The United States did it. President George W. Bush knew about it. And he lied about it to all of us.
This is all information that can be gleaned by the roughly 140,000 formerly classified documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) via Freedom of Information Act requests. ACLU researcher Larry Siems then got the unenviable task of reading through all of those documents.
It took him two years.
As part of the project, he started The Torture Report, a website devoted to the research. More recently, with the completion of his research, he published The Torture Report: What the Documents say about America’s Post 9⁄11 Torture Program.
Here are some of the lowlights contained in the mountain of documents.
Our foray into torture began less than a week after the World Trade Center came down. President George W. Bush sent a 12-page memorandum to the National Security Council, authorizing the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to create and manage a set of secret prisons around the world. These secret prisons would be used to torture prisoners, actions which are criminal offenses under U.S. civilian and military law.
Many of those who were ordered to commit these criminal offenses were understandably concerned about the legality of their actions, and their potential criminal liability for carrying out those orders. They expressed those concerns to their superiors, and the messages went up the chain of command. In response, those in command lied to them. They were told that the law had been changed, and that they were legally shielded from prosecution for committing acts of torture.
At that point, they followed the orders, and began torturing detainees. This happened not only in Afghanistan and Iraq, but also at Guantanamo and U.S. Naval bases on American soil. And, of course, it happened in those secret prisons established by President Bush less than a week after the September 11 attacks.
Who were the unfortunate recipients of this criminal behavior? Some of them were guilty of crimes associated with terrorism…but once they were tortured, they could never be prosecuted for the crimes, because the torture couldn’t be publicly acknowledged. Others were innocent people detained due to mistaken identity. Still others were innocent people detained because they were mentioned by the tortured people who were detained due to mistaken identity. In many cases, once it became clear that someone was mistakenly detained, they were tortured in order to generate a false confession so as to justify their original detention.
Some of the torturing was done by the CIA. In other cases, it was subcontracted to other countries, typically enemy countries to the ethnicity of the prisoner.
Along the way, they suppressed and destroyed evidence of their actions. Eventually, though, they realized that they had a growing issue. The CIA Inspector General noted that they had a problem with the “disposition of detainees and particular interest in those who, if not kept in isolation, would likely divulge information about the circumstances of their detention.” That is, once the prisoners saw the “torture factories”, they could no longer be permitted to be free, regardless of their innocence.
The US government had a different problem on their hands, too. As hard as the highest reaches tried to convince people in their organization that the torture was perfectly acceptable and necessary, people throughout the government sought to highlight and/or stop the torture. The 140,000 documents are filled with many such instances of this.
It’s bad enough that the torture was ordered at all. What makes it worse is that the people who were doing the ordering were repeatedly and vehemently told that the torture was not delivering the desired results. In fact, their consistent response to such information was to demand that the prisoners be tortured more severely.
The prohibitions against torture are in place for many reasons. Among them is protection of our own citizens abroad. After all, what sort of justification would we have for outrage at the Polish government for torturing Americans, when the United States was torturing people on Polish soil? Moreover, those who have actually committed acts of torture quickly learn that it is terribly ineffective. They discover that they get lower-quality information, if they get any at all. Most Americans are fortunate enough not to know anyone who has tortured, but that also means that they don’t get to learn just how useless it is. Instead, they watch television and movies, or read David Baldacci, and assume that torture is as effective in reality as it is in fiction.
In the end, our official sanctioning of torture comes at a great cost, and yet provides miniscule benefit at best.
And we are all worse off for it.
- How America Came To Torture Its Prisoners (slate.com)
- George W. Bush and torture: America’s highest officials are responsible for the “enhanced interrogation” of prisoners. — Slate Magazine (tribuneofthepeople.com)
- Padilla torture claim back in the Court (scotusblog.com)
- Legal and Humane Frameworks for Opposing Torture (ethioandinet.wordpress.com)
- Perhaps why authorities feel comfortable using illegal and extralegal means (amanwithaphd.wordpress.com)
- Document Friday: The Torture Memos, We Now Know. (nsarchive.wordpress.com)
- Leaked: CIA Memo Calls US Terror Suspect Torture “A War Crime (revolutioninmedia.com)
- Torture on Trial (veteranstoday.com)
- Leaked CIA memo exposes US terror suspect torture as ‘war crimes’ (12160.info)