. One of eight children in a family in Stone Town, a historic district of Zanzibar City, he apprenticed on the local fishing piers, then joined the crews going out for kingfish and barracuda in the Indian Ocean.
He dropped out of school after ninth or 10th grade and headed for Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city, where he worked in a clothing shop. He moved a few years later to Mombasa, on Kenya’s coast, where he ferried cargos of dried fish, rice and oil with a crew of two. . .
What was done to this man is against the law and is fact a war crime. The Convention Against Torture was signed and ratified by the US, and it is the law of the land, but both the George W. Bush administration and the Obama administration simply ignore the law. The torturers are not held accountable in any way, and those who ordered torture are not held accountable. The innocent victims will not be given an apology, and they will not be allowed their day in court. The US actions look bad, but there will be nothing done. Nothing.
In the NY Times Matt Apuzzo, Sheri Fink, and James Risen report on the effects of US government torture of prisoners, some of whom had no connection to terrorism or attacks on the US.
Before the United States permitted a terrifying way of interrogating prisoners, government lawyers and intelligence officials assured themselves of one crucial outcome. They knew that the methods inflicted on terrorism suspects would be painful, shocking and far beyond what the country had ever accepted. But none of it, they concluded, would cause long lasting psychological harm.
Fifteen years later, it is clear they were wrong.
Today in Slovakia, Hussein al-Marfadi describes permanent headaches and disturbed sleep, plagued by memories of dogs inside a blackened jail. In Kazakhstan, Lutfi bin Ali is haunted by nightmares of suffocating at the bottom of a well. In Libya, the radio from a passing car spurs rage in Majid Mokhtar Sasy al-Maghrebi, reminding him of the C.I.A. prison where earsplitting music was just one assault to his senses.
And then there is the despair of men who say they are no longer themselves. “I am living this kind of depression,” said Younous Chekkouri, a Moroccan, who fears going outside because he sees faces in crowds as Guantánamo Bay guards. “I’m not normal anymore.”
Those subjected to the tactics included victims of mistaken identity or flimsy evidence that the United States later disavowed. Others were foot soldiers for the Taliban or Al Qaeda who were later deemed to pose little threat. Some were hardened terrorists, including those accused of plotting the Sept. 11 attacks or the 2000 bombing of the American destroyer Cole. In several cases, their mental status has complicated the nation’s long effort to bring them to justice.
Americans have long debated the legacy of post-Sept. 11 interrogation methods, asking whether they amounted to torture or succeeded in extracting intelligence. But even as President Obama continues transferring people from Guantánamo and Donald J. Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, promises to bring back techniques, now banned, such as waterboarding, the human toll has gone largely uncalculated.
At least half of the 39 people who went through the C.I.A.’s “enhanced interrogation” program, which included depriving them of sleep, dousing them with ice water, slamming them into walls and locking them in coffin-like boxes, have since shown psychiatric problems, The New York Times found. Some have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, paranoia, depression or psychosis.
Hundreds more detainees moved through C.I.A. “black sites” or Guantánamo, where the military inflicted sensory deprivation, isolation, menacing with dogs and other tactics on men who now show serious damage. Nearly all have been released.
“There is no question that these tactics were entirely inconsistent with our values as Americans, and their consequences present lasting challenges for us as a country and for the individuals involved,” said Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser.
The United States government has never studied the long-term psychological effects of the extraordinary interrogation practices it embraced. A Defense Department spokeswoman, asked about long-term mental harm, responded that prisoners were treated humanely and had access to excellent care. A C.I.A. spokesman declined to comment.
This article is based on a broad sampling of cases and an examination of hundreds of documents, including court records, military commission transcripts and medical assessments. The Times interviewed more than 100 people, including former detainees in a dozen countries. A full accounting is all but impossible because many former prisoners never had access to outside doctors or lawyers, and any records about their interrogation treatment and health status remain classified.
Researchers caution that it can be difficult to determine cause and effect with mental illness. Some prisoners of the C.I.A. and the military had underlying psychological problems that may have made them more susceptible to long-term difficulties; others appeared to have been remarkably resilient. Incarceration, particularly the indefinite detention without charges that the United States devised, is inherently stressful. Still, outside medical consultants and former government officials said they saw a pattern connecting the harsh practices to psychiatric issues.
Those treating prisoners at Guantánamo for mental health issues typically did not ask their patients what had happened during their questioning. Some physicians, though, saw evidence of mental harm almost immediately.
“My staff was dealing with the consequences of the interrogations without knowing what was going on,” said Albert J. Shimkus, a retired Navy captain who served as the commanding officer of the Guantánamo hospital in the prison’s early years. Back then, still reeling from the Sept. 11 attacks, the government was desperate to stave off more.
But Captain Shimkus now regrets not making more inquiries. “There was a conflict,” he said, “between our medical duty to our patients and our duty to the mission, as soldiers.”
After prisoners were released from American custody, some found neither help nor relief. Mohammed Abdullah Saleh al-Asad, a businessman in Tanzania, and others were snatched, interrogated and imprisoned, then sent home without explanation. They returned to their families deeply scarred from interrogations, isolation and the shame of sexual taunts, forced nudity, aggressive body cavity searches and being kept in diapers.
Mr. Asad, who died in May, was held for more than a year in several secret C.I.A. prisons. “Sometimes, between husband and wife, he would admit to how awful he felt,” his widow, Zahra Mohamed, wrote in a statement prepared for the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. “He was humiliated, and that feeling never went away.”
‘A Human Mop’
In a cold room once used for interrogations at Guantánamo, Stephen N. Xenakis, a former military psychiatrist, faced a onetime Qaeda child soldier, Omar Khadr. It was December 2008, and this evaluation had been two years in the making.
The doctor, a retired brigadier general who had overseen several military hospitals, had not sought the assignment. The son of an Air Force combat veteran, he debated even accepting it. “I’m still a soldier,” General Xenakis recalls thinking. Was this good for the country? When he finally agreed, he told Mr. Khadr’s lawyers that they were paying for an independent medical opinion, not a hired gun.
Mr. Khadr, a Canadian citizen, had been wounded and captured in a firefight at age 15 at a suspected terrorist compound in Afghanistan, where he said he had been sent to translate for foreign fighters by his father, a Qaeda member. Years later, he would plead guilty to war crimes, including throwing a grenade that killed an Army medic. At the time, though, he was the youngest prisoner at Guantánamo.
He told his lawyers that the American soldiers had kept him from sleeping, spit in his face and threatened him with rape. In one meeting with the psychiatrist, Mr. Khadr, then 22, began to sweat and fan himself, despite the air-conditioned chill. He tugged his shirt off, and General Xenakis realized that he was witnessing an anxiety attack.
When it happened again, Mr. Khadr explained that he had once urinated during an interrogation and soldiers had dragged him through the mess. “This is the room where they used me as a human mop,” he said.
General Xenakis had seen such anxiety before, decades earlier, as a young psychiatrist at Letterman Army Medical Center in California. It was often the first stop for American prisoners of war after they left Vietnam. The doctor recalled the men, who had endured horrific abuses, suffering panic attacks, headaches and psychotic episodes.
That session with Mr. Khadr was the beginning of General Xenakis’s immersion into the treatment of detainees. He has reviewed medical and interrogation records of about 50 current and former prisoners and examined about 15 of the detainees, more than any other outside psychiatrist, colleagues say.
General Xenakis found that Mr. Khadr had post-traumatic stress disorder, a conclusion the military contested. Many of General Xenakis’s diagnoses in other cases remain classified or sealed by court order, but he said he consistently found links between harsh American interrogation methods and psychiatric disorders.
Back home in Virginia, General Xenakis delved into research on the effects of abusive practices. He found decades of papers on the issue — science that had not been considered when the government began crafting new interrogation policies after Sept. 11.
At the end of the Vietnam War, military doctors noticed that former prisoners of war developed psychiatric disorders far more often than other soldiers, an observation also made of former P.O.W.s from World War II and the Korean War. The data could not be explained by imprisonment alone, researchers found. Former soldiers who suffered torture or mistreatment were more likely than others to develop long-term problems.
By the mid-1980s, the Veterans Administration had linked such treatment to memory loss, an exaggerated startle reflex, horrific nightmares, headaches and an inability to concentrate. Studies noted similar symptoms among torture survivors in South Africa, Turkey and Chile. Such research helped lay the groundwork for how American doctors now treat combat veterans.
“In hindsight, that should have come to the fore” in the post-Sept. 11 interrogation debate, said John Rizzo, the C.I.A.’s top lawyer at the time. “I don’t think the long-term effects were ever explored in any real depth.”
Instead, the government relied on data from a training program to resist enemy interrogators, called SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape. The military concluded there was little evidence that disrupted sleep, near-starvation, nudity and extreme temperatures harmed military trainees in controlled scenarios.
Two veteran SERE psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, worked with the C.I.A. and the Pentagon to help develop interrogation tactics. They based their strategies in part on the theory of “learned helplessness,” a phrase coined by the American psychologist Martin E. P. Seligman in the late 1960s. He gave electric shocks to dogs and discovered that they stopped resisting once they learned they could not stop the shocks. If the United States could make men helpless, the thinking went, they would give up their secrets.
In the end, Justice Department lawyers concluded that the methods did not constitute torture, which is illegal under American and international law. In a series of memos, they wrote that no evidence existed that “significant psychological harm of significant duration, e.g., lasting for months or even years” would result.
With fear of another terrorist attack, there was little incentive or time to find contrary evidence, Mr. Rizzo said. “The government wanted a solution,” he recalled. “It wanted a path to get these guys to talk.”
The question of what ultimately happened to Dr. Seligman’s dogs never arose in the legal debate. They were strays, and once the studies were over, they were euthanized. . .
I doubt that the US will ever apologize for its actions, not even against those who quite clearly had nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism (such as Khalid El-Masri).
Even now, the US is expressing anger and outrage that another nation (Russia, in this case) is attempting to influence the outcome of US elections, an anger and outrage that contrast with the US’s own record of overthrowing democratically elected governments (Chile, Iran) and supporting terrorist (death squads) who work against democratically elected governments (El Salvador, Honduras, and others).
Regarding the fate of those who ordered torture and those who tortured, the US has taken a benign view and has held no one accountable. This decision, to hold no one accountable, was made by President Obama. (“Look forward, not back,” and let the torturers go.)
UPDATE: See also The ‘guinea pig’ for U.S. torture is languishing at Guantanamo, by Amanda Jacobsen and Joseph Margulies. It begins:
The poster child of the American torture program sits in a Guantanamo Bay prison cell, where many U.S. officials hope he will simply be forgotten. But blood always leaves a stain, and the mark on our conscience and law will remain until we reckon with the case of Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn, known to the world as Abu Zubaydah.
Zubaydah was the “guinea pig” of the CIA torture program. He was the first prisoner sent to a secret CIA “black site,” the first to have hisinterrogation “enhanced ” and the only prisoner subjected to all of the CIA’s approved techniques, as well as many that were not authorized. He is the man for whom the George W. Bush administration wrote the infamous torture memo in the summer of 2002.
The United States pressed Zubaydah into this indecent role because the Bush administration believed he was a senior member of al-Qaeda. Senior officials thought he had been personally involved in every major al-Qaeda operation, including 9/11. Today, the United States acknowledges that assessment was, to put it graciously, overblown. As much to the point, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee, his extended torture provided no actionable intelligence about al-Qaeda’s plans.
The chasm between myth and reality explains much about what has happened since his arrest in March 2002. The United States has cast him into limbo. He has never been charged with a violation of U.S. law, military or civilian, and apparently never will be formally charged. Instead, he languishes at Guantanamo. After years in secret prisons around the world, he remains incommunicado, with no prospect of trial.
We have been representing Zubaydah for nine years and have gotten to know him through numerous face-to-face meetings. Recently, the public got a brief glimpse of Zubaydah. For the first time since his arrest, he appeared for a few minutes on a video broadcast from Guantanamo. A dozen journalists and human rights advocates huddled in the District to watch as he appeared silently on the screen; no recording devices were permitted. The ostensible purpose of the appearance was a “hearing” to consider whether Zubaydah might finally be released. But this proceeding was mere political theater.
To begin with, Zubaydah had no counsel at the hearing. Although he has a team of lawyers who have volunteered to represent him, for free, the United States authorized only one of his counsel, Seton Hall law professor Mark Denbeaux, to appear on his behalf. Just before the hearing, Denbeaux had to cancel his flight, when he was informed that his wife of 51 years, Marcia, needed emergency surgery. No other attorney could substitute because Denbeaux alone had been authorized by the government to fly to the base.
Although Denbeaux made clear to the government that his wife was on her deathbed, the government refused to delay the proceeding, even for a few days. After imprisoning Zubaydah for years with no legal process, it was suddenly imperative that the hearing take place without delay, and therefore without counsel. Marcia Denbeaux died four days after the hearing.
Unable to appear on his behalf, his legal team asked the Periodic Review Board, composed of a cross-section of national security officials, to consider a summary of the report on the torture program prepared by the Senate Intelligence Committee. That summary, based on a review of more than 6 million pages from inside the CIA, provides the most detailed account of Zubaydah’s torture and the mistakes and misrepresentations made about him. The Review Board refused to read it. They said it was too long.
At the public portion of this hearing, Zubaydah was not merely silent, but silenced. The public did not hear Zubaydah speak because the government would not allow him to respond publicly to the allegations against him. Instead, Zubaydah was permitted to speak only in the closed session, and a government representative, who had met him only briefly a few weeks before the hearing, was assigned to read a half-page statement, which was prepared for Zubaydah and pre-approved by the government for the public session. . .