This past Monday, April 28, was the ten-year anniversary of the release of images documenting the horrors taking place at the Abu Gharib prison, a US holding facility for Iraqi prisoners of war. The news magazine 60 minutes II reported on the leaked photos of U.S. soldiers torturing, humiliating, and mutilating Iraqi POWs ten years ago that day. Within the next couple days and months more information was uncovered. Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker quickly reported on the issue, detailing a system of operation by CIA officials and military intelligence teams of eradicating information from prisoners using torture methods. It became evident that torture was something supported by the political and military elite of the country.
During the summer and fall of 2004 the Washington Post, The New York Times, and the ACLU released the memos from the Bush administration that justified the legality of torture in the War on Terror. Written by two lawyers at the Office of Legal Counsel of the Justice Department, John Yoo and Jay Bybee, these memos made all methods of interrogation acceptable as long as the infliction of pain did not rise to the level of “organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” These lawyers also created reasons as to why the President as commander-in-chief should retain the right to allow torture in the name of U.S. national security. The U.S. government was actively violating domestic, military, and international law, and was not looking back.
The evidence that surfaced in this scandal linked the ordering of torture to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney, and quite possibly even President George W. Bush. If lawyers from the Office of Legal Counsel of the Justice Department released these memos then Attorney General John Ashcroft was likely to have known too. FBI Director Robert Mueller was one of the few to protest these policies, barring the bureau from using any torture techniques and removing his men from CIA terror suspect interrogations. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who was also a four-star general, also voiced his opposition to the rest of the Bush administration about using these techniques. But regardless of all this information condemning top members of our executive branch, the use of torture continued to be approved. No one was being held accountable.
The specific techniques that were approved by these high ranking officials included sleep deprivation, slapping, dangling of trussed prisoners from beams, and most shockingly, water boarding. The last of these gross and disturbing acts of torture is the most favored amongst CIA interrogators. It involves putting the suspect through the sensation that he is drowning, only allowing him to breath at the last possible second. All of these techniques were justified by the Bush administration as being crucial to supplying the military with information about terrorist plots, thus protecting American lives.
Hiding behind the veil of working to make America safe from terrorists, the executive branch and the CIA began creating secret prisons to torture terror suspects that were outside of the US legal system. The most commonly known secret prison is Guantanamo Bay, created in January 2002, where the first couple hundreds of terror suspects were detained and tortured, as well as, tried and convicted by illegitimate military tribunals. Yet that was just the first. In 2005, Washington Post reporter Dana Priest wrote about the existence of eight other prisons or “black sites” run by the CIA where US officials, private contractors, and foreign interrogators used torture on terror suspects. These prisons were scattered across the world in different countries, strategically placed in remote places away from US law.
America was allowing torture, and it continued to do so throughout Bush’s presidency. The President even came out in September 2006 and said he would put an end to these CIA “black sites,” both acknowledging the approved use of torture on US detainees and stating it would be stopped because it was unlawful. However, the sites still continued to operate and torture continued to be used by CIA officials. With the end of Bush’s second term and the inauguration of Barack Obama, who campaigned on closing Guantanamo Bay and treating prisoners humanely, there was hope that these policies of injustice and violating humanity of the Bush administration would come to an end. And indeed in the beginning of President Obama’s first term it looked that way.
On his first day in office President Obama issued an executive order ending the illegal treatment of detainees for interrogation or other purposes. America was going to abide by domestic, military, and international law once again. He even released other memos and documents from the Bush administration that revealed even more disturbing details of those interrogations. For example, one prisoner was water boarded 83 times during one interrogation, while another prisoner was water boarded 186 times. There were even two interrogation sessions at the hands of CIA officials that resulted in the death of the prisoner. In all the Justice Department under the Obama administration investigated 101 cases of alleged CIA torture violations during the previous administration and found no reason to charge anyone.
Everyone that had a hand in the eight years of U.S.-approved torture facilities was off the hook, from the CIA officials who carried out the torture to the senior members of the Bush administration who signed off on it. No one was held accountable and hardly anyone has adamantly spoken out against it. Congress did pass the Detainee Treatment Act in 2005, introduced by Senator John McCain who was tortured for several years himself in a POW camp in Vietnam. Yet it only applied to the military and not the CIA. It also made a loophole for offering immunity to those personnel who had followed the “lawful” interrogation methods determined by the executive branch.
The Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Dianne Feinstein, has been leading an investigation into US approved torture since 2009, having the committee pour over millions of pages of documents and finally finishing a 6,300 page report on the use of torture during those years. After much debate on the floor Congress decided it will release the report, only the after the subject of the report, the CIA, has examined it. Regardless of all the information out in the open that criminalizes many government officials, nothing is done. It seems that no one in our federal government has the courage to step out and lead a crusade against the Bush administration and the CIA, charging those individuals responsible, removing them from office, and quite possibly sentencing them prison time.
What is even more unsettling is if no one has yet to be held responsible for these heinous acts of injustice and violence, then what is to say they aren’t continuing? Government officials have lied to cover torture up, and when the information comes out, other government officials don’t punish or question their actions. The President has the power to prevent torture, which has been proven to be useless for extracting information from prisoners, from occurring under the watch of CIA officials. But like in the past, the President can also stay quite, pretending to be unaware of our acceptance of torture.