In the war on terror, in the words of one historian, the C.I.A. “didn’t just bring back the old psychological techniques—they perfected them.”
The United States Government is once again going forward with plans to use military tribunals to try prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay, prisoners who were allegedly subject to torture interrogation techniques.
The three suspects who are now listed as being prepared for trial are Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Ahmed al-Darbi, and Obaydullah. The Obama administration has consistently sought to try these and similar cases in the United States, in civil courts, where rules of evidence and testimony are stronger, and where, many believe, verdicts, because of the stronger rules will be more fair and just. Hearsay evidence is allowed in military tribunals; the tribunals are ordinarily used in cases where time is of the essence, as in battlefield situations.
Last month the American Congress blocked the efforts of the administration in these issues. The prisoners, because of new legislation, cannot be transferred to Illinois for trial in civil courts. Now, in concert with an executive order creating a parole board-review system it appears more expedient to go forward with the tribunals. This would at least bring the cases of nearly 50 detainees to trial, where otherwise the detainees would continue being indefinitely held. Under the new plan, charges will be brought within weeks.
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, is a 46 year old Saudi Arabian citizen accused of planning the 2000 bombing of the American destroyer Cole in Yemen. He was captured in October of 2002, and has been held at Guantánamo Bay, in Cuba, for fifty-two months. He is one of three al Qaeda prisoners who are confirmed by the CIA as having been subject while in confinement to waterboarding.
A second suspect, Ahmed al-Darbi, is charged with plotting to attack oil tankers on the Straits of Hormuz, a waterway near the north coast of Iran, and the south coast of the United Arab Emirates, and near the Gulf of Oman, and the Persian Gulf.
Al-Darbi has written extensively about his time in captivity. During his first two weeks he writes, he was kept in complete isolation. He recalls that he was from the onset forced to kneel through the night with his hands cuffed over his head, so he was not allowed to sleep. He was on some occasions forced to lean against a wall for hours, hands shackled behind his back, his feet positioned so that all his weight rested on his forehead. It was not possible he says, to sleep in that position. They would ask him about Osama bin Laden, and bin Laden’s whereabouts. During those first two weeks he was hit when he started to fall asleep and he was not permitted he says, to pray.
Some sections of al-Darbi’s complaints have been censored. Al-Darbi does mention that since he was not permitted to use a normal restroom, he restricted his intake of food; he was not given much food, and what he was given was inedible. He mentions a place outside the cage where he was kept which held waterboards, other boards, baseball bats, chains, cuffs, hoods, and other instruments. He was hooded or blindfolded (goggled) for much of this time. He wrote: “The military guards and interrogators would show me pictures of people, and told me I must identify them and confess things about them. After they tortured me, I would say what they wanted me to say. I was fed detailed statements and names of individuals to whom I was to attribute certain activities.”
These torture techniques at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, and at Abu Ghraib prison, outside Baghdad, are well documented. The New Yorker describes the death of an Iraqi prisoner Manadel al-Jamadi. Death was brought about as this prisoner’s head was covered with a plastic bag, and he was shackled in what is described as a crucifixion-like pose, which prevented his being able to breathe.
When these types of measures for interrogation reached the attention of the public in America John McCain (R-AZ) introduced a bill that would require humane treatment. Although then-President G.W. Bush adamantly opposed the bill, the senate passed it by a margin of 90-9. At that time, a detention facility at Bagram Air Base, in Afghanistan, was also mentioned.
Also now scheduled for trial by military tribunal is a 30 or 31 year old citizen of Afghanistan, Obaidullah. Obaidullah’s Guantanamo Internment Serial Number is 762. He has been held for eight years three months and charged with “war crimes”. Obaidullah claimed abusive interrogation while in custody in Bagram, during a period of time when officers in charge have now acknowledged directing the use of the technique of chaining detainees’ hands above their heads in order to impose sleep deprivation.
The American Public and the Congress may have been purified in recent days, owing to the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Now, with the revelations that will certainly come with trial, perhaps the use of “enhanced interrogation” will be altogether abolished.