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December 01, 2009

UK Revelations Challenge Known Torture Narrative

Posted in: Torture,War on Terror

Torture chair from Torture Museum, Amsterdam (graphic: Timm Suess via Flickr)

Torture chair from Torture Museum, Amsterdam (graphic: Timm Suess via Flickr)

The fight in a United Kingdom courtroom over secret documents related to the torture of former Guantanamo prisoner and rendition victim Binyam Mohamed has resulted in a striking new revelation, as reported by Mohamed’s attorney Clive Stafford Smith and British journalist Andy Worthington. Newly unredacted material from a previously censored portion of an earlier ruling by a UK court significantly expands the timeline and scope of the introduction of SERE-style “enhanced” interrogation techniques.”

The newly released passage in the court’s previously censored ruling describes how the torture techniques described in the infamous August 1, 2002 “Bybee memo” (PDF) — written to provide a green light for the torture of Abu Zubaydah — were used on Binyam Mohamed by unnamed U.S. agents while Mohamed was held in custody in Pakistan in April and May 2002. This was some four months or so before the authorization “authorization” of these techniques.

Here is the key unredacted passage, from the UK court’s latest filing on the case (PDF), emphasis added:

One of those memoranda dated August 1 2002, from Mr. J.S. Bybee, Assistant Attorney-General, to Mr. John Rizzo, acting General Counsel of the CIA, made clear that the techniques described [as used upon  Binyam Mohamed] were those employed against Mr. Zubaydah, alleged to be a high-ranking member of al-Qaeda.”

The court is talking about techniques used by U.S. agents against Binyam Mohamed while he was first held in Pakistan. The unredacted paragraph makes it “clear” that the techniques in the Bybee memo were earlier used upon Mohamed.  The court had originally described these techniques in a seven-page summary of documents that were provided by the U.S. to the UK government concerning Mohamed’s Pakistan interrogation. The seven-page summary, written by the judges themselves in lieu of publication of the full documentation, is currently classified at the behest of the British government, and against the protest of the judges themselves. (Marcy Wheeler discussed some of the intricacies of the document trail in a recent posting.)

What is often forgotten about  these first interrogations in Pakistan is that they were reportedly performed by the FBI. If that could be established as definitive, then the role of the FBI in the propagation of torture would be significantly different than what is usually reported, i.e., that the FBI forswore torture for rapport-building-style interrogation.

From Binyam’s diary of the events:

“I refused to talk in Karachi until they gave me a lawyer. I said it was my right to have a lawyer. The FBI said, ‘The law has changed, there are no lawyers. You can cooperate with us the easy way or the hard way.’ On the first day of the interrogation ‘Chuck’ said, ‘If you don’t talk to me you are going to Jordan. We can’t do what we want here. The Arabs will deal with you.’”

Binyam was rendered to Morocco and hideous torture on July 19, 2002. While still in custody in Pakistan, we know from an account by his attorney Clive Stafford Smith in his 2006 book, Eight O’clock Ferry to the Windward Side: Seeking Justice in Guantanamo Bay, Binyam was subjected to suspension-style sleep deprivation, very much like the type that was later described by Stephen Bradbury in his May 10, 2005 memo. With the new UK revelation, we now know that Mohamed was subjected while still in Pakistan to a full array of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” such as were used on Abu Zubaydah.

The timing of Zubaydah’s torture, and whether, for instance, he was waterboarded before or after authorization “authorization” for the torture came in the form of the August 2002 Bybee memo, had been a matter of some dispute. But on August 31 this year, ex-CIA Inspector General John Helgerson told Der Spiegel that oral approval for the use of the “enhanced interrogation techniques,” that is, for torture, came “months” before the written approval in the Bybee memos (H/T Jason Leopold). Most likely, Zubaydah’s torture began shortly before that of Binyam Mohamed, though if it did, it was only by days or weeks, not months. For all intents and purposes, the torture was near-contemporaneous.

The story of Zubaydah’s torture has been told by various narrators: FBI agent Ali Soufan, the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Washington Post, the CIA Inspector General report (long PDF),  and Ron Suskind in his book, The One Percent Doctrine, among others. In Andy Worthington’s  report on the Zubaydah case,  he describes how the continual reference to Abu Zubaydah as a mastermind or major Al Qaeda figure is a sham. This carried over even into internal documents, such as the CIA’s psychological report on Zubaydah.

While Abu Zubaydah was being set-up as a “high-value” member of Al Qaeda, one of its supposed top officials, Binyam was being linked to the purported “dirty bomb” plot of Jose Padilla. This frame-up was to be cemented by beatings and psychological torture. The only problem was Binyam refused to go along. This may be one reason they dropped the “dirty bomb” charade with Padilla, and shipped him off to the Naval Brig in Charleston to become a guinea pig for extreme sensory deprivation and possible use of hallucinogenic drugs.

In subtle but powerful ways, the news that Binyam Mohamed was subjected to the “enhanced interrogation techniques” in a period of time contemporaneous to that of Zubaydah, or behind the latter by only a matter of days or weeks, changes the torture narrative. Zubaydah is no longer the key experimental figure in the torture narrative. There was at least one other, and if one, then most likely others we have not heard about. Some of these prisoners appear to have been  “disappeared.” For instance, Omar Gharmesh and a teenager who were seized at the same time as Zubaydah were rendered to Syria and have never been seen or heard of again.

For more on Gharmesh, see the follow-up to this article.

Next: Using Photos of Abu Zubaydah’s Torture to Intimidate and Threaten Other Prisoners


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