Is The Use Of Torture An Official Policy?

by Benjie Oliveros

Reading through the 500-page Executive Summary of the report of the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, one could not help but feel revulsion and alarm at the official, systematic, and brutal application of torture on detainees the US suspected of having links with Al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden.

Worse, the CIA’s total disregard for the lives, much less rights, of these detainees and the arbitrariness of these acts are manifested by the fact that it does not even have an accurate, official accounting of how many persons were subjected to renditions, detention and torture (euphemistically called “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques”). The CIA counted at least 119 detained persons, of whom 26 were later discovered to be cases of mistaken identity or were wrongly implicated by rival tribal factions, personal enemies or detainees who underwent torture and were forced to point to somebody to be relieved of suffering.

Those who were identified as having been detained without a clear basis included Sayed Habib, who was pointed to by a detainee who was undergoing torture,; Habib’s brother Shaistah Habibullah Khan; Ali Saeed Awadh, a case of mistaken identity; Modin Nik Muhammed who was pointed to because of a blood feud; Khalid Al-Masri who, after a “prolonged detention,” was determined to be innocent; Muhammad Khan who the CIA acknowledged later that they know very little of; Hayatullah Haqqani who the CIA concluded was “at the wrong place at the wrong time;” Ali Jan who was arrested merely for using a satellite phone; Mohammad Al-Shomaila and Salah Nasir Alim-Salih who were arrested based on “speculative” information.

Worth emphasizing are the arrests of Abu Hudhaifa who was subjected to ice water baths and 66 hours of sleep deprivation before being adjudged as innocent; Haji Ghalgi whose arrest was used as “leverage” against a family member who was suspected of having links with Al-Qaeda; Nazar Ali, an “intellectually challenged individual whose taped crying was used as leverage against a family member;” and Gul Rahman who died of hypothermia after being shackled and made to sit on the floor without pants only to be discovered later as a case of mistaken identity.

The tortures that CIA detainees underwent were scientifically, and systematically planned and were first administered by a psychologist and a medical doctor contracted out by the CIA. The tortures included stripping the detainee naked, sleep deprivation through constant lighting with the use of strong halogen lamps, playing loud music, stress position such as shackling a detainee on a bar with his hands above his head to force him to stand the whole night, confining him inside a coffin-like box alternated with a small box, continuous intense interrogation, attention grasp, facial slap and facial hold, abdominal slap, banging the detainee against the wall, extreme isolation, use of insects, use of diapers, mock executions and mock burial, waterboarding (euphemism for water torture through pouring water continuously on the nose and mouth of the detainee to induce drowning), ice baths, water dousing, rectal rehydration and rectal feeding.

All of these were administered not just to inflict pain but also to induce a sense of “learned helplessness.”

The brutal, inhumane and yet systematic manner by which these torture methods were applied sends shivers, especially since these are still happening in a supposedly civilized and democratic world.

One might say that because the torture that happened is being exposed today by the US Senate goes to show that these problems are being addressed and that the US is officially intolerant of torture. But at the time of the Bush administration, these “enhanced interrogation methods” were officially sanctioned, on the justification that the information that would be extracted using these techniques could save more American lives.

Yes, the Obama administration, in 2009, has officially put a stop to these practices. However, President Barack Obama has approved more drone attacks and assassinations than his predecessor.

Moreover, this is not the first time that officially sanctioned, systematic torture being employed by US state security forces was exposed. The same torture methods were exposed in declassified documents of the US dirty war in the 1980s. The declassified training manuals of US Armed Forces on counterinsurgency, counterterror and psychological warfare operations from the 1950s, 60s up to the 90s consistently prescribe the use of torture, assassinations, bombings and other such methods designed to create fear.

Reading through the US Senate report, one could sense that the use of torture or “enhanced interrogation methods” is not being condemned per se. The whole point of the report is that it has not been proven that the use of torture or EIT, as the report calls it, has produced valuable information that could have enabled US security forces to preempt terrorist attacks targeting US citizens. The CIA and former US Vice President Dick Cheney have been consistently defending the use of EIT saying that the information obtained from it saved American lives.

Does this mean that if it has been proven that torture produced valuable intelligence information it is justified?

Also, the Obama administration and the US Senate made it clear that it does not intend to prosecute anyone because of the report. This is the very reason why the US consistently refuses to sign the Rome Statutes, which would have placed it under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.

What is more alarming for Filipinos is the fact that these torture methods were employed extensively by US-trained Philippine troops during the dark years of Martial Law and are still being used now. This is not surprising because US troops have been continuously training AFP troops on counterinsurgency, counterterror operations.

Remember the case of Rebelyn Pitao, a 20-year-old teacher, who was abducted, raped and brutally killed just because she was the daughter of Leoncio Pitao, a known leader of the New People’s Army? How about the case of Rolly Panesa, a security guard, who was arbitrarily arrested, detained and tortured on suspicion that he is a ranking official of the Communist Party of the Philippines. The Court of Appeals later ruled that it was a case of mistaken identity.

The US Senate report also revealed that the construction of CIA secret facilities, where suspected terrorists were detained and tortured, were cleared with the host country and that the host government was rewarded millions of dollars in US aid for agreeing to it. A political prisoner once stumbled upon a victim of rendition in one military camp in the country. He tried to expose it but no reporter from corporate media agreed to look into it.

With the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement signed by the Aquino and Obama administrations, more US military facilities would be established all over the country. So the next expose’ of the illegal activities US security forces would, without doubt, involve the Philippines.

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