What if murder were the purpose of the CIA “black sites” and rendition programs?
While I hesitate to say anything bad, about a report so highly praised; fools often rush in where angels fear to tread.
What report am I talking about? “Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detention and Extraordinary Rendition,” by the “Open Society Foundation, Open Society Justice Initiative’s National Security and Counterterrorism Program,” New York, New York.
“Torture was a hallmark of both” programs; namely, secret detention (“black sites”) and extraordinary rendition.
Globalizing Torture’s “Executive Summary” does its best to minimize the size of the problem. Readers are told that post 9/11, the US led an international effort of 55 countries to kidnap, secretly imprison and interrogate under torture, at least 136 individuals.
Does anyone but me find it implausible that 55 nations of the world would bring such resources to bear against 136 human beings? What mighty grievances these 55 nations must have had against the 136 (an average of 2.5 persons per nation)!
Recall I said, “implausible,” not impossible; as there is literary, if not historical, precedent—and by a giant at that, Christopher Marlowe:
“Was this the face that launch’d a thousand ships/And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?/ Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.” —Doctor Faustus
I’d say the following are the modern equivalent of the thousand ships:
“[A]s many as 54 foreign governments reportedly participated in these operations in various ways, including by hosting CIA prisons on their territories; detaining, interrogating, torturing, and abusing individuals; assisting in the capture and transport of detainees; permitting the use of domestic airspace and airports for secret fights transporting detainees; providing intelligence leading to the secret detention and extraordinary rendition of individuals; and interrogating individuals who were secretly being held in the custody of other governments.”
Add the SECRECY required to do all this without domestic opposition:
“Foreign governments also failed to protect detainees from secret detention and extraordinary rendition on their territories and to conduct effective investigations into agencies and officials who participated in these operations.”
Yet, the Mountain (i.e., the Report) labors to bring forth a Mouse (i.e., 36 additional prisoners, beyond the 100 prisoners President Bush had already acknowledged secretly detaining)!
True, at the time he made the statement, President Bush did not admit, even inadvertently, to torturing or abusing anyone. Still, 136 is not a large number—in fact, it seems embarrassingly small, given the size of these programs—which must be why the number is so little mentioned in discussions about the Report.
Second, the Executive Summary does not call in terms for an AUDIT of either or both of these CIA programs; namely, the secret detentions or the extraordinary renditions. Why not?
The Executive Summary even avoids use of the word, “accountability.” Why? Perhaps because “accountability” implies an “account,” or an “accounting,” or an “AUDIT.” And an “audit,” requires looking at more than a program’s finances–important though they are.
An AUDIT would typically begin with the legal authority for a program, its funding and other allocation of resources, and would conclude with the program’s RESULTS or end product. In other words, what did the program accomplish, in light of its stated objectives?
Might an occasional death have been one such “result”? How about a thousand such deaths? More than a thousand? How would anyone ever know the number of deaths, which resulted from the torture–if indeed, there were such deaths–since one does not even know the number and identity of the prisoners?
And what were the two programs’ “stated objectives”? For example, were the tortured prisoners ever to be released? Always? Sometimes? Never? Under what circumstances?
Does anyone else find it strange that ALL of the 136 known CIA prisoners lived to tell the tale? Others in US custody post-911 have not been so fortunate. Indeed, since 9/11, Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib and Bagram have become iconic, precisely as monuments to human depravity.
The Executive Summary studiously avoids use of the word “death”—as if torture were a risk-free, and specifically a death-free, undertaking—when all know acute pain causes an immediate spike in blood pressure.
True, the Report speaks of the “disappearance of detainees”—but not as a synonym for murder, but in the following context:
“The two programs entailed the abduction and disappearance of detainees and their extra-legal transfer on secret flights to undisclosed locations around the world, followed by their incommunicado detention, interrogation, torture, and abuse.”
But the question that might most interest the International Criminal Court (ICC) or other court: what happened to detainees AFTER “their incommunicado detention, interrogation, torture, and abuse.” I mean, why stop there? An auditor certainly would not stop with the torture and abuse. There is HUMAN CAPITAL, as well as other forms of capital, to be accounted for–as part of these programs and their wrapping up.
I have read, for example, that the Mexican drug cartels will kidnap for ransom (and sometimes for additional reasons); torture their kidnap victims to secure payment of the ransom; and then almost invariably kill those victims—whether or not the ransom is paid!
The groups’ activities are illegal in both cases—the Mexican drug cartels; and the US-led secret detention and extraordinary rendition programs. Minuscule also, are both groups’ chances of being called to account for any murders they might commit. So, why should anyone assume the Mexicans will torture and kill, while the Americans (and their 54 contractor-nations) will never torture and kill?
In his investigations of 9/11, Dimitri Khalezov, a former Soviet Army officer, concerned with nuclear weapons, distinguishes between various “levels of truth.”
Khalezov contends that, as to important matters, the only “truths” allowed the general public are the most basic of facts—which facts are so obvious, they are undeniable, anyway.
So, for example on 9/11, three New York City office buildings were destroyed—and the Pentagon, outside Washington, DC, was damaged in part. How these events occurred, and even more importantly, why they occurred; then become the subjects of official government narrative—the one best known being almost entirely fictional!
There is recent evidence that Globalizing Torture is similarly fictional in its premise-conclusion that 55 countries, led by the US, conspired together to kidnap, interrogate and torture 136 individuals—none of whom died from their ordeal.
On Tuesday 19 February 2013—just two weeks after release of Globalizing Torture—Reuters News Service reported from Warsaw that,
Polish prosecutors have decided to drop charges against the country’s former intelligence chief made during an investigation into allegations the CIA was allowed to run a secret prison in Poland for al Qaeda suspects, a newspaper said on Tuesday.
The daily Gazeta Wyborcza first reported early last year Zbigniew Siemiatkowski faced charges of exceeding his authority at the height of the U.S.-led “war on terror.”
What could the Polish prosecutors do but drop the charges? With Globalizing Torture having helpfully identified the 55 torture-loving countries by name, how can any single nation maintain the pretense its “intelligence chief” was off on a frolic of his own?
None can, none will. Thus, there will be no further investigations in Poland—nor I submit, in any of the other 54 torture-loving countries—concerning the “black site” and extraordinary rendition programs.
As a practical matter, the lack of trials in any of the 55 torturing countries will leave the official (i.e., public) narrative in those countries, exactly where Globalizing Torture has placed it; namely, 136 torture victims and no deaths.
This lack of sanctions against torturers, and corresponding absence of reparations for torture victims, will not—at least not instantly—make torture legal worldwide. But it is certainly a head start toward legalizing, even promoting, torture globally.
The “Fab 55,” with the US leading the charge, have done incalculable damage to international law. Not only have the 55 nations revived the Nuremberg principle–actually, pre-Nuremberg defense–of “just following orders”; they have done it in a way, which overthrows the UN Convention Against Torture (CAT):
“No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.” [CAT, Art. 2, Sec. 2, eff. 26 June 1987].
Apparently, innocence is the only defense to a charge of torture. As with murder, not even duress suffices.
Those Americans who oppose torture on moral, aesthetic or legal grounds, need to quickly combine, I think, with like-minded groups in non-torturing countries—to press those governments to demand a full accounting of the Fab 55’s “black site” and extraordinary rendition programs.
The countries of Latin America might be a good place to look for support. As others have observed, none of Latin America joined the US’ “black site” and extraordinary rendition programs; and in that Latin American unanimity, there is hope.
I put opposition on “legal grounds” last, because at the moment it seems the weakest. But torturers themselves often stop, when their families find out about the torture and beg them to stop.
As Lincoln said of slavery, “If slavery’s not wrong, then nothing is wrong.” Lincoln must have realized that slavery and death were closely linked. Indeed, just this week, I read that field hands, working the sugar, rice, cotton and tobacco plantations, seldom lasted more than six years.
So, too, is there an intimate connection between torture and death. Many torture victims kill themselves—some, soon after the torture stops; others, years afterwards.
As mentioned earlier, the Mexican drug (and gun) cartels have revived the ancient practice of “torture, then murder”; “torture, then execution.” Did not the Romans always scourge a prisoner, before crucifying him? Torture destroys a man or woman’s humanity, making it easier for the torturer to then kill him or her.
Thus, torture is often a prelude, rather than the main event. A torture program without deaths? Your eyes and mine were never destined to behold that miracle!