The recent, mysterious death of yet another captive in the Guantanamo concentration camp opens yet another door into the blood-caked labyrinth of the American gulag, where despite all the soaring rhetoric about "restoring the rule of law," torture is still very much the order of the day.
Scott Horton at Harper's provides this telling quote from an AP story on the death of Mohammad Ahmed Abdullah Saleh Al Hanashi, which gulag officials have classified as an "apparent suicide":
A Guantanamo Bay detainee who left his cell to meet with military commanders as prisoner representative never returned, and was instead sent to a psychiatric ward where he died five months later, a former detainee recalled...
The U.S. military has refused to say how Saleh allegedly killed himself in the closely watched ward. But the former detainee, Binyam Mohamed, said it wasn’t like him to commit suicide. “He was patient and encouraged others to be the same,” Mohamed said. “He never viewed suicide as a means to end his despair.” Even if it was suicide, Mohamed still classifies the death as “murder, or unlawful killing, whichever way you look at it,” saying that the U.S. had caused Saleh to lose hope by locking him up indefinitely without charges.
They took him away, held him under the close supervision in a psychiatric ward -- and yet he still managed to magically kill himself by some as-yet undisclosed method. No doubt the "ongoing investigation" -- by the NCIS guys! just like on TV! -- will eventually manage to concoct an explanation plausible enough to satisfy our ever-incurious political and media elites.
But as Horton notes, Saleh was also a victim of an particularly sadistic form of torture that is still being practiced -- openly, unapologetically -- by the Obama Administration's agents in the Guantanamo concentration camp: force-feeding. Horton writes:
The techniques do not comply with the international standards for actual force-feeding, established in the World Medical Association’s Malta Declaration of 1991. Instead they have a darker and more distressing progeny. From the use of restraint chairs down to the specific brand of commercial diet supplement used by the doctors, the force-feeding techniques now in use at Guantanamo replicate the methods used by the CIA at black sites under Bush. At the black sites, those methods were not part of any medical regime. Instead, they were a part of a carefully designed torture regime, the very same regime that Obama claims to have abolished in his first executive order.
Pentagon spokespersons righteously defend the “force-feeding” program at Guantanamo as medically necessary to save lives. That’s a farce. In fact, this program is the last residue of the Bush-era torture system. Did it just claim another life on June 1? That’s a question that some apparently don’t want to have to answer. And two weeks later, the public continues to await a serious explanation of this death. The passage of time will not make the ultimate explanations more credible.
As we have noted many times before, Obama has not "abolished torture," any more than he has abolished the worldwide American gulag -- or indeed, renounced any of the autocratic powers claimed by Bush, including the "right" of the Unitary Executive to seize anyone on earth and hold them in captivity indefinitely, without charges -- or to have them murdered in "extrajudicial assassinations." This latter power -- which Bush also delegated to covert agents in the field, who could murder selected targets on their own volition, without awaiting approval from higher up -- was openly trumpeted by Bush, on national television, before a joint session of Congress -- and was routinely noted by the mainstream press. To my knowledge, no leading figure in the national political establishment has ever publicly objected to this practice of state murder -- nor has Obama repudiated or overturned Bush's directives on this point. In fact, Obama has made one facet of Bush's "Murder, Inc." program a very public linchpin of his strategy in the "Af-Pak" War: the use of drone-fired missiles to assassinate alleged terrorists, alleged insurgent leaders -- and everyone else in the missile's general vicinity.
But we must give credit where it's due. Obama has wrought some changes in the imperial torture policies, making good on his campaign pledges to restore the American values that were lost or diminished under his odious predecessor. As Alfred McCoy -- the premier historian of the American elite's long, long love affair with torture -- points out, Obama has revived the venerable bipartisan practice of relying on client states to do the bulk of the dirty work for the U.S. security apparat. McCoy writes (at TomDispatch):
If, like me, you've been following America's torture policies not just for the last few years, but for decades, you can't help but experience that eerie feeling of déjà vu these days. With the departure of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney from Washington and the arrival of Barack Obama, it may just be back to the future when it comes to torture policy, a turn away from a dark, do-it-yourself ethos and a return to the outsourcing of torture that went on, with the support of both Democrats and Republicans, in the Cold War years....
Then, on April 16th, President Obama ... released the four Bush-era memos detailing CIA torture, insisting: "Nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past." During a visit to CIA headquarters four days later, Obama promised that there would be no prosecutions of Agency employees. "We've made some mistakes," he admitted, but urged Americans simply to "acknowledge them and then move forward." The president's statements were in such blatant defiance of international law that the U.N.'s chief official on torture, Manfred Nowak, reminded him that Washington was actually obliged to investigate possible violations of the Convention Against Torture.
This process of impunity is leading Washington back to a global torture policy that, during the Cold War, was bipartisan in nature: publicly advocating human rights while covertly outsourcing torture to allied governments and their intelligence agencies. In retrospect, it may become ever more apparent that the real aberration of the Bush years lay not in torture policies per se, but in the President's order that the CIA should operate its own torture prisons. The advantage of the bipartisan torture consensus of the Cold War era was, of course, that it did a remarkably good job most of the time of insulating Washington from the taint of torture, which was sometimes remarkably widely practiced.
There are already some clear signs of a policy shift in this direction in the Obama era. Since mid-2008, U.S. intelligence has captured a half-dozen al-Qaeda suspects and, instead of shipping them to Guantanamo or to CIA secret prisons, has had them interrogated by allied Middle Eastern intelligence agencies. Showing that this policy is again bipartisan, Obama's new CIA director Leon Panetta announced that the Agency would continue to engage in the rendition of terror suspects to allies like Libya, Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia where we can, as he put it, "rely on diplomatic assurances of good treatment." Showing the quality of such treatment, Time magazine reported on May 24th that Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, who famously confessed under torture that Saddam Hussein had provided al-Qaeda with chemical weapons and later admitted his lie to Senate investigators, had committed "suicide" in a Libyan cell.
Another suicide, in murky circumstances, of a Terror War captive -- a cynic might begin to detect a pattern here.
We also learned this week that the Obama Administration had renewed the contract of the two psychiatrists who were instrumental in designing several of the more exquisitely painful and perverse elements of the Bush Regime's torture program. James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen were re-hired by the CIA -- for 1,000 smackers a day -- in February. As Jane Mayer notes (in an interview with Horton at another venue, The Daily Beast):
To my amazement, I was told that the CIA renewed its rich contract with James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen in February 2009—in other words, after Obama took office. What is so astounding about this is that these two former military psychologists have been described to me and others as the original designers of the torture techniques. They were there at the creation when waterboarding was used 183 times on Abu Zubaydah. Waterboarding, according to Attorney General Eric Holder, is torture. Torture is a felony, sometimes treated as a capital crime. Yet despite all of this, the CIA renewed their contract this year. The only thing that finally cut their revenue stream off was the passage of a new law curbing the CIA from using contractors in interrogations. This past spring, after that law passed, Leon Panetta fired their firm. But it seems that for seven years they have been on the public dole. If the CIA had any qualms about using the cruel techniques these two contractors designed, it certainly wasn’t reflected by February 2009. [For more on dynamic duo of Mitchell and Jesson, see here and here.]
In other words, now that the security apparat is outsourcing most of its torture again, there is no need for pricey stateside contractors to do the job. Hey, we all know foreign labor is cheaper! Hell, those Libyans and Egyptians and what have you probably do it for free, just to stay on the good side of their imperial patrons.
McCoy's remarkable piece gives us dreadful chapter and horrifying verse of the history of American torture -- a long and proud tradition that our government is still staunchly upholding today!
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This story was published on June 18, 2009.