“After a short while, gentlemen, we shall all meet again. Such is the fate of all men.” It was as though in those last minutes he was summing up the lessons that this long course in human wickedness had taught us — the lesson of the fearsome, word-and-thought-defying banality of evil.
– Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem
Mehboob Ahmad is a 35-year-old citizen of Afghanistan. Ahmad was detained by U.S. military for approximately five months from June to November 2003. He was held at various locations in Afghanistan, including the Gardez firebase and the Bagram Air Base. During his detention, Ahmad was tortured and subjected to otherwise cruel and degrading treatment by U.S. military personnel.
More than a year since his release, Ahmad still suffers from leg pain and sometimes cannot move his limbs when he awakes, as a result of the physical abuse and torture he suffered while in U.S. custody. Painful techniques used on Ahmad included hanging him upside-down from the ceiling with a chain, and repeatedly pushing and kicking him while he knelt on a wooden pole with his hands chained to the ceiling.
Ahmad was also sexually and psychologically traumatized by U.S. military personnel. He was forced to strip and stay naked for long periods of time, was probed anally and was threatened with a snarling and barking dog at close range. Interrogators taunted Ahmad by directing insults at his mother and sister and implying that soldiers would rape his wife. He was also threatened with transport to Guantánamo.Like other detainees, Ahmad was subjected to extreme sensory deprivation and isolation. He was forced to wear sound-blocking earphones; he was forced to wear black, opaque goggles almost continuously for more than a month, and was not allowed to speak with other detainees for the five months that he was in custody.
Flashback – Jane Mayer on the CIA’s secret interrogation program:
As the C.I.A. captured and interrogated other Al Qaeda figures, it established a protocol of psychological coercion. The program tied together many strands of the agency’s secret history of Cold War-era experiments in behavioral science. (In June, the C.I.A. declassified long-held secret documents known as the Family Jewels, which shed light on C.I.A. drug experiments on rats and monkeys, and on the infamous case of Frank R. Olson, an agency employee who leaped to his death from a hotel window in 1953, nine days after he was unwittingly drugged with LSD.) The C.I.A.’s most useful research focussed on the surprisingly powerful effects of psychological manipulations, such as extreme sensory deprivation. According to Alfred McCoy, a history professor at the University of Wisconsin, in Madison, who has written a history of the C.I.A.’s experiments in coercing subjects, the agency learned that “if subjects are confined without light, odors, sound, or any fixed references of time and place, very deep breakdowns can be provoked.”
Agency scientists found that in just a few hours some subjects suspended in water tanks—or confined in isolated rooms wearing blacked-out goggles and earmuffs—regressed to semi-psychotic states. Moreover, McCoy said, detainees become so desperate for human interaction that “they bond with the interrogator like a father, or like a drowning man having a lifesaver thrown at him. If you deprive people of all their senses, they’ll turn to you like their daddy.” McCoy added that “after the Cold War we put away those tools. There was bipartisan reform. We backed away from those dark days. Then, under the pressure of the war on terror, they didn’t just bring back the old psychological techniques—they perfected them.”
The C.I.A.’s interrogation program is remarkable for its mechanistic aura. “It’s one of the most sophisticated, refined programs of torture ever,” an outside expert familiar with the protocol said. “At every stage, there was a rigid attention to detail. Procedure was adhered to almost to the letter. There was top-down quality control, and such a set routine that you get to the point where you know what each detainee is going to say, because you’ve heard it before. It was almost automated. People were utterly dehumanized. People fell apart. It was the intentional and systematic infliction of great suffering masquerading as a legal process. It is just chilling.”
Among the few C.I.A. officials who knew the details of the detention and interrogation program, there was a tense debate about where to draw the line in terms of treatment. John Brennan, [former CIA director George] Tenet’s former chief of staff, said, “It all comes down to individual moral barometers.” Waterboarding, in particular, troubled many officials, from both a moral and a legal perspective. Until 2002, when Bush Administration lawyers asserted that waterboarding was a permissible interrogation technique for “enemy combatants,” it was classified as a form of torture, and treated as a serious criminal offense. American soldiers were court-martialled for waterboarding captives as recently as the Vietnam War.
Related: Frontline on “The Torture Question”; Dan Froomkin on the implications of statements regarding the CIA’s secret interrogation program made by the president during the now-infamous ABC interview:
If you consider what the government did to be torture, which is a crime according to U.S. and international law, Bush’s statement shifts his role from being an accessory after the fact to being part of a conspiracy to commit.