How Many Others Were Tortured?

By Dan Froomkin
10:25 AM ET, 04/ 7/2009

The International Committee of the Red Cross's blistering, confidential 2007 report on the CIA's secret prisons is now available online, Web-published by journalist Mark Danner, who last month recounted its gruesome descriptions of the brutal tactics used on detainees -- and its authoritative conclusion that their treatment amounted to torture.

News stories this morning dwell on the report's finding that medical personnel at the prisons took part in the torture of detainees, in gross violation of both their own professional ethics and international law.

But the report, which was based on interviews with the 14 "high value" detainees transferred from the secret prisons to Guantanamo in September 2006, also raises and expresses "grave concerns" about a very significant unanswered question: What happened to all the other detainees who passed through the secret CIA prisons who we still don't know about?

In 2006, President Bush himself acknowledged that "many" other detainees who were held at the CIA prisons were later returned to their home countries. The ICRC report says those detainees may well have been tortured as well -- but the ICRC doesn't know, because those detainees have have never been found.

Indeed, one of the many very serious charges the ICRC report levels against the U.S. government is that the 14 detainees they eventually interviewed had previously been "disappeared" -- deprived of any communication with their families, lawyers or the ICRC for as long as four and a half years and in direct contravention of international law. But the 14 in question at least showed up on the books once they were sent to Guantanamo in 2006. The other CIA detainees, however, were basically disappeared again.

And given how little intelligence at least some of the 14 "high value" detainees provided -- even the Bush administration's much-heralded "star witness" turned out to be of only limited value -- the image the report conjures up is of innocent people tortured by the CIA and now vanished by mutual agreement with other countries.

From the section of the report titled "Fate of other persons who passed through the CIA detention program":

"During his speech of 6 September 2006, President Bush also stated that the CIA detention program held a limited number of persons at a given time, and that a number of other persons had also been detained by the CIA in the context of the fight against terrorism. President Bush added that: 'many of them have been returned to their home countries for prosecution or detention by their governments' once the US authorities had determined that they had "little or no intelligence value".

"In subsequent discussions with various US Government departments, it was again stated to the ICRC that the majority, if not all, other detainees who went through this program have been transferred to their countries of origin....

"The ICRC has a number of legal and operational concerns about this practice. In particular, the ICRC regrets that the USG [U.S. government] has not informed the ICRC of the countries of destination so that the ICRC can seek access from the relevant authorities in order to monitor human treatment and to ensure communication with their families.

"In light of the conditions of detention and treatment of the fourteen during the period they were held in the CIA detention program, as reported above, the ICRC remains gravely concerned by the fact that a significant number of other persons have passed through this detention program and may have been subjected to similar, if not the same conditions and treatment."

Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald calls attention to the report's demand "that the US authorities investigate all allegations of ill-treatment and take steps to punish the perpetrators, where appropriate." Writes Greenwald: "Yet Obama's handpicked CIA Director, Leon Panetta, continues to demand that there be no investigations of any kind, let alone prosecutions."

Scott Horton blogs for Harper's: "The Red Cross does not reach quickly to an 'investigate and punish' recommendation. That happens only where the evidence of criminal conduct is manifest. And it was in this case. They use the word 'torture' repeatedly, without equivocation or qualification....

"The question...is for the Obama Administration: why has Eric Holder blocked the criminal investigation that a proper understanding of his duties would lead him to initiate?"

Joby Warrick and Julie Tate write in The Washington Post: "Medical officers who oversaw interrogations of terrorism suspects in CIA secret prisons committed gross violations of medical ethics and in some cases essentially participated in torture, the International Committee of the Red Cross concluded in a confidential report that labeled the CIA program 'inhuman.'

"Health personnel offered supervision and even assistance as suspected al-Qaeda operatives were beaten, deprived of food, exposed to temperature extremes and subjected to waterboarding, the relief agency said in the 2007 report, a copy of which was posted on a magazine Web site yesterday. The report quoted one medical official as telling a detainee: 'I look after your body only because we need you for information.'...

"In addition to widely reported methods such as waterboarding, the report alleges that several of the detainees were forced to stand for days in painful positions with their arms shackled overhead. One prisoner reported being shackled in this manner for 'two to three months, seven days of prolonged stress standing followed by two days of being able to sit or lie down.'

"In addition to the coercive methods -- which the ICRC said 'amounted to torture' and a violation of U.S. and international treaty obligations -- the report said detainees were routinely threatened with further violence against themselves and their families. Nine of the 14 prisoners said they were threatened with 'electric shocks, infection with HIV, sodomy of the detainee and...being brought close to death,' it said."

Scott Shane writes in the New York Times: "The report does not indicate whether the medical workers at the C.I.A. sites were physicians, other professionals or both. Other sources have said that psychologists helped design and run the C.I.A. interrogation program, that physicians' assistants and former military paramedics worked regularly in it, and that physicians were involved at times....

"In its 40-page report, the Red Cross roundly condemned the C.I.A. detention program not only for using torture and other cruel treatment, but also for holding prisoners without notice to governments or families.

"'The totality of the circumstances in which the 14 were held effectively amounted to an arbitrary deprivation of liberty and enforced disappearance, in contravention of international law,' said the report, which was provided to the C.I.A. acting general counsel, John Rizzo, in February 2007....

"The report also provided new details of the Bush administration's failure to cooperate for several years with the Red Cross's inquiries and investigations of American detention programs. Repeated inquiries and reports from the organization beginning in 2002 received no response from American officials, the report said, though the United States sent a diplomatic message addressing some inquiries in 2005."

Meanwhile, in other detainee news, Mark Seibel blogs for McClatchy Newspapers: "It's only taken seven years, but finally a federal district judge has made it clear he's had enough delay in a Guantanamo case, and he leaves no doubt that he has no faith in the Obama Justice Department to carry through on promises to release a detainee. Here's Marisa Taylor's story on the hearing, during which the judge castigates the Justice Department for hiding evidence that he said undermines its cases against several detainees.

"For a full picture of U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan's rising ire, read the transcript of the hearing. The case is that of Dr. Aymen Batarfi, a Yemeni doctor seized in Afghanistan in 2002 who's been in Guantanamo since.

"The government agreed last week that Dr. Batarfi should go home.

"That's not enough for Judge Sullivan. He's openly skeptical of the government's motive for making that announcement just a week before Batarfi's habeas case was to be heard in his court. He wants to know why the government won't let him enter an order mandating Batarfi's release, since everyone agrees he shouldn't be detained any longer. He wants to know when Batarfi will go free. He calls Guantanamo a 'travesty' of American justice, 'a horror story,' he equates it to the injustice of the U.S. internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II."

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