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Torture, Inc.

Rayan El-Amine
Date Published: 
March 01, 2006

“Black sites,” “ghost prisoners,” and “points of darkness” are all real terms used to describe the clandestine nature of US detention facilities all over the world being used as part of the “war on terror.” Hearing these terms, one might think of a Hollywood movie of espionage and intrigue. But as more stories come out on torture and abuse in these detention facilities, the reality seems less like an action drama and more a like a horror film.

There has been over 83,000 detained in the “war on terror” by the US and 14,000 remain in custody. Around 500 are still at Guantanamo and many others are in secret detentions spread across Europe and Asia. Abuse of detainees is everyday practice in US detention centers. Even the most conservative numbers coming from the military itself indicate that there are more than 400 criminal investigations against military personnel for abuses and more than 100 people have died in CIA or military custody.

The deaths and abuses have happened because torture, or the threat of torture, is a central strategy in the “war on terror”. This has become obvious by how furiously this policy has been defended by senior administration officials like Dick Cheney, CIA Director Porter J. Gross and even by George W. Bush. The reliance on torture as a strategy exposes a real crisis in the administrations failed imperial escapades. Torture is being used purely as a punitive measure and to put “fear” in people who do not see things the way we US does.

The administration has viewed torture of detainees as a public relations problem not a human rights issue. When the PR-risk is too high—they have used facilities in other countries and a tactic called “rendition” where they send people to be interrogated in US-friendly dictatorships like Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt were torture is institutional. The incidents of torture in US detention centers or in franchise facilities has put the administration in a defensive mode as more stories come out from ex-detainees.

Stories like the one of Ismail Agha who was taken to Guantanamo from Afghanistan when he was only 13 years old. His father had sent him to try to find construction work when he was picked and detained by US forces and later flown to Guantanamo where he joined a handful of other minors all under the age of 16.

When the Washington Post covered the release of Ismail, the reporter wrote in an almost fantastical delusion that Ismail “saw the ocean for the first time, played soccer, slept in an air-conditioned room and showered twice a day,” and that his experience was “closer to a tropical boarding school than a prison.” Ismail’s “tropical experience” involved being kidnapped, beaten and flown half way around the world and put in an isolated jail where he was subjected to sleep depravation, interrogation and physical abuse for over a year.

Other torture stories have come out from the military and intelligence services itself. Take the admissions made by Tony Lagouranis, a military interrogator who went on TV shows nationally to talk about the systematic torture by intelligence-gathering units in Iraq. He said torture policies never stopped in Iraq and that when the military could no longer torture people in facilities like Abu Ghraib, the intelligence units took the show on the road. Tony testified that people were beaten, burnt and tortured—in their own homes and in front of their families.

The images of torture from Abu Ghraib will surely be the hallmark of the latest dark period in US history; but it is likely that the legacy of Guantanamo will outlast all others. The secrecy, its isolation from the public eye, and its use as a central feature in the “war on terror” will allow it to continue to exist in short term. Guantanamo is truly a modern-day American gulag where many have ended up as a result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The lack of due process, inhumane treatment, and isolation has made conditions intolerable for the detainees.

There have been dozens of suicide attempts by Guantanamo inmates. There is an ongoing hunger strike by inmates protesting the conditions—the military has admitted to force feeding hunger strikers through tubes that are inserted through the nose and into the stomach of detainees. Many inmates have been blindfolded, chained and put into isolation for years. Most of them have been picked up after 9-11 in Afghanistan over four years ago and could not even have relevant information to give at this point.

Regardless, the Bush administration is still insistent on holding on to its moral right to torture, no matter how many suffer or die. The self-righteousness and hypocrisy on human rights rhetoric is not lost on anyone, especially not on the people in the Middle East. Whatever illusions countries and people around the world had about US democracy have now been permanently buried.

While the US talks about democracy in the Middle East it flaunts and ignores even the most basic principles of democracy—the “rule of law” and freedom of the press for example. It has yet to agree to enforce the 4th Geneva Convention laws on treatment of prisoners. As for freedom of the press, the US has targeted independent press like Al-Jazeera TV for consistently exposing US war crimes. It was revealed that Bush even suggested bombing the station in a conversation with Tony Blair.

The US government should be held accountable for its terror and torture, not only by the world community but by its own citizens. One group of mostly American Christian and Pacifists called “Witness to Torture” have traveled to Cuba to march to Guantanamo Prison to expose US atrocities and bring attention to the humiliation and abuse that is happening there daily. Bold actions like this are critical in exposing the realities of the “war on terror.” More direct action and confidence in our ability to win is needed at a time when no one is buying the propaganda that the war mongers are selling.

The use of torture, the dropping phosphorus bombs on civilians in Iraq, the growing prison population, the inability of the government to help victims of Katrina ,and a general erosion of what little democracy exists are all signs of a US Empire in trouble. People in the US fighting for justice should take note, and we should recommit ourselves to a struggle for human dignity and justice for all the victims of this government.