SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Issue 185 February 2015

CIA torture

Anything goes in the war on terror

Torture, kidnap and misinformation have been the CIA’s favoured methods in the so-called ‘war on terror’. That was confirmed in the US Senate intelligence committee report released on 9 December 2014. It is based on access to six million internal documents covering CIA operations from 2002 to 2006. The classified report is over 6,000 pages long, of which 524 were declassified and published. Although heavily edited – CIA director John Brennan spent two years trying to stop its publication – it does give a glimpse of the brutality and arrogance of an agency clearly out of control, given free rein following the 2001 9/11 attacks. Some of the details are truly shocking, sickening.

The names of officers and the countries which helped the CIA have been redacted (deleted). However, it is well known that of the 54 states which cooperated with the CIA’s ‘extraordinary renditions’ (kidnapping), detentions and interrogations, over 20 are in Europe. In the first row stands Britain – Tony Blair was not known as George W Bush’s poodle for nothing. Suspects were sent to be tortured in states such as Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt, Bashar al-Assad’s Syria and Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya.

Rendition is not the only euphemism in use. The CIA does not, for example, talk about torture, preferring the phrase ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’. These include other sinister euphemisms: ‘attention grabs’ (violently shaking a prisoner), ‘cold cells’ (keeping naked prisoners in freezing cells, dousing them with ice-cold water), ‘rectal hydration’ and ‘rectal feeding’ (force-feeding liquids and pureed foods/anal rape), and ‘waterboarding’ (near drowning).

CIA officers acted with impunity. The Salt Pit prison, Afghanistan, for instance, was under the command of a junior officer. He ordered a prisoner shackled and stripped from the waist down. The prisoner was found dead of hypothermia the next day. Four months later, the officer received a one-off award of $2,500 for "consistently superior work". Then, there was the cover-up. When Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate intelligence committee, outlined its findings, she referred to claims in 2007 that the CIA had destroyed recordings of interrogations: "Director Hayden said the CIA had concluded that the destruction of videotapes was acceptable because Congress had not requested to see them. But, of course, the committee had not known that the videotapes existed". (International New York Times, 10 December 2014)

Millions of dollars were made available for secret payments to foreign officials to get governments to agree to host secret prisons. CIA headquarters instructed its overseas officers to compile wish-lists of what governments would want in exchange. A 2003 cable instructed them to "think big".

Some US state officials have claimed that George W Bush did not know what was going on – the first detailed CIA briefing to the president was in 2006, four years into the torture programme. It is inconceivable, however, that his administration was kept out of the loop. Bush fully sanctioned the CIA’s operations, and continues to defend his record. His vice-president, Dick Cheney, said that CIA techniques had yielded "phenomenal results". The report says these methods provided mainly fabricated information – anything to make the torture stop. Barack Obama has frequently condemned the use of torture. That has not stopped him effectively granting an amnesty to the CIA torturers, ruling out prosecutions of any officers.

A feature of the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions and occupations has been the increased role of private contractors. Torture, too, turned out to be very lucrative, especially for two psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. They played a central role in establishing the torture programme in 2002, setting up a company which contracted its services to the CIA. They were also responsible for assessing the programme – and gave it excellent grades. When they conducted the interrogations, they were each paid $1,800 a day. By the time the contract was cancelled, in 2009, their company had received $81 million.

It would be wrong, however, to think that this is all some aberration on the part of the CIA. It may be true that the leash was taken off after 9/11, but the CIA has a long history of supporting coups, running death squads and torture training, in particular against left-wing governments, socialists, trade union activists and dissidents all over the world. In 1975 there was even a US Senate committee which investigated illegal activities by the security forces, including the CIA’s failed assassination attempts against leaders such as Fidel Castro. Frank Church, who chaired that committee, dubbed the agency "a rogue elephant".

Moreover, there is a direct connection with the Feinstein findings. The CIA’s chief interrogator in the war on terror was given the job in 2002. Earlier in his career, the agency’s inspector general had recommended he be "orally admonished for inappropriate use of interrogation techniques" in Latin America in the 1980s. (International New York Times, 10 December) We can only surmise that having this on his CV was considered a plus.

Notable for its absence in the report is any reference to UK intelligence agencies. These were all deleted at the request of the British government and security forces on the grounds of national security. Frequent meetings between the British ambassador in Washington and Senate committee members made sure of that. Given the mass opposition to the Iraq war, the British state is desperate to keep hidden the extent to which its security forces worked hand-in-glove with the US kidnap and torture programme.

Successive British governments have blocked calls for any comprehensive inquiries into war-on-terror related issues. In Britain, the intelligence and security committee (ISC) of MPs and lords is supposed to provide oversight. More often than not, it just provides a cover. Its investigation in 2007, for instance, concluded that MI5 and MI6 had been "slow to detect the emerging patterns of renditions" by the US. Yet, it has been revealed that five days after 9/11 – in 2001 – Sir Mark Allen, head of counter-terrorism at MI6, had been given a three-hour briefing by the CIA on its planned rendition programme. (Guardian, 13 December)

Blair’s lieutenant, Jack Straw, the foreign secretary who took Britain to war in Iraq, refuses to answer questions on the renditions to Libya, the refuelling of rendition flights at UK airports, the use of the Indian Ocean base at Diego Garcia, or the participation of UK intelligence officers in CIA interrogations. We have been waiting since 2009 for the findings of the Chilcott inquiry into Britain’s involvement in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Blair & Co have been busy trying to suppress any incriminating material from appearing in the final report.

On coming to office, David Cameron promised a judge-led inquiry. It even began its work, under retired judge Sir Peter Gibson. It was, however, shut down by the Con-Dem government a year ago, on the grounds that it could not look into the rendition of prisoners to Libya as that was part of an ongoing police investigation – also dragging on for years. Gibson published a preliminary report which identified 27 issues of concern. The government decided that these will be looked at by the ISC. As ISC reports have to be cleared by Downing Street, if anything is ever published it will be thoroughly censored and sanitised.

For all its severe limitations, the Senate intelligence committee report has at least lifted the lid a little. It is enough to show how the horrific attacks of 9/11 were used cynically by the Bush administration to unleash its so-called ‘war on terror’ – with the full backing of the Blair government. That brought with it a swath of laws increasing state surveillance and curtailing democratic rights, a narrative that vilified and marginalised Muslims, and which unleashed terrible wars and occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq. With the lack of a mass socialist alternative on offer, that has in turn provided fertile ground on which right-wing Islamist terrorism grows.

Now, the shocking murders at the Charlie Hebdo offices and kosher supermarket in Paris have already signalled a new raft of ‘anti-terror’ laws in France. They have also been used to rehabilitate the US National Security Agency, and Britain’s GCHQ, both reeling from the WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden revelations. The French state is intensifying its bombing missions in Syria and Iraq. The consequences are sadly predictable.

Manny Thain

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