Paul Vallely considers claims that the US exported suspects to be tortured
So that's all right then. The United States wouldn't dream of sending
terrorist suspects abroad to be tortured. No less a person than George Bush's
Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, says so. She is travelling across Europe
this week just to assure us that torture is a crime in the United States, as is
conspiracy to torture, wherever in the world it happens.
Why, then, is Washington sending abroad hundreds and possibly thousands of
suspected terrorists - in what Amnesty International claims has involved 800
flights across EU airspace - to be interrogated in countries where methods are,
shall we say, less kid-gloved than are allowed in the US?
Ah well, that is, she says, a process called rendition. Defenders of this
process say that prisoners are sent to these third countries not because they
practise torture, but because their "cultural affinity" with the captives gets
more out of them.
Unfortunately, that's not quite how those involved in these coercive
interrogation techniques see it. Those with memories going back more than a
couple of years might recall a report in that dangerously anti-establishment
journal The Washington Post, based on the testimony of ten serving US
national security officials - including several who were party to the handling
of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay and Bagram air base in Afghanistan.
They talked of al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects' being blindfolded and thrown
into walls, bound in painful positions, subjected to loud noises, and deprived
of sleep, with a 24-hour bombardment of lights. "Stress and duress" techniques
the proponents called it, though one of them went so far as to coin the phrase
"We don't kick the [expletive] out of them," one practitioner was quoted as
saying. "We send them to other countries so they can kick the [expletive] out
of them." Or use mind-altering drugs such as sodium pentathol, said other
Next came the disclosure by Human Rights Watch that Pentagon lawyers had
compiled a 72-point "matrix" of types of stress to which detainees can be
subjected. It included: stripping them naked; subjecting them to bright lights
or blaring noise; hooding them and exposing them to heat and cold; and binding
them in uncomfortable positions. Drawn up in association with the CIA, it was
Then there was the New York Times article that reported that the
matrix permitted a practice known as "water boarding", in which a prisoner is
strapped down, forcibly pushed under water, and made to think he is drowning.
The paper claimed it had been authorised for use against Khalid Shaikh
Mohammed, a high-level detainee whom the CIA believed planned the attack on the
Twin Towers, and who knew the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden.
What was most striking about all this was that the disclosures did not come
from whistle-blowers. Rather, they were the boasts of US officials who were
leaking the information to make clear to their countrymen that they were doing
everything possible to avenge 11 September, and to ensure that it could not
"If you don't violate someone's human rights some of the time," one official
was quoted as saying, "you probably aren't doing your job."
They wanted their fellow Americans to know how far they were prepared to go
on their behalf. Which is why Dr Rice is having to travel such a long way to