Former president of the National Lawyers Guild, Marjorie Cohn, commented on recent statements by two GOP presidential candidates who created a stir by defending waterboarding:
[Herman] Cain said, “I don’t see it as torture. I see it as an enhanced interrogation technique,” which is what the Bush administration used to call its policy of torture and abuse. [Michelle] Bachman declared, “If I were president, I would be willing to use waterboarding. I think it was very effective. It gained information for our country.” And after the debate, Mitt Romney’s aides told CNN that he does not think waterboarding is torture.
Cohn notes at the end of her article, “Unfortunately, during his hearing to be confirmed as CIA director, David Petraeus told Congress there might be occasions in which we must return to “enhanced interrogation” to get information. Alarmingly, that comment signaled that the Obama administration may return to the use of torture and abuse.” Petraeus was confirmed as the new CIA director last August on a 94-0 vote of the U.S. Senate.
Evidence of Torture in the Obama Administration
Despite President Obama’s own comments criticizing Cain and Bachman’s statements, Cohn points out that Obama’s own nominated candidate for CIA director is willing to support waterboarding and the other torture techniques designated “enhanced interrogation” during the Bush/Cheney regime. But there’s no “unfortunately” about it. The Obama administration does support torture, but it does so in the old-fashioned U.S. way, through official and/or plausible denial.
But anyone who looks at what the U.S. does, rather than what it says, will know that the torture never ended. Waterboarding may or may not have been ceased, but in the U.S. official Army Field Manual on interrogation, numerous commentators have found clear evidence of the use of torture, including use of debilitating isolation, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, manipulation of phobias, use of drugs, and other “techniques.” Some of these techniques, such as use of isolation and sleep deprivation are limited to supposed “illegal” combatants, such as those captured in the “war on terror,” as discussed in the AFM’s Appendix M (PDF).
The use of controlled suffocation, such as in the water torture used in the video below, was documented to be endemic across the field of Defense Department operations in a series of articles published at Truthout.org recently. Also published at Truthout was an analysis of the possible use of “dryboarding”, another suffocation torture technique that may have been used by U.S. interrogators and implicated in the deaths of three prisoners at Guantanamo in 2006.
The “dryboarding” hypothesis was developed by Almerindo Ojeda at the University of California at Davis’s Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas. Ojeda is also principal investigator for the Center’s Guantánamo Testimonials Project. He discovered that Ali Saleh Al-Marri, a purported Al Qaeda “sleeper” agent, who was held for years in solitary confinement at the Navy Brig in Charleston, North Carolina, like fellow domestic internee and U.S. citizen Jose Padilla, had been tortured by having a sock shoved stuffed in his mouth and then having his lips taped shut with duct tape. Al-Marri almost suffocated.
Ojeda noted that all of the dead supposed suicides at Guantanamo had socks stuffed in their mouths or down their throats.
The “dryboarding” disclosures do not resolve the questions about the Guantánamo deaths, but they give rise to important new questions about interrogation practices that may also have been used at Guantánamo. They also further justify the call for a thorough and independent investigation of the three deaths and underscore the severe credibility issues with the government’s claims about “suicides.”
The investigation of the Guantanamo “suicides” by Horton and Seton Hall University School of Law, Center for Policy and Research (PDF) was the subject of a slur campaign in the media last May, with Horton’s article in particular attacked by former Bush Administration officials. Then, strangely, Adweek writer Alex Koppelman and his former Salon.com collaborator Mark Benjamin, jumped in to defend Guantanamo Defense Department authorities’ version of events.
Links to the Torturers
The following video was posted at both LiveLeak.com and You Tube, and provides “a glimpse of what went on during interrogations of [Afghan] insurgents by Jonathan Idema,” who worked in conjunction with NATO forces in Afghanistan “counterterror” operations.
Idema is a controversial figure. He was arrested by Afghan authorities in July 2004 in Kabul, where according to a New York Times report, he had been holding eight men prisoner. Some of these men “said they were kicked and beaten, had scalding water poured on them, and had their heads repeatedly dunked in a bucket of water.” Idema was pardoned by Afghan President Karzai in March 2007. He had claimed all along that he was working at the behest of U.S. authorities. The U.S. denied this, though admittedly he did work with international forces on counterterrorism operations.
In a well-documented examination of his career at Wikipedia, Idema’s connections with U.S. Special Forces is dissected. Idema’s various disgraces and problems with the military never kept him from working at various times with U.S. Special Forces, and interestingly, he has been connected to private contracting firms associated with the “war on terror,” including Star America Aviation Company, Ltd. (SAAC).
One of the latter company’s executives is retired Major General Jack Holbein, a former leading commander at U.S. Special Forces Command. SAAC is linked to a shell company, Isabeau Dakota, Inc., that listed Idema’s father as president and sole officer, in that both are registered as corporations by the same individual, William L. London, who appears to be an attorney in Sanford, North Carolina. There is some evidence, given the connections noted in his Wikipedia entry, that Idema served as an off-the-record asset or operative of U.S. Special Forces.
Major General Holbein was listed in the 2008 Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) report on detainee abuse (large PDF) as one of the recipients of the Defense Department’s interrogation-torture proposal developed by James Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen at Joint Personnel Services Agency (JPRA). Holbein was then Chief of Staff at U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM), and JPRA was under command authority of JFCOM at that time. The implication of the SASC report is that Holbein and others helped send the torture proposal up the chain of command.
The military is keeping the core mission of JFCOM: training the military to operate and fight together. But instead of maintaining a separate four-star command and all the overhead it entails, personnel will report directly to the Joint Staff.
The former JFCOM functions remaining in Hampton Roads include those related to joint training, developing new concepts and doctrine, experimentation and what the military calls “lessons learned.”
A Tale of Two Videos
The video below is from As Sahab, a supposedly Al Qaeda linked media outlet, though reposted at LiveLink, and apparently was discovered in the raid on Idema’s Afghanistan headquarters in Kabul in 2004. (Other As Sahab videos of torture have been aired by ABC news, and posted at You Tube.) Whether or not Idema was working directly for the Americans or not, the video provides a sickeningly vivid display of the kind of water torture during interrogation that has been documented previously as used by U.S. forces. (See here and here.)
The refusal by either the Obama administration or the U.S. Congress to hold torturers accountable, or to eliminate the torture embedded in the Army Field Manual, means that the torture program continues. It may be more hidden, but it operates nevertheless continuously. While the U.S. puts out propaganda about its “humane” treatment of detainees at Guantanamo and elsewhere (see this story by Jason Leopold on the latest video issued in the U.S. propaganda effort), the real truth is hidden as much as possible.
The cozening of torturers, and the successful continuation in one form of the U.S. torture program has found its domestic analogue in the vicious state repression being unleashed upon the reform-minded protesters of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Indeed, the attacks on peaceful protesters demonstrates as much as the history of the torture program that the U.S. government is not an entity to be bargained with, and that new political forms must arise to challenge the social and political status quo. Their first demand must be an end to state violence against peaceful protest.
Jeffrey Kaye, a psychologist living in Northern California and a regular contributor to Truthout and The Public Record, blogs about civil liberties and issues revolving around the US government’s torture program at The Dissenter. He can be reached at sfpsych at gmail dot com. Follow Jeff on Twitter: @Jeff_Kaye