Nor is the war on Iraq all that Blair should perhaps answer for. There is the torture and extrajudicial imprisonment of “terror suspects”, too. Written as an appendix to Eleven Years After 9/11 about how Blair lied the UK into war with Iraq.
On Thursday 30th August, the US government announced that it had
closed its investigation into the alleged torture of more than 100 detainees held by the CIA in overseas prisons, and the deaths of two men who died while in CIA custody, without prosecuting anyone.
The Justice Department’s announcement Thursday that it would not bring charges in the deaths of terror suspects Gul Rahman and Manadel al-Jamadi formally ended a multi-year probe by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham into the CIA’s controversial “enhanced interrogation” program.
(Update, 15th October: But this post at Empty Wheel suggests that there may be still some US legal action against torturers, in a whistleblowing case about another known instance of torture in US custody.)
In 2003 and 2004 the Bush administration discussed and approved a list of “enhanced interrogation techniques” which were to be permitted for use by the CIA. The evidence for these meetings has been public since October 2008. The approval of torture techniques by the US administration was illegal under the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
One of the “terror suspects”, Gul Rahman, was “suspected of having served as a guard to the Afghan warlord, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar”. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar led a mujahideen faction, the Hezb-e-Islami, against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. In 2010, he was described as “one of the three most important insurgent leaders” in Afghanistan – that is, a leader of the factions not allied with the Karzai government. Gul Rahman was therefore entitled to be regarded as an enemy soldier, a prisoner of war.
He died of exposure in C.I.A. custody on November 20, 2002, in a secret prison, known as the “Salt Pit,” run by the Agency. The suspect, Gul Rahman, reportedly died after having been stripped naked from the waist down and shackled in a cell in which the temperature dipped to approximately thirty-six degrees Fahrenheit.
The US Department of Justice argued that
the “manager of the Saltpit site” should not be prosecuted for torture, because he lacked the requisite criminal intent. According to the Bush Administration’s interpretation, the site manager had not intended for Rahman to “suffer severe pain from low temperatures in his cell,” and was therefore not criminally liable for the accidental death.
The other “terror suspect”, Manadel al-Jamadi, was claimed to have “somehow been involved” in the production of explosives/their sale to terrorists.
The evidence linking al-Jamadi to the crime is secret and may, in fact, not exist; according to the International Red Cross, 70 to 90 percent of Abu Ghraib prisoners were arrested without probable cause.
al-Jamadi was arrested as an enemy combatant. No records of his arrest were kept–like many detainees, he was a “ghost prisoner” who was to have disappeared without any official record of his status.
His corpse had a black eye, a facial laceration, and six fractured ribs. The Navy SEALS who arrested him – who brought him into Abu Ghraib hooded and naked from the waist down – testified that they “punched, kicked and struck al-Jamadi with muzzles of their rifles” and their lieutenant, Andrew Ledford testified in a sworn statement that he had accepted a subordinate’s offer to “give this turd a knock” and punched the bound prisoner in the arm. But at his trial in 2005, Andrew Ledford was found not guilty of all charges by a military jury, when he and other witnesses denied striking the prisoner. Navy SEALS cheered at the verdict and Ledford’s civilian attorney, Frank Spinner, told reporters
“I hope that someone receives a message from this outcome. That we have valiant warriors, brave SEALs, who put their lives on the line and they’re human.”
Al-Jamadi was brought naked below the waist to the prison with a CIA interrogator and translator. A green plastic bag covered his head, and plastic cuffs tightly bound his wrists. Guards dressed al-Jamadi in an orange jumpsuit, slapped on metal handcuffs and escorted him to the shower room, a common CIA interrogation spot.
There, the interrogator instructed guards to attach shackles from the prisoner’s handcuffs to a barred window. That would let al-Jamadi stand without pain, but if he tried to lower himself, his arms would be stretched above and behind him.
The documents do not make clear what happened after guards left. After about a half-hour, the interrogator called for the guards to reposition the prisoner, who was slouching with his arms stretched behind him.
The interrogator told guards that al-Jamadi was “playing possum” — faking it — and then watched as guards struggled to get him on his feet. But the guards realized it was useless.
The guard who first determined that the prisoner was no longer alive told CIA agents, “This guy’s dead–it’s on you.” Another guard later said the agents “didn’t know what the hell to do.” A CIA employee reported being told by a colleague to “keep his mouth shut about the incident and not say anything about it in e-mail.” When Abu Ghraib’s military-intelligence commander showed up, a witness heard him say, “I’m not going down for this alone.” To avoid roiling the other prisoners and prevent decomposition of the body, al-Jamadi’s corpse was iced down and held in the interrogation room overnight. The next day, wrapped in a body bag, covered with a blanket and with an intravenous tube taped to his arm, al-Jamadi was spirited out of Abu Ghraib as if he were merely an invalid. The location of his remains has not been made public.
Although the US government classified Manadel al-Jamadi’s death as a homicide, no one was charged with killing him, neither the soldiers who had him beaten, nor their supervising officer. And the CIA interrogator who hung him up to suffer pain and asphyxiation – against the Geneva Convention for protection of civilians in wartime – has been charged with no crime. It is unclear, said a news report in 2005, whether the position in which Manadel al-Jamadi was hung til he died was one of those “approved by the Bush administration for use in CIA interrogations“.
In May 2004, just over a year after Blair and Bush had got their invasion of Iraq, Seymour Hirsch asked in the New Yorker How far up does the responsibility go for torture by US military and the CIA?
As the international furor grew, senior military officers, and President Bush, insisted that the actions of a few did not reflect the conduct of the military as a whole. Taguba’s report, however, amounts to an unsparing study of collective wrongdoing and the failure of Army leadership at the highest levels. The picture he draws of Abu Ghraib is one in which Army regulations and the Geneva conventions were routinely violated, and in which much of the day-to-day management of the prisoners was abdicated to Army military-intelligence units and civilian contract employees. Interrogating prisoners and getting intelligence, including by intimidation and torture, was the priority.
The answer, from the decision by the Department of Justice nine days ago, over eight years after Hirsch asked this question, seems to be: all the way to the top. Barack Obama will not allow a criminal investigation into actions taken by George W. Bush and his administration.
How is Tony Blair responsible for the US breach of the Geneva Conventions and their admitted failure over the past eight years to prosecute those responsible? Aside from what he and others in the UK government may have known about MI5 involvement with torture of prisoners? Or about CIA use of British airports for rendition flights in a plane managed by Richmor Aviation and owned by Philip Morse? The Geneva Conventions are alarmingly thorough: all High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions are responsible for seeing that they are enforced.