Voice in the Wilderness

The news about the "war on terror" your local newspaper won't print.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

How America outsources torture

Just how much as the United States sunk to the level of its adversaries? Plenty, according to a just-published article in The New Yorker magazine. Author Jane Mayer reports that the Central Intelligence Agency has routinely been kidnapping suspected terrorists and spiriting them away to Middle Eastern nations, where they are routinely tortured into blurting out confessions. The story leads with this example:
Maher Arar, a thirty-four-year-old graduate of McGill University whose family emigrated to Canada when he was a teen-ager, was arrested on September 26, 2002, at John F. Kennedy Airport. He was changing planes; he had been on vacation with his family in Tunisia, and was returning to Canada. Arar was detained because his name had been placed on the United States Watch List of terrorist suspects. He was held for the next thirteen days, as American officials questioned him about possible links to another suspected terrorist. Arar said that he barely knew the suspect, although he had worked with the man?s brother. Arar, who was not formally charged, was placed in handcuffs and leg irons by plainclothes officials and transferred to an executive jet. The plane flew to Washington, continued to Portland, Maine, stopped in Rome, Italy, then landed in Amman, Jordan.

During the flight, Arar said, he heard the pilots and crew identify themselves in radio communications as members of ?the Special Removal Unit.? The Americans, he learned, planned to take him next to Syria. Having been told by his parents about the barbaric practices of the police in Syria, Arar begged crew members not to send him there, arguing that he would surely be tortured. His captors did not respond to his request; instead, they invited him to watch a spy thriller that was aired on board.

Ten hours after landing in Jordan, Arar said, he was driven to Syria, where interrogators, after a day of threats, ?just began beating on me.? They whipped his hands repeatedly with two-inch-thick electrical cables, and kept him in a windowless underground cell that he likened to a grave. ?Not even animals could withstand it,? he said. Although he initially tried to assert his innocence, he eventually confessed to anything his tormentors wanted him to say. ?You just give up,? he said. ?You become like an animal.?

A year later, in October, 2003, Arar was released without charges, after the Canadian government took up his cause. Imad Moustapha, the Syrian Ambassador in Washington, announced that his country had found no links between Arar and terrorism. Arar, it turned out, had been sent to Syria on orders from the U.S. government, under a secretive program known as ?extraordinary rendition.? This program had been devised as a means of extraditing terrorism suspects from one foreign state to another for interrogation and prosecution. Critics contend that the unstated purpose of such renditions is to subject the suspects to aggressive methods of persuasion that are illegal in America?including torture.

Arar is suing the U.S. government for his mistreatment. ?They are outsourcing torture because they know it?s illegal,? he said. ?Why, if they have suspicions, don?t they question people within the boundary of the law??

While U.S. law expressly forbids such a practice, known as "rendering," your attorney general and mine, Alberto Gonzalez, crafted his infamous memo, according to the article, which asserts "the ability to quickly obtain information from captured terrorists and their sponsors in order to avoid further atrocities against American civilians." In other words, we must prevent atrocities by committing atrocities. Or at least send suspects to a place where it is reasonable to believe that atrocities will be committed in the name of spreading democracy throughout the world.

What's worse is that these people seem to be treating this so cavalierly. Remember the Justice Department rationalization that the interrogations weren't torture because torture had to be ?equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.?
According to the Times, a secret memo issued by Administration lawyers authorized the C.I.A. to use novel interrogation methods?including ?water-boarding,? in which a suspect is bound and immersed in water until he nearly drowns. Dr. Allen Keller, the director of the Bellevue/N.Y.U. Program for Survivors of Torture, told me that he had treated a number of people who had been subjected to such forms of near-asphyxiation, and he argued that it was indeed torture. Some victims were still traumatized years later, he said. One patient couldn?t take showers, and panicked when it rained. ?The fear of being killed is a terrifying experience,? he said.
Yes, America, the land of the free and the higher standards, is not torturing prisoners, but, in the spirit of the Bush administration, is outsourcing it. And outsourcing is good. It's plausible deniability. Was Mr. Arar tortured in Syria? Yes, he says. Did we know this was going to happen? Who knew, says the CIA. And America expects other nations to look up to us. If this is any indication of how America should win the hearts and minds of people the world over in the "war on terrorism," we again prove we have failed dismally in that mission.

What is even worse is that if you didn't read about this article in your hometown newspaper, you're not alone. At this writing, no American newspaper has picked up the story. Not one. The Times of London followed up on Mayer's piece in Italy, since police there are investigating the disappearance of a man in Milan:

Osama Moustafa Nasr, an Egyptian dissident with alleged links to Al-Qaeda, disappeared in Milan on February 16, 2003, after eyewitnesses saw him being approached by three men as he walked to a mosque.

A kidnap inquiry was opened in Italy after Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, was temporarily released from custody in Egypt last year and telephoned his wife and friends to tell them what had happened.

He claimed he had been tortured so badly by secret police in Cairo that he had lost hearing in one ear. Italian officers who intercepted the call believe he has since been rearrested.

Although details of the inquiry remain confidential, the Italians are thought to be investigating claims that Nasr was taken by US intelligence agents to Aviano airbase and flown to Egypt in an American plane.

If confirmed, the case would be one of the most controversial instances of the American policy of "rendition," sending prisoners for imprisonment and questioning in other countries. Since September 11, 2001, dozens of prisoners have been transferred by America to countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia where interrogation techniques may be harsh.

The Times originally revealed the program last November, but that didn't make news in this country either. The people had already spoken and pretty much approved everything that we are doing in the name of keeping us safe from those who would commit atrocities.


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