The legacy of America’s post-9/11 flip to torture


Mohamedou Ould Slahi is nearly scientific as he remembers particulars of the torture he endured in the summertime of 2003 at Guantánamo Bay.

There have been the guards who menaced him with assault canine and beat him so badly that they broke his ribs. The troops who shackled him, blasted him with heavy steel music and strobe lights, or drenched him in ice water to disclaim him sleep for months on finish. The mind-numbing isolation in a darkened cell with out his Quran. The feminine guards who uncovered themselves and touched him sexually in an effort to undermine his adherence to Islam.

However what left Slahi in utter despair, he mentioned, was the interrogator who tried to threaten him into acknowledging that he was complicit in plotting a terrorist assault.

“In case you don’t admit to it, we’re going to kidnap your mom, rape her,” the interrogator mentioned, by Slahi’s account.

“I keep in mind telling them: ‘That is unfair. This isn’t truthful,’” Slahi recalled. The interrogator, he mentioned, responded: “I’m not searching for justice. I’m trying to cease planes from hitting buildings in my nation.”

To which Slahi mentioned he replied, “You should get these individuals, not me.”

In the long run, he was launched in 2016 with out ever being charged, the confessions he made beneath duress recanted, a proposed case in opposition to him deemed by the prosecutor to be nugatory in court docket due to the brutality of the interrogation.

“I used to be very naive, and I didn’t perceive how America works,” Slahi mentioned.

For the US, as for Slahi, the legacy of the torture stays advanced and multifaceted 20 years after 9/11 led the George W. Bush administration to put aside authorized and ethical constraints within the identify of nationwide safety.

At the moment, Slahi, 50, is a free man in Mauritania, his homeland in West Africa, after practically 15 years as a detainee, an early portion of that point with the specter of a death-penalty trial hanging over him. (Picture/NYT)

America has lengthy since stopped using the so-called enhanced interrogation strategies utilized in what research have concluded was a fruitless or counterproductive effort to extract lifesaving data from detainees in secret CIA prisons and at Guantánamo Bay.

However the selection to show to government-sanctioned torture stays a stain on the nation’s repute, undercutting its authority to confront repression elsewhere. Even right now, some former Bush administration officers threat questioning when touring to Europe by investigators invoking the United Nations Conference Towards Torture.

After his first assembly with President Joe Biden in June, Russian President Vladimir Putin reminded journalists that Guantánamo remained open and that the CIA had carried out torture in secret overseas prisons. “Is that human rights?” he requested.

Using torture is complicating efforts to deliver the 5 males who’re accused of plotting 9/11 to justice.

“There was torture,” mentioned Adele Welty, whose son Timothy, a firefighter, died in New York on Sept. 11, 2001. She has come to query whether or not the navy commissions at Guantánamo can ship justice.

“The truth that my nation may do that’s so barbaric. It actually bothers me,” she mentioned. “What sort of persons are we that we may try this to different human beings, and did we actually consider that what they have been saying in response to the torture was actual, or have been they only saying it to cease the torture?”

Stuart Sofa, a former Marine prosecutor whose job was to place Slahi on trial at Guantánamo Bay — however who refused as soon as he realized what the navy had achieved to him — mentioned the US nonetheless suffered from what he known as the “Jack Bauer impact”: the idea that you would beat a confession out of a suspect, save the day and emerge heroic, just like the star of the TV thriller “24,” which aired on Fox from 2001 to 2010.

He now has a measure of fame. His bestselling memoir, “Guantánamo Diary,” was launched in a movie model, “The Mauritanian.” Though he’s typically denied visas for journey, he not too long ago made a visit to London, the place he took half in a literary studying and was hosted at a celebration by Kevin Macdonald, director of the film.

Copies of Mohamedou Ould SlahiÕs memoir ÒGuant‡namo Diary,Ó which has been translated into greater than two dozen languages, at his dwelling in Nouakchott, Mauritania, Aug. 16, 2021. (Picture/NYT)

A software program engineer, Slahi has two telephones, a laptop computer and Wi-Fi within the dwelling he constructed since his launch. Remoted for lengthy stretches throughout his imprisonment, he carries on a number of conversations the world over as of late via texts, video chats and cellphone calls.

On one degree, his is a hopeful story.

“I wholeheartedly forgive everybody who wronged me throughout my detention,” he mentioned in a YouTube message to the world quickly after his launch. “I forgive, as a result of forgiveness is my inexhaustible useful resource.”

However the results of what he endured at Guantánamo are on no account behind him.

Slahi displays indicators of post-traumatic stress dysfunction: insomnia, inattentiveness, hyperattentiveness, at occasions scattered considering. He has listening to deficits in all probability associated to the screeching heavy steel music that guards blasted to maintain him awake and continual again ache from sciatica that may be attributed to months of shackling.

He has reminiscence lapses of a sure interval of detention and vivid recollections of different occasions. Discussing his torture, he juxtaposed the accounts of his abuse at Guantánamo with renditions of songs he remembered listening to there: Drowning Pool’s “Let the Our bodies Hit the Flooring” to deprive him of sleep, and a Justin Timberlake tune, “Señorita,” that soothed him because it seeped into his cell from a close-by guard publish.

Slahi was certainly one of two detainees whose torture at Guantánamo Bay was carried out beneath a program authorised by then-Protection Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. America additionally despatched 119 individuals into the CIA’s abroad community of secret prisons — together with the accused plotters of 9/11 — the place detainees have been routinely sleep disadvantaged, shackled in excruciating methods and subjected to rectal abuse and different brutal remedy.

The CIA has acknowledged that three detainees have been waterboarded. One died of abuse. Many extra have been brutalized in U.S. or allied detention as interrogators improvised their very own strategies.

A complete examine by the Senate Choose Intelligence Committee of the company’s program concluded that the strategies didn’t save lives or disrupt terrorist plots and weren’t needed, findings that the CIA disputed. (A prolonged govt abstract of the report was made public in 2014, however the full report stays categorised.)

Slahi’s story — specified by interviews, testimony and congressional investigations — spans a lot of the 20 years wherein the US has variously obscured, acknowledged and handled the diplomatic and human fallout of the interrogation packages approved by Bush and his group.

Slahi was a intelligent, curious son in a Bedouin household of 12 youngsters who grew to become the primary in his household to review overseas. Whereas working towards an engineering diploma in Germany within the Nineties, he traveled to Afghanistan to coach within the anti-Communist jihad at a time when the US endorsed it. He was again in his native Mauritania on Sept. 11, 2001.

Intelligence analysts sifting via data after the assaults famous that he had obtained a name in late 1998 or early 1999 from a satellite tv for pc cellphone utilized by Osama bin Laden. The decision was a few household matter and got here from a cousin who had been a part of bin Laden’s interior circle and later fled to Mauritania, Slahi mentioned.

U.S. intelligence had additionally come to consider that Slahi had hosted three Muslim males in his dwelling in Duisburg, Germany, for an evening in November 1999. Amongst them have been two of the 9/11 hijackers and Ramzi Binalshibh, who’s accused of recruiting the so-called Hamburg cell of hijackers and is charged in a death-penalty case at Guantánamo. Slahi dismissed the encounter as so informal — a matter of providing hospitality to fellow Muslim vacationers — that he mentioned he didn’t keep in mind the suspect named Ramzi when interrogators pressed him on it.

Investigators additionally seen that Slahi had moved to Montreal within the winter of 1999 and prayed on the identical mosque as Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian generally known as the millennium bomber for a failed plot to plant a bomb at Los Angeles Worldwide Airport on New 12 months’s Eve in 1999. Slahi was questioned by federal safety forces in Canada and left for dwelling after two months.

By 2001, the US had persuaded the Mauritanian authorities at hand Slahi to Jordanian interrogators. He was then despatched to Guantánamo Bay in August 2002, after what he described as a quick, brutal keep at a U.S. navy lockup in Bagram, Afghanistan.

At Guantánamo, guards and interrogators sought to interrupt him each bodily and psychologically. In a single case, described by Slahi and different detainees, feminine guards uncovered themselves and made sexual advances on him as he was shackled to a chair in an interrogation room. A male guard taunted him whereas a feminine guard took off her clothes.

“There was touching,” Slahi mentioned. “So humiliating. So destroying.”

After months of interrogation, he admitted to plotting to explode the CN Tower in Toronto — a confession he later mentioned was compelled, including that he didn’t know earlier than his interrogation that the skyscraper existed.

A trial was averted after Sofa, then a lieutenant colonel within the Marine Corps, stumbled right into a surreal scene at Guantánamo of one other prisoner in an interrogation cell, nude, shackled to the ground and being blasted with heavy steel music. The colonel was shocked, did some digging and realized that Slahi’s confessions have been obtained via what he concluded was merciless and strange remedy.

By no means charged, Slahi was stored as a prisoner within the warfare on terror, deemed too harmful to launch till his e book, revealed in 2015 after his attorneys labored to have his writing declassified, put a highlight on his case. A former Military guard, Steve Wooden of Oregon, wrote the Obama administration’s interagency parole board that he thought of Slahi so protected that he would gladly host him in his dwelling.

U.S. forces delivered Slahi to Mauritania simply as he had been delivered to Guantánamo: blindfolded and in shackles.

However though Slahi has been launched, Guantánamo continues to reckon with what was achieved to different detainees nonetheless held there — not least the 5 males accused of serving to to plot 9/11, together with the alleged mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, whom CIA contractors waterboarded 183 occasions at a secret jail in Poland.

The warfare court docket at Guantánamo, run by the U.S. navy, is supposed to stability the necessity for secrecy with the rights of the accused.

To the frustration of households of the practically 3,000 victims of the assault, the crimes of 9/11 have been hardly ever talked about in practically a decade of proceedings.

Moderately, protection attorneys have successfully managed to place the CIA on trial as they’ve systematically sought to exclude proof in opposition to the boys — notably confessions they made months into their stays at Guantánamo — as a product of torture.

The attorneys for one defendant, Mustafa al-Hawsawi, who sits gingerly on a pillow in court docket due to ache from rectal abuse in CIA custody, argue that the case needs to be dismissed outright due to outrageous authorities conduct.

In an effort to hurry up the proceedings — and maybe to guard the identities of sure CIA workers — prosecutors have begun acknowledging that the US tortured its captives in abroad prisons. They don’t use the phrase, however they’ve learn aloud in court docket from grisly descriptions of abuse to attempt to argue that protection attorneys have enough particulars to attempt to transfer both for dismissal of the costs or to exclude the demise penalty if the defendants are convicted.

Prosecutors mentioned in 2018 that they’d stipulate to “something tethered to actuality” to keep away from the nationwide safety battle over declassifying sure particulars of what went on within the secret websites.

“We’re not going to quibble,” mentioned one prosecutor, Jeffrey Groharing. “We’re not going to name witnesses and debate about whether or not Mr. Mohammed was waterboarded 183 occasions or 283 occasions. We, frankly, assume that has little relevance to the commissions and the problems earlier than it.”

The prosecutors seem like banking on the concept that at this level, testimony concerning the remedy of the defendants won’t lead the navy jury within the case to acquit.

There are many Individuals who haven’t forgotten the alternatives made after 9/11. The nation’s revulsion of torture dates to “the earliest days of the American Republic,” Choose Jed Rakoff, a federal decide in Manhattan, wrote in his latest e book, “Why the Harmless Plead Responsible and the Responsible Go Free.”

“This isn’t the best way a civilized colony, or later the US as a complete, conducts itself,” he mentioned. “I do assume that elementary authorized qua ethical strategy was what was undercut within the wake of 9/11 by what occurred in Guantánamo.”

Rakoff’s courthouse is a number of blocks from floor zero. “What remains to be seared in my reminiscence is watching individuals soar out of the home windows of the World Commerce Middle towers as a result of the choice is being burned to demise inside,” he mentioned in an interview. “One can always remember the atrocity of that assault. However additionally it is precisely when atrocities happen that the rule of regulation is put to the take a look at.”

Solely a handful of the boys who have been topic to the remedy authorised by the Bush administration have been launched and spoken publicly concerning the expertise, with Slahi being outstanding amongst them.

“I solely have the regulation,” he mentioned final month. “And if the regulation fails me, I’m achieved. There’s nothing else left for me.”

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