No Comment — June 16, 2009, 11:13 am

The Fruits of Torture

Late yesterday further transcripts from Guantánamo emerged in the ACLU’s Freedom of Information Act litigation. The Obama Administration reviewed and released a few new details from a group of hearings before the highly controversial Combat Status Review Tribunal (CSRT). This entity was set up in response to the Supreme Court’s conclusion that the Bush Administration violated Article 5 of the Geneva Conventions when it failed to conduct proceedings to determine the status of the individuals it was holding in Guantánamo. Some of the military lawyers who participate in it describe the CSRT as a farce designed to give an aura of legality to a kangaroo court. One of the most vehement critics was indeed a military judge who was forced to preside over one of these sessions. Justice Department lawyers have routinely refused to have anything to do with CSRT, viewing it as a legal toxic waste dump. One source of controversy has been the testimony of prisoners about how they were tortured. At several of the CSRT hearings, when prisoners were confronted with alleged confessions of criminal conduct, they stated that they had been tortured to get these confessions.

Torture-induced testimony is considered to be inherently unreliable. Beyond this, torture is a crime, and these statements would tend to inculpate the interrogators involved in criminal acts. But the Tribunal quite properly would not rely on the prisoner’s conclusions, and it insisted on questioning them about what was done to them that they called “torture.” When the Bush Administration first released these transcripts, all this information was censored on claimed grounds of national security.

The newly released transcripts offer us more information about the prisoners’ claims. But more importantly, they give us another chance to test the Bush Administration’s claims of secrecy. Just what exactly about the testimony of these prisoners could possibly jeopardize the security of the United States? We should start by noting the converse: keeping this testimony secret does damage the security of the United States, because it makes the entire process by which prisoners are held at Guantánamo appear to be arbitrary and unjust and undermines their credibility in the eyes of the world.

Here’s an example of one of the new unredacted passages from the testimony of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (“KSM”). The Tribunal president asks him if he made any statements because of torture. Here’s how he answers:

I ah cannot remember now [CENSORED] I be under questioning so many statements which have been some of them I make up stories just location UBL. Where is he? I don’t know. Then he tortured me. Then I said, yes, he is in this area or this is al Qaida which I don’t him. I said no, they torture me. Does he know you? I say don’t him but how come he know you? I told him I’m senior man. Many people they know me which I don’t them. I ask him even if he knew George Bush. He said, yes I do. He don’t know you, that not means its false. [CENSORED] I said yes or not. This I said.

So KSM is saying that he lied about the questions they asked to get them to stop torturing him. Is there anything surprising about that? It’s a standard response, for which thousands of examples can be found in human experience.

The real question is, why was this censored? First, it got in the way of the Bush Administration’s lies to the American public. The Bush mantra, most recently taken up by Dick Cheney and his daughter Liz, is that torture saves lives. They argue that real life is just like the Fox show “24.” Let Jack Bauer attach some electrodes to a terrorist, and he’ll get the information he needs to save Los Angeles. It undermines this fiction to learn that torture produces false answers. Second, the actual descriptions of the torture techniques used could wind up as exhibits to a criminal indictment of Bush Administration officials who authorized the torture. This is hardly idle speculation. In fact, criminal proceedings are underway in Spain, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Poland, each of which could quite plausibly result in an indictment of a Bush official or two. Someday even the U.S. Justice Department might decide that its mission includes enforcement of the criminal law even when its own staffers are the criminals.

We still don’t have the full picture, because much information has still been withheld due to an—almost certainly bad-faith—invocation of national security. But at this point, “national security” might mean this: we committed a crime, and if we divulge the details we may very well wind up being prosecuted.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

May 2015

Displaced in the D.R.

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Quietest Place in the Universe

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Black Hat, White Hat

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Beyond the Broken Window

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In Search of a Stolen Fiddle

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
In Search of a Stolen Fiddle·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“To lose an instrument is to lose an essential piece of one’s identity. It brings its own solitary form of grief.”
Violin © Serge Picard/Agence VU
Post
Driving the San Joaquin Valley·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Don sucked the last of his drink through his straw and licked his lips. 'The coast, to me, is more interesting than the valley.'”
Photograph by the author
Article
Othello’s Son·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Fred Morton, who died this week in Vienna, at the age of 90, was a longtime contributor to Harper's Magazine and a good friend. "Othello's Son," which was listed as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2013, appeared in our September 2013 issue.
Photograph © Alex Gotfryd/CORBIS
Article
Beyond the Broken Window·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“By the time Bratton left the department, in 2009, Los Angeles had quietly become the most spied-on city in America.”
Illustration by Taylor Callery
Article
Displaced in the D.R.·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“How is it possible that my birth certificate is invalid if I was born here?”
Photograph by Pierre Michel Jean

Number of African countries with vaccination rates higher than that of the United States:

16

Iowa urologists reported that only a minor portion of locker-room teasing arises from “the presence of excess foreskin”; most teasing targets small penises.

A farmer in Surrey, England, was ordered by the Reigate and Banstead Borough Council to tear down his cannon-equipped castle, which he had built secretly and then concealed behind hay bales.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today