Isolated Cases or Guaranteed Certainties
Remember the responses of the military authorties that theses were 'isolated incidents' conducted by 'bad apples'...
Within Psyclone two psychological experiments are mentioned, the Stanford Prison experiment and the Milgram experiment. (Rather than briefly describe the experiments, hyperlinks have been provided to more appropriate, academic sources where the information is presented in a clearer and more factual way than could be done here) Both experiments demonstrate conclusively how specific behaviour that most individuals would say they weren’t capable of is possible to the point of likely in most people under the right conditions, due to human psychological composition. Milgram's observations were that ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority.
The torture and abuse of prisoners Abu Ghraib and other U.S. ‘temporary detention centres’ are classic examples of this. 'They', that is, those with all the information, know of this eventuality.
Which is not to suggest that the responsibility for the atrocities that occurred and still occur in U.S. detention facilities can be put down to an unfortunate psychological response to environment. As has been pointed out, the fact that staff felt safe taking and sharing the photographs suggests a situation where they felt free from official constraints that ordered otherwise. The fact that these weren’t isolated incidents, but rather ones in a series of such throughout U.S. facilities also suggests policy rather than chance.
A document released by the American Civil Liberties Union suggests that President Bush issued an Executive Order authorising the use of inhumane interrogation methods against detainees in Iraq (a PDF of the document can be downloaded from here). Also released by the ACLU have been a slew of other records including a December 2003 FBI e-mail that describes methods used by the Defense Department as "torture" and a June 2004 "Urgent Report" to the Director of the FBI that raises concerns that abuse of detainees is being covered up.
A former top State Department official said that Vice President Dick Cheney provided the "philosophical guidance" and "flexibility" that led to the torture of detainees in U.S. facilities. Retired U.S. Army Col. Larry Wilkerson, who served as former Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of staff, told CNN that the practice of torture may be continuing in U.S.-run facilities.
"There's no question in my mind that we did. There's no question in my mind that we may be still doing it," Wilkerson said on CNN's "Late Edition."
"There's no question in my mind where the philosophical guidance and the flexibility in order to do so originated -- in the vice president of the United States' office," he said. "His implementer in this case was [Defense Secretary] Donald Rumsfeld and the Defense Department."
In October 2009 the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission heard testimonies about the atrocities committed against detainees in various U.S. detention centres around the world, which included psychological torture and routine humiliation.
A total of seven detainees including Sudanese journalist Sami Al-Hajj, and British Moazzam Begg and Rahul Ahmed testified about the atrocities that took place in the camps including how they were shackled, stripped naked in front of female soldiers, thrown naked into makeshift cells made with barbed wires, injected with substances and subjected to mental torture to the point they hallucinated.
Begg was detained in January 2002 in Pakistan, said he was told that there was no specific reason for his arrest except for the fact that he ‘fit a profile’.
The family man, who had previously worked in Kabul, Afghanistan on a project to build a school for girls, moved to Pakistan after the Sept 11 bombings.
He said he was kidnapped from his home, labeled an ‘enemy combatant’ and detained for four years.
Begg, who is now director of Cage Prisoners, a human rights organisation that works to raise awareness of the plight of the prisoners held as part of the War on Terror, testified about the excruciating conditions in which he was transported from Pakistan to Kandahar and then to Guantanamo Bay.
Begg also revealed that he was interrogated more than 300 times including once when insinuations were made that his wife was in danger while the screams of a woman could be heard next door. He also said he was forced to sign a confession that he was member of the terrorist organisation Al-Qaeda under threat of torture and because he though it would give him access to legal recourse.
Begg also spoke of the psychological torture inflicted on him while he was imprisoned.
He said a psychiatrist assigned to speak to him had asked him if he had ever considered committing suicide and even suggested how he could kill himself by tying his prison clothes to make a rope that could be used as a noose.
“Of the six deaths that I knew of during detention, five were carried out in this way”, Begg said, adding that the detainees were also drugged.
Summing up his testimony, Begg revealed to the commission that 92% of people held in Guantanamo Bay were not involved with the Taliban or Al-Qaeda, saying he believed many were detained and handed to the Americans to get the hefty bounty paid for each detainee.
He also had some harsh words for the role played by the British government in the affair.
“The British idea was that they were guests and that this was an American show and I believe my incarceration would not taken place without the aid of the British government who were closest allies to Americans.”
Meanwhile Ahmed and his friends learnt the hard way about the dangers of seeking pleasure in a hostile environment. In 2002, the then 18-year-old and two friends crossed the Pakistan-Afghanistan border to obtain drugs and alcohol which they were told was easily available in the American-occupied Afghanistan. They were promptly arrested and Ahmed spent the next two and the half years of his life in Guantanamo Bay.
He said he was interrogated frequently, sometimes in awkward positions while being forced to listen to loud music and dogs barking for up to two days. “When subjected to this for several hours, the effects of this prolonged exposure makes you hallucinate and see things that are not here,” he told the Commission.
Commissioners at the hearing were former Bar Council president Zainur Zakaria, former UN assistant secretary general for humanitarian operations in Iraq Prof Hans-Christof von Sponeck, former assistant secretary general for human resource management and head of UN humanitarian programme in Iraq Dennis J.Halliday, lawyer and former magistrate Musa Ismail, professor of law Gurdial Nijar, Perdana Foundation’s Dr Zulaiha Ismail and Prof Dr Mohd Akram Shair Mohamed of the Islamic University.
The testimonies before the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission Hearings will be submitted to a tribunal in conjunction with the Criminalise War Conference and War Crimes Tribunal 2009.
Naomi Klein reminds us that the U.S. has used torture for decades. All that's new is the openness about it, when mentioning the notorious School of the Americas (since renamed, but still operating), whose students - military and police officers from across the hemisphere - were instructed in many of the same "coercive interrogation" techniques that have since gone to Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib. She also points out that U.S.-produced training materials condoned "execution of guerrillas, extortion, physical abuse, coercion and false imprisonment".
Yet not a single mainstream news outlet mentioned the location's sordid history. How could they? That would require something totally absent from the debate: an admission that the embrace of torture by US officials has been integral to US foreign policy since the Vietnam War.
While mainstream news outlets continue to use euphemisms such as "harsh interrogation tactics" to describe the U.S. administration's approach to intelligence gathering, earlier this month (November 2009) House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) used a more succinct term: "torture."
The techniques discussed include waterboarding, slamming detainees into walls, and depriving them of sleep for up to 11 days, “techniques that were used by Americans and our allies around the world that helped keep America safe," Boehner said. "I'm not going to allow our professionals and our allies around the world to get denigrated because they were working to keep our country safe."
Surely the use of techniques such as early morning capture to maximise shock, immediate hooding and blindfolding, forced nudity, sensory deprivation, sensory overload, sleep and food "manipulation", humiliation, extreme temperatures, isolation, stress positions - and worse, denigrate both those who use the techniques and those who sanction. Talking about the facts merely brings the activities into focus and under much-needed scrutiny.
In light of recent revelations about U.S. torture in various institutions around the world, journalist Greg Mitchell recounts the story of Alyssa Peterson who, when ordered to take part in interrogations that, no doubt, involved what we would call torture, refused, then killed herself a few days later.
Sherwood Ross’ report Tortured in far-off Countries: Obama Resuming G. W. Bush's "Extraordinary Renditions" discusses how even though Barack Obama pledged to end “the practice of shipping away prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far-off countries,” his FBI has been rendering kidnap victims to the U.S. The practice is still kidnapping, however; and it’s still illegal.
Most people will have been taken in by the media reports of the closing down of the Guantanamo Bay concentration…sorry, temporary detention centre. Given the unquestioning acceptance of ‘the news’ and the lack of awareness about news reports neurolinguistic language and presentation, and the effect that has on their perception, most will have been left with the feeling that things have actually improved with regard to unlawful detention, torture, and routine violation of human rights and international law. Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth. Aided by legislation, prepared after previous data and image leaks, and emboldened by the chronic lack of reaction to those leaks, things have got worse.
In March 2009 Andy Worthington, author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison, published a four-part list identifying all 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002, as “the culmination of a three-year project to record the stories of all the prisoners held at the US prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.” The list, updated for 2010, is now available in four parts: Part One, Part Two, Part Three and Part Four.
“Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” is a new documentary film, directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, telling the story of Guantánamo (and including sections on extraordinary rendition and secret prisons) with a particular focus on how the Bush administration turned its back on domestic and international laws, how prisoners were rounded up in Afghanistan and Pakistan without adequate screening (and often for bounty payments), and why some of these men may have been in Afghanistan or Pakistan for reasons unconnected with militancy or terrorism (as missionaries or humanitarian aid workers, for example).
This “intense and powerful” film provides a powerful rebuke to those who believe that Guantánamo holds “the worst of the worst” and that the Bush administration was justified in responding to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 by holding men neither as prisoners of war, protected by the Geneva Conventions, nor as criminal suspects with habeas corpus rights, but as “illegal enemy combatants” with no rights whatsoever.
A year after the media trumpeting of President Obama signing the order to close the prison by the 22nd of January 2010, there is no evidence that is going to happen any time soon. But even had it closed there are a number of others just like it and, according to some, even worse, like Diego Garcia and Bagram, into which millions of U.S. taxpayers money is still being poured. The new prison wing at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, which joins the already existing gulag in Bagram cost some $60 million to build and could hold up to 1,000 detainees.
Clara Gutteridge, an investigator of secret prisons and renditions from the human rights organisation, Reprieve, said Bagram is seen as "Guantanamo's lesser-known evil twin".
"All this talk about transparency, and the US government still won't release a simple list of names of prisoners who are in Bagram," she told Al Jazeera. "None of them have had access to a lawyer ...”
Bagram Air Field is the largest US military hub in Afghanistan and is home to about 24,000 military personnel and civilian contractors [Ed: see the section 'There's a War Going on' for information on 'civilian contractors'].
Tens of millions of dollars continue to be spent on expanding and upgrading facilities - turning Bagram into a town spread over about 5,000 acres.
The airfield part of the complex is already handling 400 tonnes of cargo and 1,000 passengers daily, according to Air Force spokesman Captain David Faggard.
It is continuing to grow to keep up with the requirements of an escalating war and troop increases.
Among new options being considered in Washington is regional commander General Stanley McChrystal's request to bring an additional 40,000 troops to Afghanistan.
But even with current troop levels - 65,000 US troops and about 40,000 from allied countries - Bagram already is bursting at the seams.
Plans are under way to build a new $22m passenger terminal and a cargo yard costing $9m. To increase cargo capacity, a parking ramp supporting the world's largest aircraft is to be completed in early 2010.
Bagram was previously a major Soviet base during Moscow's 1979-89 occupation of Afghanistan, providing air support to Soviet and Afghan forces fighting the mujahidin.