Friday, February 18, 2005

America: Acting without transparency

Although, I have to admit, a free press and rampant bloggers is certainly creating more transparency than some would like.

Have you heard the tales? Yesterday, I read about women interrogators using their womanly charms (and everything else at their disposal) to break prisoners down in Gitmo.
Female interrogators tried to break Muslim detainees at the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay by sexual touching, wearing a miniskirt and thong underwear and in one case smearing a Saudi man's face with fake menstrual blood, according to an insider's written account.

A draft manuscript obtained by The Associated Press is classified as secret pending a Pentagon review for a planned book that details ways the U.S. military used women as part of tougher physical and psychological interrogation tactics to get terror suspects to talk.
Old news (well a couple weeks, anyway) but I seemed to have missed it.
One female civilian contractor used a special outfit that included a miniskirt, thong underwear and a bra during late-night interrogations with prisoners, mostly Muslim men who consider it taboo to have close contact with women who aren't their wives.

Beginning in April 2003, ``there hung a short skirt and thong underwear on the hook on the back of the door'' of one interrogation team's office, he writes. ``Later I learned that this outfit was used for interrogations by one of the female civilian contractors ... on a team which conducted interrogations in the middle of the night on Saudi men who were refusing to talk.''
And in another case we get this gem:
The female interrogator wanted to ``break him,'' Saar adds, describing how she removed her uniform top to expose a tight-fitting T-shirt and began taunting the detainee, touching her breasts, rubbing them against the prisoner's back and commenting on his apparent erection.

The detainee looked up and spat in her face, the manuscript recounts.

The interrogator left the room to ask a Muslim linguist how she could break the prisoner's reliance on God. The linguist told her to tell the detainee that she was menstruating, touch him, then make sure to turn off the water in his cell so he couldn't wash.

Strict interpretation of Islamic law forbids physical contact with women other than a man's wife or family, and with any menstruating women, who are considered unclean.

``The concept was to make the detainee feel that after talking to her he was unclean and was unable to go before his God in prayer and gain strength,'' says the draft, stamped ``Secret.''

The interrogator used ink from a red pen to fool the detainee, Saar writes.

``She then started to place her hands in her pants as she walked behind the detainee,'' he says. ``As she circled around him he could see that she was taking her hand out of her pants. When it became visible the detainee saw what appeared to be red blood on her hand. She said, 'Who sent you to Arizona?' He then glared at her with a piercing look of hatred.

``She then wiped the red ink on his face. He shouted at the top of his lungs, spat at her and lunged forward'' - so fiercely that he broke loose from one ankle shackle.

``He began to cry like a baby,'' the draft says, noting the interrogator left saying, ``Have a fun night in your cell without any water to clean yourself.''
But it's not just blood and fun. Death sometimes finds its way to these little interrogation parties.
An Iraqi whose corpse was photographed with grinning U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib died under CIA interrogation while in a position condemned by human rights groups as torture — suspended by his wrists, with his hands cuffed behind his back, according to reports reviewed by The Associated Press.

The death of the prisoner, Manadel al-Jamadi, became known last year when the Abu Ghraib prison scandal broke. The U.S. military said back then that the death had been ruled a homicide. But the exact circumstances under which the man died were not disclosed at the time.

The prisoner died in a position known as "Palestinian hanging," the documents reviewed by The AP show. It is unclear whether that position was approved by the Bush administration for use in CIA interrogations.
And then, today, I stumbled across an article about a US program which takes suspects and delivers them to foreign governments so they can do the interrogations. Turns out some folks here don't want to stretch their interrogation processes outside what's allowed: so we ship the detainee off to someone who will take care if it for us.
Some lawyers believe more than 100 people have been "rendered" secretly to foreign governments. According to media reports, the CIA is using a white GulfstreamV jet to shift people around. One such jet has been logged on numerous trips from Washington to restricted-access US military bases and countries such as Egypt....

Maher Arar, 34, says the US grabbed him at a New York airport in September 2002 as he was returning to Canada after a holiday in Tunisia. He claims he was flown to Jordan by American pilots and then taken to Syria - where he was born - and tortured for nearly a year.

In an interview with The New Yorker magazine published last week, Arar says the pilots identified themselves on the radio as "the special removal unit".

Once in Syria, he claims, he was whipped with electrical cables, kept in a grave-like cell, and eventually confessed to anything he was asked. Only when the Canadian Government sought his release did Syria hand him back.
Well, that's one way to get around rules against torture: outsource. Why not? We're outsourcing everything else, it seems. I wonder if India might see this as a good revenue stream like coding and consulting.

This sort of stuff -- bending the rules -- has been going on for years. Britain has a long history, it turns out.
One day in the autumn of 1942 Kim Philby, an officer in Britain's secret intelligence service, received a message from a colleague in MI5. The MI5 man, Helenus Milmo, was in a state of near despair about a Spanish prisoner and suspected spy, Juan Gomez de Lecube, who had been under interrogation since his arrest in the Caribbean that summer.

Despite Spanish protests, Lecube had been transported across the Atlantic and imprisoned, incommunicado, in Britain's interrogation centre for suspected enemy agents at Camp 020, the codename for Latchmere House in Middlesex.

MI5 and MI6 had high hopes for war-shortening information from Lecube. They believed they had verified beyond doubt that he was a spy. They only needed to make him talk. But after a week, Milmo wrote: "No progress has been made ... it looks as though he is going to be an extremely obstinate nut to crack." Soon afterwards, Milmo wrote to Philby, seeking approval to apply special measures to the interrogation of the detainee.

Sixty years later, in the aftermath of the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, Milmo and Philby's counterparts in US military intelligence and the CIA faced what they believed was a similar dilemma. All over the world, US agents and soldiers were seizing and interrogating hundreds of foreign men whom they suspected held information that would enable new terrorist attacks to be prevented. Like Milmo, they began coming up against stubborn prisoners. Like Milmo, they wrote to those higher up the chain of command seeking permission for special measures to make the prisoners talk.

It has taken more than half a century for Britain's government to put the details of Camp 020 into the public domain. But thanks to a small group of leakers, journalists and freedom of information campaigners, together with the testimony of released detainees, the story of torture and its official endorsement in America's secret overseas prison system - in Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, Afghanistan and other locations - is emerging more quickly.
Of course, there's some irony in the fact that Kim Philby was involved in the 1942 case.
One of the reasons torture persists may be that the voices on the inside of any country's security establishment arguing for increased brutality inevitably sound louder to the interrogators than those on the outside, urging restraint. After the second world war, Kim Philby, the MI6 man Helenus Milmo had consulted about how to crack the most stubborn wartime prisoner, turned out to be one of the most successful traitors ever to infiltrate the British secret service. In the early 1950s Milmo was asked to interrogate him. He never managed to break Philby, and the KGB man escaped to Russia. Milmo's peers were not entirely forgiving. "Some felt," wrote Peter Carter-Ruck when Milmo died in 1988, "that he was perhaps too much of a gentleman for that daunting task."
In the mean time, journalists and bloggers and the rest of us, too, should work to make this great nation's policies and practices transparent. If we're gonna use torture, let's admit it. And then face the consequences when Americans land in some jail or detention center on the far side of the globe.

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