senate intelligence committee

The Torture Monkey

THERE'S NO BETTER sequel to the Senate Select Intelligence Committee’s executive summary of the torture report than Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s newly published Guantánamo Diary. This harrowing tale is only one of what someday will be many direct accounts by victims.

Originally from Mauritania, Slahi, 44, was detained on a journey home in January 2000 and questioned about the so-called Millennium plot to bomb the Los Angeles airport. Slahi admitted that he’d fought against Afghanistan’s communist government with the Mujahideen, at that time supported by the U.S. But he never opposed the United States. Authorities released him. A year and a half later, the young engineer was again detained and again released.

Months later, Slahi drove himself to a local police station to answer questions. This time, Americans forced him onto a CIA plane bound for Jordan, where he claims he was tortured. On Aug. 5, 2002, Americans brought him to Guantánamo. Slahi is among the detainees whose horrific torture there is the centerpiece of the Senate report. None other than then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld signed the “special interrogation plan” authorizing his brutal ordeal.

Slahi divides his imprisonment into pre-torture, when he truthfully denied any involvement in terrorism, and post-torture, “where my brake broke loose. I yessed every accusation my interrogators made. I even wrote the infamous confession about me planning to hit the CN Tower in Toronto, based on SSG [redacted] advice. I just wanted to get the monkeys off my back.”

His captors beat and threatened him, and  subjected him to bitter cold, sleep deprivation, stress positions, and repulsive sexual abuse by female interrogators. Yet Slahi seems more traumatized by the torture he witnessed: teenagers who could barely lift their heads, confused old men, and others like him who said anything to get the pain to stop.

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Torturous Logic

THE SENATE Intelligence Committee finally released in December its long-delayed report on “enhanced interrogation techniques” employed by the CIA in the U.S. global “war on terrorism.” That these techniques—including waterboarding, “rectal feeding,” weeklong sleep deprivation, threats to harm detainees’ children—constituted torture, in clear violation of the Geneva Conventions, is a reality that is difficult to deny. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and her colleagues should be commended for facing and exposing the grim truths behind our nation’s post-9/11 conduct.

Unfortunately, recent polling has revealed some disturbing attitudes among Americans on this issue—particularly among Christians. A Washington Post/ ABC News poll conducted shortly after the Senate report’s release found that 59 percent of Americans believe the CIA’s treatment of suspected terrorists was justified, compared to just 31 percent who believe it was unjustified. Startlingly, among Christians who were polled, that number rises to between 66 percent and 75 percent who believe the techniques were justified. In this same poll, 53 percent of respondents indicated they believe these techniques produced important information that could not have been obtained any other way, compared to just 31 percent who disagree.

These poll results fly in the face of the Senate report’s findings. Some of the key phrases from the report summarize the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program as follows: “Not an effective means of acquiring intelligence”; “complicated, and in some cases impeded, the national security missions”; and “damaged the United States’ standing in the world.”

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‘Zero Dark Thirty’ Tortures the Truth About Interrogations

RNS photo courtesy Columbia Pictures

Jessica Chastain plays a member of the team of spies devoted to finding Osama Bin Laden. RNS photo courtesy Columbia Pictures

Nothing was tortured more in the making of Kathryn Bigelow’s film Zero Dark Thirty than the truth about torture.

While it’s just a movie, it runs the risk of becoming the basis for a false view of reality for millions of moviegoers who have largely ignored a decade of debate about the efficacy of the United States sanctioning torture.

To dismiss the movie as simple entertainment ignores the impact seeing it has on our perception of reality, even when we understand we are watching actors in a — mostly — pretend setting.

The fact that Zero Dark Thirty was nominated this week for an Academy Award for Best Picture only underscores the importance of understanding what it gets wrong about torture.