|US interrogators turn to
'torture lite' |
The second half of our investigation finds America bending the rules in the wake of September 11
Duncan Campbell in Los Angeles
Saturday January 25, 2003
The United States is condoning the torture and illegal interrogation of prisoners held in the wake of September 11, in defiance of international law and its own constitution, according to lawyers, former US intelligence officers and human rights groups.
They claim prisoners have been beaten, hooded and had painkillers withheld.
Some prisoners inside American penal institutions and detention camps have been subjected to interrogation techniques which do not leave injuries, but which lawyers consider to be abusive. Others have been sent to countries where electric shocks and more conventional forms of torture have been used, according to the claims.
Wayne Madsen, a former US navy intelligence officer, points to two forms of what he calls torture being practised by America or its partners in the wake of September 11. The first consists of techniques such as sleep deprivation and shining harsh lights at detainees which, Mr Madsen labels "torture lite". He says this is being practised on hundreds of inmates held by the US at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba for suspected Taliban and al-Qaida connections.
The second, less subtle, kind of torture is being inflicted on prisoners taken by the US military to third-party countries with lax human-rights records. Mr Madsen, now a commentator on intelligence-gathering, said he understood that prisoners who were believed to have information had been taken to countries including Egypt, Morocco and Syria where such full-blown torture techniques were used.
The allegations come as the debate continues in the US on whether torture is justified in extreme "ticking bomb" cases where thousands of lives might be saved through pre-empting terrorist attacks. The idea that in such cases, permission for torture could be granted by judicial warrant was first raised shortly after September 11 by the Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz.
"I hear from former agents that it [torture] was done and that it is done," Mr Dershowitz told the Guardian.
His position was that if an interrogator believed that torture was absolutely necessary to save lives, they would have to appear before a judge. "Such a procedure would require the judges to dirty their hands by authorising torture warrants or bear the responsibility for failing to do so."
Mr Dershowitz, who has acted for such clients as OJ Simpson and Claus von Bulow, said that after the subject was raised last year his position on the issue was distorted, and he had received unwelcome support "from a lot of yahoos who said, 'great, let's torture everyone.' But there was also a lot of praise from people for bringing the topic out from below the radar screen and putting it on the agenda."
Mr Dershowitz said he believed that the US currently "freely subcontracts its torture to Jordan, Egypt and the Philippines".
While the official US position is that torture is not used and that all international conventions are observed, within some agencies of law enforcement the reality appears to be one of "don't ask, don't tell".
'Stress and duress'
At a hearing last September of the House and Senate intelligence committees, Cofer Black, then head of the CIA counterterrorist centre, said of the treatment of suspects: "This is a very highly classified area, but I have to say that all you need to know is there was a 'before 9/11', and there was an 'after 9/11'. After 9/11 the gloves come off."
One official, who has supervised the capture and transfer of prisoners, told the Washington Post last year: "If you don't violate someone's human rights some of the time, you probably aren't doing your job. I don't think we want to be promoting a view of zero tolerance on this. That was the whole problem for a long time with the CIA."
The report suggested that CIA interrogators at Bagram air base in Afghanistan kept al-Qaida members standing or kneeling for hours in painful positions, and deprived them of sleep with a 24-hour bombardment of light.
This practice comes under the general interrogation heading of "stress and duress". "Our guys may kick them around a little bit in the adrenaline of the immediate aftermath," said one official.
Other prisoners have been taken to Diego Garcia - the Indian ocean island leased from Britain - where interrogators have impersonated nationals of countries known to use torture, in an effort to loosen the tongues of captives.
"It is as American as apple pie," William Goodman, legal director of the Centre for Constitutional Rights, said of the claims that such techniques had been used. "Dershowitz is not a lone voice. He speaks for a segment of the population, and there is clearly some thought being given to this." Mr Goodman said that the law clearly prohibited the use of torture.
The LA-based constitutional lawyer Stephen Rohde said that the US was already violating the Geneva convention by its interrogation of prisoners: "Donald Rumsfeld has been boasting about the information [from prisoners] as a valid reason for holding them indefinitely without lawyers and without charging them. We are violating the Geneva convention by interrogating them."
The Taliban prisoners should only have been required to give their name, rank, serial number and date of birth, he said. Lawyers representing those being interrogated have expressed their concern.
"I have never seen clients treated so badly" said Randy Hamud, the San Diego-based lawyer who has represented a number of the Arab men detained last year, some of whom are still in custody. "The constitution has been cast aside. The United States is no longer the moral leader of the world."
Mr Hamud represents men detained because they had contact with some of the September 11 hijackers who had been based in San Diego. He said he believed that the polygraph (lie detector) test was being used as an interrogation technique. "They were given polygraph tests and then told that they had failed them so they would have to come up with information about other people," he said.
One of his clients, Osama Awadallah, he said, was physically abused by guards when detained in New York. "Female officers observed them while they were having their strip search," he said. "It was very humiliating. They were kept in conditions like a meat locker."
Mr Hamud said he believed that some prisoners were kept in other countries where surrogates carried out torture and passed on the information to the US. "For instance, they have used Jordanian surrogates in Jordan. The FBI and federal law enforcement authorities have been showing a pattern abroad of having people arrested and taken to states with a history of, shall we say, excessive interrogation techniques, such as Egypt or Syria."
Peter Keane, the dean of the law faculty at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, said that none of the statements emanating from the prisoners held without charge would be admissible in court. "They would be presumed to be compelled statements," he said.
Mr Keane said that the last time prisoners were interrogated and held in such a way was during the American civil war, when nearly 8,000 Confederate prisoners were held and questioned.
The civil rights lawyer Stephen Yagman is part of a group which has initiated a lawsuit on behalf of prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay.
"They are using sensory deprivation to induce a feeling of depression so that they become receptive to any human contact," he said. He suggested that the interrogators were trying to develop a long-term "parasitic relationship" with subjects.
Jamie Fellner of Human Rights Watch, said that a modern interrogation technique was to develop a total dependency between the prisoner and the interrogator. "That does not count as a human rights violation, however," she said.
She said that of the 750 who had been held on immigration charges in the wake of September 11, 110 had been charged with unrelated offences, and 80-100 were still inside. Getting information about many was almost impossible, she said.
A Human Rights Watch inquiry found that the authorities had held detainees "for prolonged periods without charges, impeded their access to counsel, subjected them to coercive interrogations and overridden judicial orders to release them on bond during immigration proceedings."
Amnesty International claims that prisoners have been subjected to prolonged solitary confinement. The organisation cited the case of Rabid Haddad, a Lebanese national who was charged with overstaying his tourist visa and who was held in solitary confinement in the metropolitan correctional centre in Chicago. According to his letters from prison, his cell windows were whited out so he has no view, and he is allowed only one 15-minute call to his family every 30 days.
"These detentions have been surrounded by extreme secrecy, which creates the potential for abuse," said an Amnesty spokesperson in Washington.
"Our research confirms that basic rights have been violated, including the rights to a humane treatment, to be informed of the reasons for the detention, to have prompt access to a lawyer, to be able to challenge the lawfulness of the detention and to be presumed innocent until proven otherwise."
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