The CIA’s extraordinary rendition programme, through which individuals allegedly suspected of terrorism would be kidnapped and whisked off to secret interrogation centres known as black sites, has recently been revisited in mainstream media through a series of illustrations by a prisoner held in Guantanamo’s Camp 7. The sketches drawn by the prisoner Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn depict the torture inflicted upon him by CIA interrogators. All methods constitute human rights violations and were drawn up by psychologists hired specifically to design torture and interrogation methods for the prisoner to reveal the information coveted by the CIA.
Among the illustrations by Husayn, also known as Abu Zubaydah, is the “walling” technique, in which the prisoner’s head is repeatedly smashed against the wall. In the sketch, the interrogator’s face is blacked out. The ramifications of such torture were dismissed by a psychologist contracted by the CIA , who merely stated, “If it’s painful, you’re doing it wrong.”
In a declassified document detailing ten torture and interrogation techniques used on Zubaydah, these are described as acts in which “the specific intent to inflict severe mental pain or suffering” does not exist. Yet the document also describes each torture technique in terms of physical and psychological pain, and specifically singles out waterboarding as a potentially dangerous method which “constitutes a threat of imminent death”. What the CIA is clearly after, however, is stipulating that any physical or mental stress is immediately relieved upon cessation of torture. It also justifies the prescribed torture methods as avoiding “the absence of prolonged mental harm”.
More than a decade later, however, detainees who were victims of torture in CIA black sites have exhibited psychological and physical disturbances. While the US claimed that it had never studied the impact of its torture program upon detainees, there is enough historical evidence throughout political warfare and human rights violations that testify to the perpetual physical and psychological trauma experienced by torture survivors.
Former US President Barack Obama had ordered the closing down of the CIA’s black sites around the world and the transfer of remaining prisoners to Guantanamo in Cuba. However, the closing down of such sites does not remove culpability from the US and countries which willingly participated in extraordinary rendition and torture. In addition, Obama granted impunity to the CIA agents involved in interrogation, including waterboarding. The then Attorney General Eric Holder determined, “It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department.”
However torture, which has been described as only representing “30% of the reality” by individuals privy to classified details, remains at the fore for several reasons. One is the inability to hold trials due to confessions being extracted from detainees under torture, which constitutes unacceptable evidence as far as court procedures are concerned. With regard to human rights violations and the ramifications of tortures upon detainees, the medical condition is being diagnosed while dissociated from the torture, which is the actual cause.
The impunity exhibited by the US is leading other participating countries to do the same. A declassified internal memo clearly outlines how the CIA planned to use purported “necessity” as a defence against its officials involved in torture. It also based such necessity on the purported saving of lives – a lie which the ongoing war on terror keeps perpetuating in order to maintain the US plan to destabilise the Middle East through foreign intervention and covert operations. The text continues: “A policy decision must be made with regard to U.S. use of torture in light of our obligations under international law, with consideration given to the circumstances and to international opinion on our current campaign against terrorism—states may be very unwilling to call the U.S. to task for torture when it resulted in saving thousands of lives.”
International complicity in the war on terror, both in terms of foreign intervention participation as well as allowing the US to use foreign territories for extraordinary rendition, has complemented the US’s strategy for cultivating impunity at home and abroad. EU member states participating in extraordinary rendition by allowing CIA black sites to operate in their countries have clearly violated the European Convention on Human Rights. However, refraining from a single component of the wide-ranging war on terror is not enough. It is imperative to reverse the war on terror by isolating the US foreign policy of military intervention to then shed light not only on torture, but also on culpability.