While reading accounts of physical and psychological torture inflicted on political detainees, one can’t help but feel sympathy and concern for those who were held for such a long period of time under the most inhumane circumstances.
Such reports prompted me to research some of the cases of alleged abuse; some of you may be familiar with this information, but it bears repeating, if only to shine a light on the atrocities these people experienced at the hands of their captors.
Yes, there are claims that the “detainees” were, initially, treated kindly and respectfully. One guard was quoted as being offended by even being called a guard, saying that it was “too cruel.” The guards told the detainees that they should consider themselves as guests!
Perhaps the initial treatment of these people was humane – even if the “guests” were taken against their will and imprisoned. However, as we now know, the detainees were bound, often for days or weeks; some endured long periods of solitary confinement, forbidden to speak to one another, stand, walk or leave their areas unless they needed a bathroom break.
Frequently, the detainees expressed that they were threatened with execution – and they took those threats seriously. Torture is not limited to physical abuse (those incidents are well-documented), but emotional and psychological cruelty leaves scars and wounds that may never fully heal.
One night was extremely terrifying for the detainees: their guards donned masks and rousted them while they were sleeping, led them to another location, searched them, forced them to strip to their underwear in preparation for a mock execution. The guards loaded and prepared their weapons to fire, then ejected their cartridges and told the prisoners that it was just a joke, something that the guards “had wanted to do.”
Can you imagine the fear and agony these people experienced while waiting for their captors to pull the trigger? They were helpless and under the total control of the guards.
Of course, these are just a few examples of the barbaric treatment the captives endured and it must be noted that many of them suffered enduring physical and psychological damage.
One captive went on a hunger strike, two tried to commit suicide: one by breaking a water glass and slashing his wrists after being locked in a dark room; another banged his head against corner of a door, knocking himself out and cutting a deep, bleeding gash in his head. The latter suicide attempt goaded the guards to make this prisoner a target for abuse which included creating a mock electric chair with wires, taunting him with a horrifying execution.
Other prisoners reported threats to boil their feet in oil, cut their eyes out, or kidnap and kill a disabled child and `start sending pieces of him to your wife.`
Finally, after 444 days of captivity, the 53 imprisoned hostages in the American Embassy in Iran were released on January 20, 1981; moments after President Ronald Reagan took the Oath of Office.
The captors, primarily Iranian students who called themselves “Muslim Student Followers of the Imam’s Line,” demanded that the United States return the deposed Shah back to Iran for trial and execution. However, the Shah died during this period and that negated their primary motivation for the protracted captivity of the hostages. Negotiations continued and, finally, the Embassy hostages were released, flown out of Iran and welcomed home with a ticker tape parade through New York’s Canyon of Heroes.
On September 11th, 2001, operatives of the al-Qaeda terrorism network, hijacked four airplanes, flew two of those planes into New York’s World Trade Center Twin Towers, one plane was crashed into the Pentagon and the fourth plane plummeted into a field in Pennsylvania after an onboard passenger revolt. The number of deaths from the plane crashes and the collapse of the Twin Towers: 3017.
Approximately one month after the attacks, the United States led a broad coalition of international forces in the removal of the Taliban regime for harboring the al-Qaeda organization.
The United States set up a detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to hold what they termed “illegal enemy combatants” who were captured during the strike on Afghanistan or arrested due to information gleaned from prisoners at the Guantánamo Bay (Gitmo) facility.
On August 24th, 2009, Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. announced he would conduct a preliminary investigation into whether some CIA operatives broke the law in their “coercive” interrogations of suspected terrorists in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
These coercive interrogations, or torture, as many consider the treatment, include the following, according to an ABC News investigation:
“They would not let you rest, day or night. Stand up, sit down, stand up, sit down. Don’t sleep. Don’t lie on the floor,” one prisoner said through a translator. The detainees were also forced to listen to rap artist Eminem’s “Slim Shady” album. The music was so foreign to them it made them frantic.” (author’s note: Americans are also subjected to this type of torture when we tune our radios to the wrong channels – we feel their pain.)
Below are descriptions of some of the techniques used by a small group of trained CIA operatives to obtain information from the prisoners:
1. The Attention Grab: The interrogator forcefully grabs the shirt front of the prisoner and shakes him.
2. Attention Slap: An open-handed slap aimed at causing pain and triggering fear.
3. The Belly Slap: A hard open-handed slap to the stomach. The aim is to cause pain, but not internal injury. Doctors consulted advised against using a punch, which could cause lasting internal damage.
4. Long Time Standing: This technique is described as among the most effective. Prisoners are forced to stand, handcuffed and with their feet shackled to an eye bolt in the floor for more than 40 hours. Exhaustion and sleep deprivation are effective in yielding confessions.
5. The Cold Cell: The prisoner is left to stand naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees. Throughout the time in the cell the prisoner is doused with cold water.
6. Water Boarding: 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.
Perhaps listening to a rap album or even water boarding goes beyond what any human should have to endure, however, let’s put a few things in perspective: the 53 Embassy hostages were subjected to similar, if not worse treatment than the enemy combatants held in Gitmo – and they were innocent victims.
A terrorist group in Iran targeted and carefully planned the takeover of the American Embassy and did so with the consent and approval of their leader, the Ayatollah Khomeini and militants supporting the Iranian Revolution.
In contrast, the prisoners at Gitmo were taken on the battlefield or arrested for aiding or abetting al-Qaeda in its unforgivable act of violence against innocent civilians. (Please remember that attacks on September 11th were not the first or last acts of terrorism by anti-American, Muslim militants.)
George W. Bush’s administration instituted strong measures to ensure the safety and well-being of American citizens, including creating a Department of Homeland Security and instituting the Patriot Act. These measures and strategies helped prevent planned terrorist events from taking place and kept our country safe for eight years.
Torture should be abhorrent to any civilized society, however, coercive interrogations, including forcing prisoners to listen to rap music or open-handed slaps in the face, seem mildly appropriate. Militant groups, such as al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Taliban, to name just a few, are avowedly hell-bent on attacking and killing innocent citizens while brazenly shouting “Death to America, ” – make no mistake: the terrorists mean what they say and intend to make it a reality.
What measure is too strong to take against those who have boldly stated their intention to destroy our country and murder its citizens?
Bowden, Mark, Guests of the Ayatollah: the first battle in America’s war with militant Islam, Atlantic Monthly Press, (2006)