No Comment — September 6, 2012, 11:00 am

CIA Waterboarding, Qaddafi Collaboration Revealed

Just days after Attorney General Holder announced a formal decision of impunity resulting from a probe into 101 documented cases in which CIA agents engaged in acts of torture and abuse in apparent violation of CIA guidelines—including those approving torture—further explosive allegations have emerged that lay bare the scope of CIA cooperation with abusive regimes in the era before the Arab Spring. Drawing on interviews with Libyan prisoners previously held by the CIA in black-site facilities, as well as a large cache of secret documents that turned up when rebels seized Qaddafi’s state security offices last year, Human Rights Watch has issued a 156-page report (PDF) that meticulously documents a George W. Bush–era CIA program of torture, including waterboarding, in careful collaboration with former Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi. Among the report’s key findings:

  • Five Libyans described their captivity in U.S.-run prisons in Afghanistan for between eight months and two years before they were rendered back to Libya. They described having been chained to walls naked—sometimes diapered—in pitch-dark, windowless cells for weeks or months at a time; being restrained in painful stress positions for long periods, being forced into cramped spaces; being beaten and slammed into walls; being kept inside for nearly five months without the right to bathe; being denied food; and being denied sleep by continuous, deafeningly loud Western music.

     
  • One former prisoner described having been waterboarded on repeated occasions during U.S. interrogations in Afghanistan. The report notes that the prisoner never used the phrase “waterboarding,” but described the procedure in detail: his captors put a hood over his head, strapped him onto a wooden board, “then they start with the water pouring. . . . They start to pour water to the point where you feel like you are suffocating.” He added: “[T]hey wouldn’t stop until they got some kind of answer from me.” He said a doctor was present during the waterboarding and that it happened so many times he could not keep count.
     
  • Another prisoner in Afghanistan described being subjected to a water-suffocation practice similar to waterboarding, and said that he was threatened with use of the board. A doctor was present during this abuse as well.
     
  • All fourteen former prisoners who were interviewed described being turned over by the CIA to the Qaddafi regime with the full expectation that they would be tortured and abused after transfer to Libya.
     
  • The report offers further detail on the fate of Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, the man whose torture-induced fraudulent claims about the plans of Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein were cited by the Bush Administration to justify the invasion of Iraq. The CIA turned al-Libi over to the Qaddafi regime, and he died in prison under mysterious circumstances shortly thereafter. The report notes the discovery of photographs of al-Libi from the morning after his death in which evidence of torture is plainly visible on his body.

Former CIA director and current Romney national-security adviser Michael Hayden and former President Bush have both asserted that only three individuals held in detention by the CIA were ever waterboarded. The report would establish these claims as untruthful.

The report, coupled with recent developments in Libya, also highlights the CIA’s chronic inability to distinguish between violent anti-American Islamist groups such as Al Qaeda and those who simply opposed their own oppressive regime and sought to overturn it. The Bush Administration promoted cordial relations with Qaddafi, while the Bush-era CIA worked intensively to develop a close rapport with Qaddafi’s security forces, much as it did in Egypt, Yemen and a number of other repressive Arab states. In 2011, the Obama Administration reversed course, siding with the rebels opposing Qaddafi and deploying military and intelligence resources to topple his regime. Many of the Libyan groups persecuted and abused by the CIA belonged to the alliance that toppled Qaddafi, and a number of their leaders are now in positions of importance in the new regime. Thus the CIA’s miscalculations could not have been more sweeping or more harmful to long-term U.S. interests.

In an important speech last year at Harvard University, CIA veteran and Obama counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan stressed that the administration’s Middle East policies emphasize the rule of law and respect for human rights. If that’s true, then the cache of evidence disclosed by the Libyan revolution and the comparable evidence that has emerged in Egypt point to the CIA as a rogue institution operating at dangerous cross-purposes with official U.S. policy. The agency aligned itself closely with the most abusive institutions in the countries where it was operating, and enabled the wanton torture of political opponents. Those tight relationships appear to have seriously warped its intelligence posture, leaving it dangerously blind to the developments that swept the Arab world early last year. Moreover, much of the conduct highlighted in the HRW report violated criminal statutes, including the Anti-Torture Act and the prohibition on renditions of persons to countries where they were likely to face torture.

The Justice Department’s systematic whitewashing of these crimes can best be explained by the fact that it was a key actor in the crimes. It cannot be expected to prosecute its own senior staffers, nor can it be expected to take actions that would further stain its already badly soiled reputation. But this very whitewashing raises fundamental doubt about the Obama Administration’s commitment to ending torture by American intelligence operatives. To the contrary, the Obama Administration’s handling of the matter appears to retain torture as a viable option for American foreign policy—one that Mitt Romney, with Michael Hayden at his side, would happily resume.

At its outset, the report quotes Abdul Hakim Belhadj, a man who was imprisoned and abused by the CIA, but who went on to lead the Libyan insurrection, with American backing: “All we seek is justice. . . . We hope the new Libya, freed from its dictator, will have positive relationships with the West. But this relationship must be built on respect and justice. Only by admitting and apologizing for past mistakes . . . can we move forward together as friends.” A hand of friendship has been outstretched, but with it a request that the United States reject its misguided practices of the past. It would be foolish and contrary to our national-security interests to ignore this offer.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm

Lincoln’s Party

Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

September 2016

Tearing Up the Map

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Land of Sod

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Only an Apocalypse Can Save Us Now

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Watchmen

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Acceptable Losses

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Home

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
 
Andrew Cockburn on the Saudi slaughter in Yemen, Alan Jacobs on the disappearance of Christian intellectuals, a forum on a post-Obama foreign policy, a story by Alice McDermott, and more
Artwork by Ingo Günther
Article
Land of Sod·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Just a few short years ago, Yemen was judged to be among the poorest countries in the world, ranking 154th out of the 187 nations on the U.N.’s Human Development Index. One in every five Yemenis went hungry. Almost one in three was unemployed. Every year, 40,000 children died before their fifth birthday, and experts predicted the country would soon run out of water.

Photograph by Mike Slack
Article
The Watchmen·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Just a few short years ago, Yemen was judged to be among the poorest countries in the world, ranking 154th out of the 187 nations on the U.N.’s Human Development Index. One in every five Yemenis went hungry. Almost one in three was unemployed. Every year, 40,000 children died before their fifth birthday, and experts predicted the country would soon run out of water.

Illustration by John Ritter
Article
Acceptable Losses·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Just a few short years ago, Yemen was judged to be among the poorest countries in the world, ranking 154th out of the 187 nations on the U.N.’s Human Development Index. One in every five Yemenis went hungry. Almost one in three was unemployed. Every year, 40,000 children died before their fifth birthday, and experts predicted the country would soon run out of water.

Photograph by Alex Potter
Article
The Origins of Speech·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"To Chomsky...every child’s language organ could use the 'deep structure,' 'universal grammar,' and 'language acquisition device' he was born with to express what he had to say, no matter whether it came out of his mouth in English or Urdu or Nagamese."
Illustration (detail) by Darrel Rees. Source photograph © Miroslav Dakov/Alamy Live News

Chances that college students select as “most desirable‚” the same face chosen by the chickens:

49 in 50

Most of the United States’ 36,000 yearly bunk-bed injuries involve male victims.

In Italy, a legislator called for parents who feed their children vegan diets to be sentenced to up to six years in prison, and in Sweden, a woman attempted to vindicate her theft of six pairs of underwear by claiming she had severe diarrhea.

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

HARPER’S FINEST

Mississippi Drift

By

Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'

Subscribe Today