The New Yorker‘s Jane Mayer has an extremely important piece in the 13 August edition of the magazine titled “The Black Sites: A Rare Look Inside the CIA’s Secret Interrogation Program.”
I knew from other sources that Mayer was working on a major article that would expose a closely held International Committee of the Red Cross report finding that American interrogators were using torture techniques — but did not know that her piece would be so comprehensive. This article — which is very long — should be read in full by anyone who wants to understand the details of the “darkness at noon” like intrigue that we have created. And it doesn’t even produce results that are dependable.
Much of this story is about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s confession that he beheaded Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Pearl’s wife and many others close to the case don’t have confidence in the confession or the CIA interrogators involved and their techniques for extraction of information from detainees.
The two parts of the essay that are of particular interest to me are first, the section about the ICRC report on US torture habits and second on the view that many have that despite all of the drama about Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib and the various “black sites,” it turns out in one of the highest profile cases involving Mohammed, there is enormous doubt about the information he coughed up.
Jane Mayer writes about the ICRC report:
Since the drafting of the Geneva Conventions, the International Committee of the Red Cross has played a special role in safeguarding the rights of prisoners of war. For decades, governments have allowed officials from the organization to report on the treatment of detainees, to insure that standards set by international treaties are being maintained.
The Red Cross, however, was unable to get access to the C.I.A.’s prisoners for five years. Finally, last year, Red Cross officials were allowed to interview fifteen detainees, after they had been transferred to Guantanamo.
One of the prisoners was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. What the Red Cross learned has been kept from the public. The committee believes that its continued access to prisoners worldwide is contingent upon confidentiality, and therefore it addresses violations privately with the authorities directly responsible for prisoner treatment and detention. For this reason, Simon Schorno, a Red Cross spokesman in Washington, said, “The I.C.R.C. does not comment on its findings publicly. Its work is confidential.”
The public-affairs office at the C.I.A. and officials at the congressional intelligence-oversight committees would not even acknowledge the existence of the report.
Among the few people who are believed to have seen it are Condoleezza Rice, now the Secretary of State; Stephen Hadley, the national-security adviser; John Bellinger III, the Secretary of State’s legal adviser; Hayden; and John Rizzo, the agency’s acting general counsel. Some members of the Senate and House intelligence-oversight committees are also believed to have had limited access to the report.
Confidentiality may be particularly stringent in this case. Congressional and other Washington sources familiar with the report said that it harshly criticized the C.I.A.’s practices. One of the sources said that the Red Cross described the agency’s detention and interrogation methods as tantamount to torture, and declared that American officials responsible for the abusive treatment could have committed serious crimes.
The source said the report warned that these officials may have committed “grave breaches” of the Geneva Conventions, and may have violated the U.S. Torture Act, which Congress passed in 1994. The conclusions of the Red Cross, which is known for its credibility and caution, could have potentially devastating legal ramifications.
Mayer’s meticulous reporting could potentially contribute to a legal case against those inside the US government who approved these torture techniques. It’s interesting to go back and read Jane Mayer’s brilliant expose on Cheney chief of staff David Addington, who is well known as the administration’s pro-torture advocate. David Ignatius dubbed him “Cheney’s Cheney.”
And the kicker of the story is also extremely important. To put it bluntly, all of the secret interrogation sites, military tribunals, rendition programs, and all of the intelligence drama has “undermined certainty” in these legal cases and introduced huge doubts.
As Jane Mayer reports:
Critics of the administration fear that the unorthodox nature of the C.I.A.’s interrogation and detention program will make it impossible to prosecute the entire top echelon of Al Qaeda leaders in captivity. Already, according to the Wall Street Journal, credible allegations of torture have caused a Marine Corps prosecutor reluctantly to decline to bring charges against Mohamedou Ould Slahi, an alleged Al Qaeda leader held in Guantanamo. Bruce Riedel, the former C.I.A. analyst, asked, “What are you going to do with K.S.M. in the long run? It’s a very good question. I don’t think anyone has an answer. If you took him to any real American court, I think any judge would say there is no admissible evidence. It would be thrown out.”
The problems with Mohammed’s coerced confessions are especially glaring in the Daniel Pearl case. It may be that Mohammed killed Pearl, but contradictory evidence and opinion continue to surface.
Yosri Fouda, the Al Jazeera reporter who interviewed Mohammed in Karachi, said that although Mohammed handed him a package of propaganda items, including an unedited video of the Pearl murder, he never identified himself as playing a role in the killing, which occurred in the same city just two months earlier.
And a federal official involved in Mohammed’s case said, “He has no history of killing with his own hands, although he’s proved happy to commit mass murder from afar.” Al Qaeda’s leadership had increasingly focussed on symbolic political targets. “For him, it’s not personal,” the official said. “It’s business.”
Ordinarily, the U.S. legal system is known for resolving such mysteries with painstaking care. But the C.I.A.’s secret interrogation program, Senator Levin said, has undermined the public’s trust in American justice, both here and abroad. “A guy as dangerous as K.S.M. is, and half the world wonders if they can believe him — is that what we want?” he asked. “Statements that can’t be believed, because people think they rely on torture?”
Asra Nomani, the Pearls’ friend, said of the Mohammed confession, “I’m not interested in unfair justice, even for bad people.” She went on, “Danny was such a person of conscience. I don’t think he would have wanted all of this dirty business. I don’t think he would have wanted someone being tortured. He would have been repulsed. This is the kind of story that Danny would have investigated. He really believed in American principles.”
It seems that the best protection Americans and even victims of America had as far as the protection of their basic human rights was when the Soviet Union was challenging us in a global Cold War. Then, the U.S. had to be different — to present an alternative model.
Without the Soviet Union to juxtapose ourselves against, Bush’s dark and cynical leadership has taken this nation not towards increased liberty but to a place where we have our own kind of gulags.
And to some degree Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Vice President Cheney are conspiring with one another to knock the legs from beneath our democracy. They feed on each other and help each other while pretending to be enemies — but both harm us.
— Steve Clemons