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A detailed look at America's torture years

Published April 20, 2013 1:01 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

For the past two years, I've been part of a bipartisan task force assembled by the Constitution Project to examine American detainee treatment policies since the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C.

The 500-page book we have just published is the most comprehensive and detailed account yet available of what has been done in all our names at CIA black sites, Guantanamo and detention facilities in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is based on public record information and dozens of interviews conducted in the United States and overseas.

The truth of what took place should shock everyone's conscience.

Yes, we brutally tortured a whole lot of people. Yes, torture was approved at the very highest levels of our government. Yes, it was illegal. Yes, no one above flunky level has been accountable for any of it. Yes, torture appears not to have produced intelligence that saved lives. Yes, we at times tortured the wrong people. Yes, we don't care. Yes, torture can never be justified, period. Yes, people who do the actual wet work pay a heavy price.

Yes, we don't care.

An especially baffling part of America's trip to the dark side was how the CIA's secret rendition program made itself available to Libya's dictator, Muammar Gaddafi. Many of the CIA's prisoners were snatched abroad, bundled onto CIA jets and taken to black-site prisons for special treatment that was illegal in the U.S.

As a favor to Gaddafi, some of those who were snatched were Libyans working to overthrow Gaddafi, and they were flown to Libya for Gaddafi's welcome. One of them was Sami Al Saadi, who has been paid a $3.5 million settlement by the British government for the role that MI-6 played in his kidnapping. British oil contracts may have led the government of Tony Blair to stroke Gaddafi.

Another was Abdel Hakim Belhadj (and his pregnant wife), who spent five years in a Libyan prison. Belhadj, a senior rebel commander whose forces captured Tripoli in 2011, was interviewed by the TCP task force staff at his political party's headquarters on the outskirts of Tripoli on Sept. 5, 2012. He has offered to settle his own lawsuit against British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw for the equivalent of a few pounds and an apology. The hang up is the apology.

Very little has ever been said of the effects of torture on those who perform it. Army Specialist Alyssa Peterson, 27, from Flagstaff, Ariz., was a graduate of Northern Arizona University who enlisted and was trained as an Arab linguist and interrogator. In September 2003, she was assigned to participate in interrogations of Iraqi prisoners at Tal Afar. Iraq was always notable, because the Geneva Conventions clearly applied to the Army's operations there.

After two days, Peterson refused to participate in any further interrogations. Reportedly, she had witnessed prisoners being stripped naked, beaten and burned with lit cigarettes. Before turning her rifle on herself and ending her life several days later, Peterson told a friend, "I don't know how to be two people, one inside the [prisoner] cage, and another outside the wire."

Peterson was also a returned Mormon missionary to the Netherlands. Readers of the report may find that "America the Beautiful" will not ever sound quite the same as it used to.

The alabaster cities don't gleam quite so brightly, free of human tears.

David R. Irvine is a Salt Lake City attorney. He retired as an Army brigadier general after serving in Intelligence. He taught prisoner of war interrogation and military law for 18 years for the Sixth U.S. Army Intelligence School.






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