"We pick up a suspect or we arrange for one of our partner countries to do it. Then the suspect is placed on a civilian transport to a third country where, let’s make no bones about it, they use torture. If you want a good interrogation, you send someone to Jordan. If you want them to be killed, you send them to Egypt or Syria. Either way, the US cannot be blamed as it is not doing the work." - Former CIA officer Robert Baer [PDF]
In Part I of this now-five part series, I took care to distinguish the post-9/11 application of torture techniques by the U.S. military from the role played by the CIA and demonstrated how the Bush/Cheney decision to torture predated the quasi-legal Justice Department memos. In Part II, I covered the CIA's dark beginnings, including links not only to former Nazi war criminals but to those Americans who provided financial support to Hitler's Germany, including the late Senator Prescott Bush, George W's paternal grandfather. I also demonstrated how academic studies, performed as part of the CIA's maniacal quest to crack the code of human consciousness, culminated in KUBARK, the CIA's 1963 torture manual. In Part III, I showed how the KUBARK torture techniques, applied by US-trained foreign surrogates, became an essential component of the covert dimension of a US-led corporate Empire --- a means for exerting control over populations resistant to the injustice of a system that values the obscene wealth of a few over the needs of the many.
I had intended this to be the final chapter of a Four-Part Special Series, but length, complexity and new revelations necessitate further division into Parts IV & V.
Here, I will explore the arrogant application of overseas surrogate torture through "extraordinary rendition." The direct application of KUBARK techniques to a "floating population" of "ghost detainees" at CIA black sites will be covered in Part V. In both segments, I will demonstrate how torture was applied not to protect the American people but to help produce doctored intelligence that would provide cover for imperial conquest. I will end with the disturbing yet still unresolved questions as to how many victims of the Bush/Cheney torture regime remain amongst "the disappeared;" how many of those victims are now deceased...
The CIA and Extraordinary Rendition
"I’m against extraordinary rendition on a number of grounds, principally because of the immorality of it, the illegality of it, the fact that it doesn’t work" - Former CIA Inspector General Frederick Hitz
It is critical, in addressing this subject, that both writer and reader bridge the psychic distance deliberately created by government-supplied, bureaucratic euphemism.
As Chalmers Johnson quoted Stanford University psychologist Alfred Bandura, Ph.D. in his 2006 book Nemesis:
Both “enhanced interrogation techniques" and “extraordinary rendition” are bureaucratic euphemisms designed to create psychic distance between the American people and the horrors of torture. In Nemesis, Johnson makes the disturbing comparison of extraordinary rendition to Nazi “’transportations’ meaning the shipping of trainloads of prisoners to death camps…” (Johnson would have done well to add Hitler’s “final solution,” the bureaucratic euphemism used to describe the effort to exterminate an entire race).
Where bureaucratic euphemism creates psychic distance, Baer’s observation seeks to create legal distance.
Neither Baer’s suggestion, quoted at the top of this piece, that “the US cannot be blamed” because “it is not doing the work” nor past practices in which the US would train surrogates in developing nations to do our dirty work have any more validity than a Mob boss’s suggestion that he “cannot be blamed” for the death of a rival after he hired a hit man to do the killing. The knowing transfer of a prisoner to another country where they are likely to be tortured violates the 1984 UN Convention Against Torture. Conspiracy to commit torture is just as unlawful as direct application of torture techniques.
In a Dec. 3, 2005 Washington Post article, Dana Priest discussed the ordeal of Khalid El-Masri, an innocent German citizen who was handed over to the CIA’s Rendition Group by Macedonian police. The Rendition Group consisted of some 1,200 “case officers, paramilitaries, analysts and psychologists” who roamed the globe, seeking to kidnap or capture suspected terrorists. An investigative report [PDF] posted by The Guardian on March 19, 2005 asserts that the Bush regime's extraordinary renditions began on Oct. 23, 2001 when Jamil Qasim Saeed Mohammed, a Yemeni microbiologist, was turned over to the CIA by the Pakistani intelligence agency (ISI). One of the rendition destinations identified in The Guardian report, Uzbekistan, is infamous for its torture practice --- immersion in “boiling liquid.”
Priest’s description of the method of arrest and capture reveals a careful application of KUBARK techniques designed to insure maximum sensory disorientation. “Dressed head to toe in black, including masks, they blindfold and cut the clothes off their new captives, then administer an enema and sleeping drugs. They outfit detainees in a diaper and jumpsuit for what can be a day-long trip. Their destinations: either a detention facility operated by cooperative countries in the Middle East and Central Asia…or one of the CIA’s own covert prisons.”
El-Masri was transported to Afghanistan where he was tortured and held in a dank cell for five months. On the first night, after being beaten and kicked, he was told: “You are in a country where no one knows about you; in a country where there is no law. If you die, we will bury you and no one will know.”
After the CIA discovered they had the wrong man, a debate raged as to what to do. Some argued they should just dump El-Masri back into Macedonia where they found him as no one would believe him. Another group, which included Condoleeza Rice, George Tenet and Richard Armitage, insisted that the German government be informed.
During the two months U.S. officials debated, El-Masri grew more desperate, going on a hunger strike until being force fed with tubes. His wife, believing he’d run off with another woman, left Germany for Lebanon with their two children. U.S. Ambassador Daniel Coats then approached a German minister friendly to the Bush administration, advising that they would be releasing the erroneously rendered El-Masri and requesting that the German government not disclose this, even if El-Masri were to initiate a legal action against the CIA. The ordeal ended when the CIA left El-Masri in a remote location in Macedonia, offering no more assistance than to point in the direction he should walk.
In Feb. 2007 German prosecutors issued arrest warrants for 13 CIA officers in relation to El-Masri’s kidnapping and torture, but later, after the German government was pressured by US diplomats, the German prosecutors abandoned their efforts to extradite the thirteen.
El-Masri was by no means alone amongst the erroneously rendered. Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen of Syrian decent was guilty of nothing more than 'traveling while Arab'. He was arrested while transiting JFK Airport in New York; then transported to Syria --- prompting Senator Patrick Leahy's bitter complaint that Arar was rendered to Syria even though “we knew damn well…he would be tortured.”
On Nov. 7, 2003, Arar described his ordeal to Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman:
They told me you’ve been to a training camp in Afghanistan. I said no. And they started beating me [with a cable]. And I said, well, I had no choice. I just wanted the beating to stop. I said, of course, I’ve been to Afghanistan. I was ready to confess to anything just to stop the torture.
The beatings stopped after two weeks. Arar was then kept for ten months in a dark, chilly underground cell having rats for company; “no hot water…no toilets.” Cats peed into the opening above the cell.
Although Arar was exonerated by a Canadian court and received apologies from the head of Canada’s national police and from both Democrats and Republicans when he appeared before Congress, Arar’s federal lawsuit was dismissed based on what a dissenting jurist described as a legal fiction that when he was seized at JFK, Arar had not yet entered the US. El Masri’s federal lawsuit was dismissed on the grounds that permitting the case to go forward would expose “state secrets.”
There were, of course, those who were by no stretch of the imagination "innocent" when they were subjected to extraordinary rendition --- certainly not Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, the "emir" of an al Qaeda training camp, who was picked up by Pakistani forces in December 2001, turned over to US custody at a time when, according to the FBI's Dan Coleman, the Bush/Cheney administration was "pushing" to find links between Saddam and al Qaeda. The FBI "lost" al-Libi to the CIA which then transported al-Libi to Egypt.
In an Oct. 6, 2006 report [PDF], a then Republican-controlled Senate Select Committee on Intelligence described his ordeal:
Al-Libi's ordeal is quite instructive on some fundamental issues.
First, it provides a perfect example of how extraordinary rendition is a modified form of the CIA's long-standing use of surrogate torture. The Egyptians had no direct interest in establishing a link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. The overwhelming inference is that the Egyptian interrogator was simply repeating questions that came directly from the Bush/Cheney regime.
This inference is supported by Col. Lawrence Wilkerson's claims that Cheney's office persisted in seeking to establish an al Qaeda/Saddam link via waterboarding of another individual prior to the al-Libi tortured confession.
Robert Widrom reported he was told by two senior intelligence officers that shortly after the US completed its conquest of Iraq, the Vice President's office suggested waterboarding the former head of Saddam's secret police, not to stop a "ticking-timebomb" attack, but in order to establish an al Qaeda/Saddam link. Charles Duelfer, who was sent to Iraq after the invasion in search of the non-existent WMD, said that this former official was cooperative and that "the questions that were coming to us from outside were about potential links with al Qaeda."
Second, as Ray McGovern observed, blasting Senator Lindsey Graham's (R-SC) sickening suggestion that torture is useful, torture "works" only where one has no concern for whether a forced confession is true. Cheney was no more interested in whether al-Libi's al Qaeda/Saddam links were true than the Japanese Kempetai was concerned with the truth when, as a result of waterboarding, they secured my father's false confession that he was a British agent.
Cheney knew full well that al-Libi's "confession" was pure BS. As revealed by the aforementioned Senate Select Committee Report, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) rejected al-Libi's tortured account of a al Qaeda/Iraq connection as early as February 2002 because al-Libi could not furnish "specific details on the Iraqi's involvement."
Col. Wilkerson, who had served as Gen. Colin Powell's chief of staff at the State Department, claims he and Powell were "duped" prior to Powell's UN speech; that the al Qaeda/Iraq links were presented as hard fact; that they were not informed about the DIA dissents and were not informed about al-Libi or that the so-called "intelligence" was obtained by torture.
The Widrom, Duelfer and Wilkerson accounts expose the lie in Cheney's May 21, 2009 claim that the "purpose" of "enhanced interrogation" was the ascertainment of "specific information on terrorist plans." Like CIA drug smuggling, the goal of Bush/Cheney torture had nothing to do with protecting the American people and everything to do with erecting cover for the imperial conquest of Iraq --- a goal that resulted in far more American casualties than 9/11 itself.
Third, the timing of al-Libi's torture adds weight to the argument made in Part I of this series, subsequently bolstered by reports that Alberto Gonzales approved torture in the Spring of 2002, that the Bush/Cheney regime decided to torture, and then directed the likes of Dept. of Justice Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) attorneys Jay S. Bybee and John Yoo to assemble a legal fig-leaf in the form of the now-infamous torture memos. The Bush/Cheney regime and the CIA became accomplices to torture the moment they decided to render al-Libi to Egypt, prior to the construction of those reverse-engineered memoranda.
Fourth, notwithstanding Darth Cheney's Orwellian suggestion that his being brought before the bar of justice would simply amount to a new administration going after the old for "policy differences," the tactics and techniques he authorized are violative of the Third Geneva Convention Relating to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, which states:
As Justice Anthony Kennedy, a G.H.W. Bush appointee, observed in his concurring opinion in Hamdan:
It is a testament to how far we have strayed from this basic legal principle that the corporate media would broadcast Cheney's May 21, 2009 Orwellian defense of torture alongside President Obama's preceding speech, as if this were a simple debate over national security; that it would treat the suggestion made by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), while holding up a copy of the Constitution, that Cheney appear before Congress and testify, under oath, "about the statements he made that took us into a war," as simply the dissatisfaction of the Left.
Truth, justice and the rule of law are not the exclusive province of either the Left, the Right or the Center. They provide the very foundation of a free society.
"But a constitution of government, once changed from freedom, can never be restored," John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail in a July 7, 1775 letter. "Liberty, once lost, is lost forever."
By way of epilogue to this chapter, it should be noted that al-Libi was found dead of a reported "suicide" in a jail cell in Libya, where he had been sent by the U.S., in May of this year.
His death, just days after he was reported to have been in good health by human rights witnesses, came on the heels of renewed efforts to see investigations and/or prosecutions of war crimes following the release of several of the OLC torture memoranda. The story was barely covered by the corporate mainstream media in the U.S..
As British reporter and historian Andy Worthington, author of The Guantanamo Files: The Stories of the 759 Detainees in America's Illegal Prison, told Brad Friedman during a June 23, 2009 radio interview [MP3, appx. 37 mins], "the U.S. flag was raised in the embassy in Tripoli for the first time in over thirty years, just a few days after [al-Libi] died."
No public explanation for the unusual episode was given. "It all seemed a bit convenient," Worthington observed.
Ernest A. Canning has been an active member of the California State Bar since 1977 and has practiced in the fields of civil litigation and workers' compensation at both the trial and appellate levels. He graduated cum laude from Southwestern University School of Law where he served as a student director of the clinical studies department and authored the Law Review Article, Executive Privilege: Myths & Realities. He received an MA in political science at Cal State University Northridge and a BA in political science from UCLA. He is also a Vietnam vet (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968).