Don't look away from the ugly truth
The sketches should be seen only by adults but they must be seen. Drawn by a victim of torture, they show, in raw and agonizing detail, the methods that Americans — soldiers, psychologists, spies, women and men — have devised to break down prisoners through pain, panic, brainwashing and other barbaric and illegal tools.
There is nothing in the crude drawings by Abu Zubaydah, a prisoner captured in 2002 and still held by the U.S. in the Guantánamo Bay detention camp, that hasn’t been described before in the various official and unofficial investigations into the moral travesty that was the CIA’s program of “enhanced interrogation,” one of the more devious euphemisms ever devised. We’ve read of the waterboarding and sleep deprivation and humiliation and all the other horrors, and of the lasting effect they had, often on innocent men.
But as with the infamous photographs of prisoner abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, the images strip away the euphemisms, justifications, lies and legalisms. They are published in a study titled “How America Tortures” by one of his lawyers and the lawyer’s students. Zubaydah was the first of the captives after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to be subjected to prolonged torture, and he holds the dubious distinction of having been waterboarded 83 times. Many of the CIA tortures were devised for him and first tested on him by psychologists whose previous job had been to train U.S. soldiers who might one day be tortured. He provided interrogators with considerable information — but that was to FBI agents who questioned him before he was turned over to the CIA for torture.
The drawings speak for themselves. They are in a Times article and the report by Mark P. Denbeaux, a professor at the Seton Hall University School of Law and a lawyer for several Guantánamo detainees, including Zubaydah. What is important not to forget is the deeply shameful and disturbing fact that the U.S., admittedly at a moment of national confusion and panic following the 9/11 attacks, but unnecessarily, secretly and extensively, adopted barbaric practices banned by domestic and international law.
The current director of the CIA, Gina Haspel, was a leading participant in the program and helped the agency destroy more than 90 videotapes of a brutal interrogation. But she, at least, has vowed not to restart the torture program, even if ordered to by the president. Whether that amounts to a realigned moral compass is an open question, but it is important to know that the agency that developed and applied “enhanced interrogation” has renounced it.
No such enlightenment for President Donald Trump. On the contrary, the commander in chief has ordered Guantánamo to be kept open and to “load it up with some bad dudes.” He has insisted that “torture works” and that he’d bring back waterboarding “and I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” These are outrageous sentiments calling for blatantly unlawful action by the intelligence and security services of the U.S.
The case of Major Mathew Golsteyn is now under review at the White House. Mathew is a highly decorated Green Beret who is being tried for killing a Taliban bombmaker. We train our boys to be killing machines, then prosecute them when they kill! @PeteHegseth— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 12, 2019
For Trump and those who think like him, torture is not only a technique for extracting information, which it doesn’t do very well, but also a form of revenge. “If it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway,” he has said, “for what they’re doing to us.”
This same thinking was evident in his recent pardons granted to military commanders convicted of war crimes. True warriors have a code of behavior that proclaims acts of savagery against unarmed civilians or prisoners to be dishonorable and immoral. Their code distinguishes between killing on the battlefield and murder, which the president and his cheerleaders seem not to understand. “We train our boys to be killing machines, then prosecute them when they kill!” he tweeted in October, displaying total and insulting ignorance of the honorable calling of a soldier.
The U.S. has by far the greatest security establishment on Earth, with the greatest reach. When the U.S. commits or abets war crimes, it erodes the honor, effectiveness and value of that force. The pictures of how America tortures illustrate what happens next.