While the US and its allies decry Russia’s brutality in Ukraine, a recently declassified report has shed light on some of the practices of western imperialism. It has been revealed that the CIA spent three years using a detainee in Afghanistan as a ‘puppet’ to train interrogators in torture methods. This individual was subject to senseless brutality, despite providing no useful intelligence.
Ammar al-Baluchi, a Pakistani national with links to the 9/11 attacks, was held in the so-called Salt Pit: an ‘extralegal’ detention centre or ‘black site’ from 2003 to 2006. There, he faced all kinds of physical and psychological torment, before being moved to the infamous Guantanamo Bay, where he has been held without trial ever since. Anmar’s ordeal has left him with potentially severe brain damage.
A school for torture
The descriptions of Ammar’s handling by US agents paint a grim picture. Sleep and food deprivation were standard, often lasting several days at a time. Whilst sleep-deprived, Ammar would be forced to remain standing, sometimes for up to 82 hours, before being taken in for ‘interrogation’.
Here, the horrors only continued. ‘Enhanced interrogation techniques’ (a euphemism for torture methods) employed by the CIA included repeatedly slapping his face and chest, forcing his body into uncomfortable ‘stress positions’ for long periods of time, shackling him naked to the floor while 12 or 13 agents threw buckets of icy water over him, and ‘walling’ – covering his head in a towel before hitting it against a plank of wood.
These barbaric methods were, and likely still are, common practice in the secret detention facilities of US imperialism around the world.
Most disgusting of all is the fact that Ammar was not just being abused to extract information from him. His torture chamber was a classroom for aspiring CIA interrogators. The report describes the agents present as “students doing on-the-job training”.
One CIA agent interviewed for the report, noted he “needed to do substantial learning on the job and felt ‘behind the curve’, in part because he needed to practice interrogation techniques.” This “practice” involved lining up to take turns beating and “walling” Ammar.
Sickeningly, when trainee torturers did not get the method quite right, they would have to continue assaulting Ammar until they could be “certified” by an expert. One trainee “had trouble doing the facial slap correctly and was ‘too much into it’, with his arm too far extended to do the slap correctly”.
These merciless beatings were not conducted by a few bad actors. This was all a standard part of the ‘certification’ process for aspiring interrogators – irrespective of the damage it was doing to Ammar.
The report also states that CIA agents “probably made the decision to use enhanced measures on Ammar before the detainee arrived at [the black site]”. This means that the use of torture methods had nothing to do with Ammar’s willingness to cooperate or the information they wished to gather from him, as is often the ‘justification’ given by apologists of reactionary governments employing such methods. Rather, he was most likely singled out arbitrarily to be a training dummy for the CIA before he had even begun interrogations.
Crimes swept under the carpet
Predictably, while the declassified report is critical of some of the more extreme techniques employed by agents, it finds that, for the most part, nothing in Ammar’s case was out of the ordinary. Walling, for example, was found to be completely legitimate, and Ammar’s permanent brain damage was merely the result of a few agents “[applying] some of the measures exuberantly”.
The report’s convoluted defence of the CIA attempts to minimize the extreme violence perpetrated. One interviewed agent states, “Ammar could have thought the facial and belly slaps were beatings, even though they were approved EITs.”
Similarly, the report states:
“A session in which several interrogators had to take turns walling the much smaller detainee because they became fatigued suggests… that Ammar might reasonably feel that he was beaten.”
Here, we are supposed to take solace in the fact that while Ammar may have felt like he was beaten, this is merely a factual error on his part, since the methods were simply approved interrogation techniques. This is cynical wordplay worthy of George Orwell’s 1984: “It is not torture until we say it is!”
But the apologists for torture do not stop there. The experiences of one CIA agent are elaborated in detail:
“All the detainees who she met at [the black site] told her they ‘were tortured’… She said she does not recall Ammar being unique from other detainees in his complaints about torture; she heard those complaints every day.”
She later described Ammar as “a little bit of a hypochondriac [!]”
These remarks show the callous disregard that US imperialism has for human life. The CIA agent airily dismisses Ammar’s savage treatment because all extra-legal black site detainees make that complaint, suggesting that Ammar’s sense of being grievously assaulted is probably just down to a “bit of hypochondria”!
‘Interrogation’ without information
Ammar’s guilt or connection to terrorism notwithstanding, the torture he faced was completely useless in terms of yielding information:
“Agency officers… focused more on whether Ammar was ‘compliant’ than on the quality of the information he was providing… Ammar fabricated the information he provided while undergoing [torture]… he was terrified and lied to get Agency officers to stop the measures.”
This lines up with the findings of other reports into ‘advanced interrogation’: prisoners subject to torture will ultimately say anything in order to put a stop to their ordeal, making any intelligence they provide worthless. In addition, the report raises doubts that Ammar ever knew anything in the first place:
“Ammar lacked knowledge of imminent threats, but Agency interrogators and analysts were convinced he was withholding information based upon their analysis of Ammar’s connections to Khalid Shaykh Muhammad [a key architect of 9/11] and what they assumed Ammar could have known.”
Not only did CIA agents make little to no attempt to gather reliable information from Ammar, it is unclear whether he even knew anything at all. The CIA carried out three years of brutal torture on the basis of their “assumption”.
A history of torture
Ammar’s case is only the latest revelation in the litany of US imperialism’s crimes in the Middle East.
A well-known example is the human rights abuse that took place in Abu Ghraib, the US prison maintained in Iraq during the ‘War on Terror’. US soldiers were found to have shackled detainees to corpses, kept them naked and in disgusting conditions for long periods of time, as well as a host of other physical, sexual and psychological abuses. At least one man was killed under torture.
In addition to the systemic and widespread use of torture, a Red Cross report at the time found that 70-90 percent of those being held at Abu Ghraib had been mistakenly arrested.
Similar reports arose of US soldiers transferring thousands of prisoners to Iraqi security facilities, where torture methods such as beating, lashings and even burnings were known to take place. There are countless other accusations of torture that have been levelled against the US in recent years.
An obvious pattern emerges here. A brutal and endemic scheme of torture that is used indiscriminately by US imperialism against its detainees – guilty or otherwise.
What is clear is that no inquiry and no amount of scandal will put a stop to the cruelty at the heart of US imperialism. Likewise, the hollow reforms suggested by government reports and capitalist politicians will not end the barbarism of the CIA and the capitalist state in general.
US imperialism is the most reactionary force on earth, responsible for the most heinous crimes imaginable. There are no depths the capitalists will not plumb to defend their profits and spheres of interest. We must banish this war, torture and savagery to humanity’s dim and distant past, by overthrowing the system that gives rise to them.