The Witnessing Of American Torture


The Brian Ross interview with former CIA interrogator, John Kiriakou, who tortured Abu Zubaydah, is well worth reading in full. You can download the transcript here and here. Among the things I learned:

- According to Kiriakou, everything was very closely monitored and approved up the chain of command. The president absolutely knew and approved of the waterboarding. President Bush personally authorized the torture of a prisoner, via the Deputy Director for Operations of the CIA. This was not free-lancing:

BRIAN ROSS: And did you know the CIA officers feel without a doubt you had the legal right to do what you were doing?

JOHN: Absolutely.  Absolutely. I remember - I remember being told when - the President signed the - the authorities that they had been approved - not just by the National Security Counsel, but by the - but by the Justice Department as well, I remember people being surprised that the authorities were granted.

- Waterboarding was not the only torture technique. Sleep deprivation was integral to Zubaydah's interrogation. And Kiriakou, like any other interrogator who has used sleep deprivation, and unlike Rudy Giuliani, understands that this is torture:

JOHN: You know, you may not think about it, but-- but exhaustion is-- is a very difficult thing to handle.  It's one thing to be tired.  It's another thing to be so tired that you begin to hallucinate.  And after a while some people just can't take it anymore.  And they'll tell you if-- "Just give me an hour.  Give me two hours of sleep, I'll tell you anything you wanna know."



BRIAN ROSS: And that's after how long generally?

JOHN: I recall the handful of times it was used on people it was usually 40 hours plus.  They just simply couldn't take it anymore.

- Kiriakou, in contrast with Ron Suskind's reporting, says that the information Zubayhdah gave was legit and confirmed from other sources. But it is interesting to me at least that Zubaydah ascribed his decision to cooperate to a dream where Allah gave him permission to talk. I have no doubt it was related to the breakdown caused by waterboarding, but with religious fanatics, a religious sanction is also necessary. Torture alone was not enough.

- The nature of the attacks that Kiriakou says the CIA foiled because of torture was not cataclysmic. It was not the nuclear ticking time-bomb. It was more operational information, and in so far as some attacks were, according to Kiriakou, foiled,

To the best of my recollection, no, they weren't on US soil. They were overseas.

If we are to have a serious debate about what to do about torture, all these facts need to be taken into consideration. The facts are these: the president of the United States directly broke the law and the Geneva Conventions by authorizing the torture of a prisoner; he did so in the absence of any actual knowledge of any actual, dire threat to the United States; the evidence of the torture has been destroyed.

The Zubaydah torture does not fit the category laid out by Charles Krauthammer as the criterion for legalized torture. It was done not because we knew something and needed to nail it down. It was done because we knew nothing and needed to find out more. The attacks it allegedly foiled were not catastrophic and not on the mainland of the United States. It was accompanied and monitored by medical professionals to ensure that the victim did not die. Those medical professionals need to be identified and stripped of their licences.

More important, the direct authorization of torture techniques by the president was not contained. Instead, incidents of torture and abuse were subsequently documented throughout the theater of war. We have evidence of over a hundred deaths in interrogation, of which less than a score have been acknowledged by the Pentagon a examples of torturing-to-death. Whatever moral decision we come to with respect to the torture of Abu Zubaydah, it is essential to understand that no authorized act of torture stands alone. By sending a clear signal that the United States has crossed the Rubicon of torture, the commander-in-chief told the entire military and intelligence world that the gloves are off.

There is a direct line from the president's authorization of torture to the horrors of Abu Ghraib. Bush is responsible for Abu Ghraib.