Torturing an American Citizen | Harper's Magazine

Sign in to access Harper’s Magazine

Need to create a login? Want to change your email address or password? Forgot your password?

  1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
  2. Select Email/Password Information.
  3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.

Locked out of your account? Get help here.

Subscribers can find additional help here.

Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!

Get Access to Print and Digital for $23.99.
Subscribe for Full Access
Get Access to Print and Digital for $23.99.
[No Comment]

Torturing an American Citizen


In the early days in Afghanistan, two Westerners were picked up with what were believed to be Al Qaeda or Taliban units. They were a kid from California named John Walker Lindh and a young Australian kangaroo skinner named David Hicks. As an act of political largesse directed by Dick Cheney, the man who runs our secret government, Hicks was released from Gitmo and returned to Australia. Lindh, however, didn’t have it so good. A decision was made to make an example of him. So he was sentenced to 20 years without parole by Judge T.S. Ellis III in a case prosecuted by Paul J. McNulty, a man who later made his reputation in the U.S. attorney scandal, and now faces suggestions of perjury and lying to Congress. At the time, I was told repeatedly that prosecutors were frantic to secure a plea bargain because they knew that Lindh had been tortured and that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was deeply implicated in the decision to torture him. If the case went to trial, and there were discovery, this would come out. However, defense counsel got badly outfoxed and outgunned on the matter and accepted a truly foolish plea bargain which seriously criminalized a kid who engaged in antics that read like a chapter from the life of Richard Burton (no, not the Welsh actor, the British orientalist who made a pilgrimage to Mecca, became a Sufi mystic and passed for a jihadi terrorist, all in the course of writing nineteenth century England’s definitive account of the Islamic mind).

Now Spencer Ackerman gives us a key new document in which Paul J. McNulty rats on his colleague Jim Haynes.

As Serrano and others reported, Lindh, an American citizen, was “was kept in harsh conditions, stripped and tied to a stretcher, and often held for long periods in a large metal container.” When a Justice Department ethics attorney, Jesselyn Radack, told a counterterrorism prosecutor that Lindh could not be questioned without his lawyer present if DOJ wanted to build a criminal case against him, she was promptly pushed out of her job. The case against Lindh eventually came down to a 20-year sentence based on a plea bargain, prompting many to speculate that Lindh’s harsh treatment — apparently approved by Rumsfeld’s top aides — ultimately scotched the chances for a successful prosecution on bigger charges than his ties to the Taliban.

“We know he was tortured,” says human-rights attorney Scott Horton. “There’s no beating around the bush. This is clarifying that the authority was given at the highest levels for torture to occur. The strong suggestion here is that it’s Haynes doing that, and the strong suspicion is that the authority for him to do so comes from the secretary of defense.” The further suspicion, according to the Post piece, is that the authority for Rumsfeld’s attorney to have authorized the abuse of an American citizen came from Vice President Cheney.

In other words, torture didn’t start in Gitmo or among some grunts in the field and then spread. In fact perhaps the very first victim was a young American citizen, and the decision was reached right at the pinnacle of power and then hammered down on people out in the field who reacted with disbelief upon hearing the instructions given.

More from