The US has a dirty torture secret

Remembering al-Qaeda’s attacks on the United States on September 11, many will wearily note that the world did indeed change that day two years ago and that newspapers are still full of the reverberations.

Without September 11 there would have been no Iraq war and British Prime Minister Tony Blair wouldn’t be looking quite as weak as he is.

The American press betrays the same pattern, but there is one important and astonishing absence. Weeks go by without serious newspapers investigating or commenting on human rights abuses by the American government.
At home and abroad, hundreds, maybe thousands, of men are being held in camps and prisons by the military, by the CIA and by the Justice Department, incommunicado, without legal representation or hope of release, there to endure prolonged and terrifying interrogation.

Alone, this is enough for the US government to place itself in contravention of the Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, which it is obliged to uphold. But that is not all. There is evidence that the US authorities have encouraged the use of torture and may indeed have participated in the torture of those men they believe to hold information on past and future terrorist attacks.

We surely didn’t imagine two years ago that this would be an outcome of September 11 and yet it has happened with such ease, the once rights-conscious American public turning its gaze the other way, along with the self-regarding worthies of the American newspaper industry.

The one exception has been The Washington Post, which alone has pressed the US government on the legality of Guantanamo Bay and the processes instituted there, not by lawyers, but by the jesuitical neo-conservative mandarins of the Pentagon, and it has gone some way to exposing the “stress and duress’’ techniques applied to prisoners at the US base at Bagram in Afghanistan.

Researching my book Empire State, a novel set against the background of these abuses, I discovered that the information is not terribly difficult to come by. In March, prisoners at Bagram reported being beaten, deprived of sleep and made to lie naked on a sheet of ice. The same month, US military coroners ruled that the deaths of two prisoners in mysterious circumstances were homicides. Just before the invasion I met an American who is attached to a shadowy military/ espionage operation; I asked him about the rumours of torture. He replied with a look of astonishment: “Are you crazy? Of course. That’s the war we’ve got on our hands. We didn’t ask for it this way.’’

By far the most disturbing development is the American practice of handing over recalcitrant prisoners to be tortured by compliant regimes in Jordan, Morocco and particularly Egypt, where beating, drowning and even electric shock treatment are used.

When a man is transported bound and blindfolded — in the American parlance “packaged” — it is said that he has been “rendered” to a foreign service, and from the unutterable hell of his subsequent experience come “extreme renditions”. The desired result of this process is a complete set of answers to questions drawn up by US intelligence that are then fed into a database which, without a trace of irony, has been codenamed “Harmony”.

Naturally, the CIA officers are not themselves applying the electrodes to genitals or rubber truncheons to the soles of the feet, but in the case of prisoners being tortured in Saudi Arabia , they are on hand, in the words of CIA director George Tenet, to “share the debriefing results”.

All of the above may make you think I have become violently anti-American. I have not, but it is disturbing that the US has slipped so easily into methods that begin to match the theocratic savagery that launched the September 11 attacks in the first place. — Â

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