Torture: It's the new American way
By Rosa Brooks
Angeles Times" -- -- 'WE WILL bury you," Nikita
Khrushchev told U.S. diplomats in 1956. The conventional wisdom is
that Khrushchev got it wrong: The repressive Soviet state collapsed
under the weight of its own cruelties and lies while democratic
America went from strength to strength, buoyed by its national
commitment to liberty and justice for all.
But with this week's blockbuster report of secret CIA detention
facilities in Eastern Europe, cynics may be pardoned for wondering
who really won the Cold War.
According to Dana Priest, the Washington Post investigative reporter
who broke the story Wednesday, it all started on Sept. 17, 2001,
when President Bush signed a secret executive order authorizing the
CIA to kill, capture or detain Al Qaeda operatives.
There was only one problem: The CIA didn't know where to put the
people it detained. Those detainees thought to be of "high value"
needed to be kept somewhere … special. Somewhere impregnable, like
Alcatraz. And somewhere secret, far from the prying eyes of
reporters or Red Cross officials. Because these high-value prisoners
— so-called ghost detainees — were going to be subjected to
"enhanced interrogation techniques."
That's Orwell-speak for what's known in English as torture. The list
of enhanced techniques is classified but reportedly includes such
old favorites as "waterboarding" (feigned drowning) and feigned
suffocation. Authorized techniques also may have included the
"Palestinian hanging," a "stress position" in which a detainee is
suspended from the ceiling or wall by his wrists, which are
handcuffed behind his back.
It was this enhancement that preceded the death of Manadel Jamadi,
an Iraqi who died in CIA custody at Abu Ghraib in November 2003,
according to government investigative reports. When Jamadi was
lowered to the ground, blood gushed from his mouth as if "a faucet
had turned on," said Tony Diaz, an MP who witnessed his torture.
Later, other guards posed with Jamadi's battered corpse, and the
leaked photos shocked the world.
That's not the kind of publicity a freedom-loving democracy needs,
so the CIA reportedly opted for secret "black sites." It's not as
easy as you might think to find a spot where you can torture people
in peace. Abu Ghraib is full of camera-clicking reservists, and the
Marquis de Sade's castle lies in ruins. The Tower of London's
dungeons still boast an excellent range of enhanced interrogation
equipment, but they attract too many giggling children.
CIA operatives apparently considered uninhabited islands near
Zambia's Lake Kariba, but interrogators didn't much like the idea of
catching one of those nasty local diseases so prevalent in Central
Africa. Marburg hemorrhagic fever? No thanks.
Thailand worked for a while, but the Thai government got cold feet
when press reports outed the existence of a local CIA site. And
Guantanamo's CIA interrogation facility had to be closed when the
Supreme Court pointed out that Guantanamo is not a law-free zone.
Remember the flap last spring when Amnesty International called
Guantanamo an American "gulag"? Maybe that's what gave the CIA the
idea of locating some black sites in Eastern Europe. ("Hmm, gulag,
gulag … that reminds me of something…. Hey! Maybe there are some
leftover Soviet-era detention facilities we can use for our enhanced
At the request of "senior U.S. officials," the Washington Post
declined to identify the locations of the Eastern European black
sites. But Marc Garlasco, a military analyst at Human Rights Watch,
says that host countries may include Poland and Romania.
Human Rights Watch examined flight records showing that on Sept. 22,
2003, for instance, around the same time several high-value Al Qaeda
detainees were transferred out of CIA facilities in Afghanistan, a
CIA-linked Boeing 737 with the tail number N313P flew from Kabul to
Szymany Airport in Poland. The next day, it landed at Mihail
Kogalniceanu military airfield in Romania. Released Guantanamo
detainees have corroborated the use of this plane as a prisoner
transport, and rights groups and journalists say witnesses also have
reported seeing hooded prisoners being loaded and unloaded from the
same plane at various other locations.
During the Cold War, we thought we knew what distinguished us from
our Soviet bloc enemies. We did not have a gulag; we did not
imprison and torture our enemies. But the war on terror has
distorted our national values. We have used some of the same tactics
we once decried. The Soviet Union's legacy of terror lives on, its
tactics embraced by some of our leaders. Vice President Dick Cheney
continues to insist that the McCain amendment, which prohibits U.S.
personnel from cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners,
should not be applicable to the CIA.
Somewhere in Moscow's Novodevichyi cemetery, Khrushchev is probably
laughing inside his grave.
Copyright 2005 Los Angeles Times
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