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String of new revelations exposes...
Bush's torture chambers

December 16, 2005 | Page 5

NICOLE COLSON reports on the latest revelations about U.S. policies of torture.

"THE U.S. does not permit, tolerate or condone torture under any circumstances." So said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during her visit to Europe.

Yet in the same breath, she chided European leaders for criticizing U.S. intelligence gathering--which, she said, "has helped protect European countries from attack, helping save European lives." Overall, Rice said, "[t]he captured terrorists of the 21st century do not fit easily into traditional systems of criminal or military justice." Therefore, "more extraordinary measures must be taken."

Khaled El-Masri knows exactly what those "extraordinary measures" amount to, and he calls it torture. Earlier this month, El-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent, explained to reporters how, in 2004, he spent months in the custody of the CIA.

El-Masri says he was detained on December 31, 2003, while on a vacation to Macedonia--apparently because his name was similar to that of a suspected terrorist. After more than 20 days of questioning by Macedonian security forces, El-Masri says he was handcuffed, beaten and blindfolded--and flown to what he later learned was a CIA-run prison in Afghanistan.

"I was dragged out of the car, pushed roughly into a building, thrown to the floor, and kicked and beaten on the head, the soles of my feet, and the small of my back," he told reporters. "I was left in a small, dirty, cold concrete cell. There was no bed and one dirty, military-style blanket and some old, torn clothes bundled into a thin pillow. I was extremely thirsty, but there was only a bottle of putrid water in cell. I was refused fresh water."

El-Masri faced daily interrogations. When he went on hunger strike to protest his detention, he says that he was force-fed. He was finally released in May. In all, the father of five spent more five months suffering brutality at the hands of the U.S.--for a case of mistaken identity.

Since last year, when the abuse of detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq became known to the world, the Bush administration has brushed aside concerns about torture.

The administration repeatedly claimed that the U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib who humiliated, beat and abused prisoners were simply "bad apples." But with each passing week bringing more embarrassing revelations--of hunger-striking detainees violently force-fed at Guantánamo Bay, of members of the 82nd Airborne admitting to Human Rights Watch that the beating of prisoners was seen as "sport" by some soldiers--it's clear that prisoner abuse and torture are a routine part of the Bush administration's "war on terror."

The additional fact, revealed last month, that the U.S. has detained more than 83,000 foreigners over the past four years--enough to fill the NFL's largest football stadium--leaves no doubt that the cases we know of so far are only the tip of the iceberg.

Even the military's own records provide a glimpse of what detainees face at the hands of U.S. interrogators.

Autopsy reports of 44 prisoners who have died while in U.S. custody, obtained by the ACLU under a Freedom of Information Act request and made public in late October, show that at least 21 of the deaths were homicides--eight of which seem to have resulted from abusive techniques.

The conclusion of one autopsy report of an Iraqi man who died under interrogation at Abu Ghraib, reads: "Ligature injuries are present on the wrists and ankles. Fractures of the ribs and a contusion of the left lung imply significant blunt force injuries of the thorax and likely resulted in impaired respiration. According to investigating agents, interviews taken from individuals present at the prison during the interrogation indicate that a hood made of synthetic material was placed over the head and neck of the detainee...The manner of death is homicide."

Another report--about a 47-year-old male detainee killed while in U.S. custody in Al Asad--revealed that he "died of blunt force injuries and asphyxia...According to the investigative report provided by U.S. Army [Criminal Investigation Command], the decedent was shackled to the top of a doorframe with a gag in his mouth at the time he lost consciousness and became pulseless...The manner of death is homicide."

But according to the Bush administration, beating, hooding, smothering, being gagged and shackled to a doorframe--none of this qualifies as "torture." Neither does allowing the CIA to fly prisoners like El-Masri to other countries for secret interrogations.

Cases like El-Masri's have been known about for months, but renewed allegations of prisoner abuse emerged in November when the Washington Post reported that the CIA has "disappeared" large numbers of detainees--and that as many as 30 may currently be held in so-called "black site" prisons located in countries like Poland and Afghanistan.

CIA Director Porter Goss vehemently denied that torture could be involved. "This agency does not do torture," Goss told USA Today. "We use lawful capabilities to collect vital information and we do it in a variety of unique and innovative ways, all of which are legal, and none of which are torture."

The "unique and innovative" methods that Goss referred to are what the CIA calls "enhanced interrogation techniques." These methods include, as described by Britain's Independent: the "attention slap," which is "aimed at causing pain and triggering fear"; "cold treatment," in which a prisoner is left naked in a cell kept at about 50 degrees and regularly doused with cold water; and "waterboarding," where prisoners are bound to a board, plastic is wrapped over their face and either water is poured over them or their head is lowered into a tub.

While the CIA may claim that these techniques don't amount to torture, according to the Independent, CIA officers who subjected themselves to waterboarding lasted an average of just 14 seconds before asking to have the procedure stopped.

As Human Rights Watch's Tom Malinowski told the Guardian, "The reason [Condoleezza Rice] is able to say that the United States does not engage in torture is that the administration has redefined torture to exclude any technique that they use."

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Source of the White House war lies

THE LOGIC of the Bush administration's defense of torture rests on the idea extracting information in a "ticking-bomb terrorist case" by any means can save lives.

But as the New York Times revealed last week, torture tacitly approved of by the U.S. government is partly responsible for the deaths of more than 100,000 Iraqis since the U.S. invasion in March 2003. How? It turns out that torture provided the Bush administration with one of its main justifications for war.

Throughout the run-up to the invasion, the White House claimed that Saddam Hussein's regime had well-established ties to al-Qaeda that included training in chemical weapons and explosives. The evidence for this allegation was largely based on statements of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi--a high-ranking al-Qaeda captive who was "rendered" from U.S. custody into the hands of Egyptian security forces by the CIA.

As early as February 2002, a Defense Intelligence Agency report expressed skepticism about Libi's credibility--based in part on the knowledge that he was no longer in American custody when he made the detailed statements, and that he might have been tortured.

Despite this, months later, the Bush administration would use al-Libi's statements as the foundation for its claims about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda. According to the Times, "During his time in Egyptian custody, Mr. Libi was among a group of what American officials have described as about 150 prisoners sent by the United States from one foreign country to another since the September 11, 2001 attacks for the purposes of interrogation."

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