Prisons of Darkness


Terrorism suspects need to be prosecuted not tortured. Headline, Financial Times, November 23

Harsh interrogation techniques authorized by top officials of the CIA have led to questionable confessions and the death of a detainee since the techniques were first authorized in mid-March 2002, ABC News has been told by former and current intelligence officers and super-visors. . . . Robert Baer (former CIA case officer): You can get anyone to confess to anything if the torture’s bad enough. ABC News, November 18, Brian Ross and Richard Esposito

If you torture, what you get is a mixed bag of intelligence. And when you don’t know what’s real and what’s false, how do you use it? Melissa Boyle Mahle, former CIA covert agent handling spies, CNN, November 20

In the November 21 USA Today—much revitalized by its relatively new editor, Ken Paulson, formerly of constitutional watchdog Freedom Forum—CIA chief Porter Goss revealed more than he intended in an interview with John Diamond. After the obligatory snake oil pitch (“This agency does not do torture [which] doesn’t work”), Goss said the CIA’s mission requires “putting a lot of judgment in the hands of individuals overseas.”

Moreover, since several European governments professing to be shocked at CIA kidnappings by these “individuals” in their countries are investigating these CIA torture “renditions,” Goss “is pressing for the CIA to improve its ability to operate on its own overseas.” (Emphasis added.)

That’s why the CIA’s champion in the Bush administration, Dick Cheney, is working so hard to officially give the CIA an exception to treaties we have signed and to our own laws forbidding inhumane treatment, including torture. In the USA Today interview, Porter Goss let slip his hope for the CIA to have no limits anywhere in the world to its “enhanced interrogation techniques”:

“Sometimes other sovereign nations have somewhat divergent views or opinions, and so it’s a good idea—even with your best friends—to have a secret.” (Just as the CIA keeps so many secrets from us Americans, acting as a rogue nation in the name of this nation.)

By unleashing the CIA, the Bush administration—having steadily cut down our constitutional rights and liberties at home—keeps striving to export its lawlessness abroad in this crucial war on terrorism. As facts on the ground documenting our use of torture keep mounting, Bush’s repeated incantation of the democratic values we want to support around the world become increasingly hypocritical in what is obviously and ultimately a war of ideas.

Meanwhile, as USA Today reports, Porter Goss “is directing an unprecedented 50 percent expansion in the agency’s analyst and field officer ranks and coping with new missions.” Goss equates the CIA with “being a very efficient submarine going alone in a hurricane. We are doing very well.”

Keep that truly frightening submarine image in mind as I quote from a far too under-reported November 14 follow- up report by the bipartisan independent commission that investigated the 9-11 attacks. This follow-up, USA Today wrote on November 15, declared that “the U.S. policy on treating detainees is undermining the war on terrorism by tarnishing America’s reputation as a moral leader.”

Responding to Dick Cheney’s relentless drive to make the CIA the only intelligence agency to not be accountable for its interrogation techniques, 9-11 commissioner Tim Roemer said this exception would not only result in flawed intelligence but would also give the terrorists a valuable recruiting lift by further worsening the worldwide perception of the United States as its own kind of unchecked human rights abuser.

As word gets out that there are no constraints on the CIA, the terrorists’ propaganda engineers will be “lining up the next generation of jihadists on a conveyer belt.”

Lee Hamilton, co-chairman of the 9-11 Commission, makes a blunt point that eludes Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al.: “The United States must define itself in the Islamic world. Otherwise, the extremists will gladly do the job for us.”

Next week: Harsh sunlight on the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” by one of the most penetrating investigative reporters in all of journalism, Brian Ross of ABC News. It ran for a scant three and a half minutes on television, but fortunately there is an extended version by Ross and Richard Esposito on

If we had an intelligent leadership of the opposition Democratic Party, Brian Ross’s findings and those of an array of human rights organizations would be a continuing part of a national dialogue on how the Bush administration is so recklessly and stupidly—to quote a headline from the November 19 The Economist—”reaching for the moral low ground.”

A preview of the Brian Ross report: “Waterboarding [which Goss says is an approved technique]: The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner’s face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt. According to the sources, CIA officers who subjected themselves [in training] to the waterboarding technique lasted an average of 14 seconds before caving in. They said Al Qaeda’s toughest [captured] prisoner, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, won the admiration of interrogators when he was able to last between two and two-and-a-half minutes before begging to confess.”

Again, Porter Goss says publicly: “This agency does not do torture. Torture does not work.” This gives you an idea of how he and the CIA define “torture.” It takes place in what detainees call “prisons of darkness.”