Twenty years after the 9/11 attacks, the tortures of the CIA are still classified as “top secret” in In the United States, the Guantanamo prison remains open and some of its former prisoners have returned to power in Afghanistan with the return of the Taliban.
In the absence of an official account of one of the darkest episodes in the history of the United States, Efe has spoken with some of its protagonists: a senator who risked her career to investigate the CIA, a former FBI agent who opposed the torture and a lawyer who defended prisoners in Guantánamo.
Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein was the main promoter of a 6,700-page report that to date is the best source of information on clandestine prisons of the CIA and the abuses that were committed against supposed members of Al Qaeda under the Government of George W. Bush (2001-2009).
“The CIA torture program was a terrible mistake. Not only did it contradict our values, but it did not serve to obtain valuable intelligence information“Feinstein told Efe.
Secrets in safes
The senator managed to have a 525-page summary made public in 2014, but the full version remains classified.
The report was recorded on discs, which were subsequently stuffed in envelopes with the phrase “top secret” and kept in CIA safes, the Pentagon and the Departments of State and Justice, where until now they are still waiting for a president to declassify them.
As soon as he arrived at the White House, Barack Obama (2009-2017) banned the torture program, but refused to make the report public for fear that it would fuel anger against the United States in many parts of the world.
Despite the risks, Feinstein believes that The US must examine its conscience to prevent torture from being repeated: “I still believe that the entire 6,700-page report should be declassified and I believe one day it will be. It is a critical lesson that we must never forget.”
The American President, Joe Biden, has promised to declassify documents related to 9/11 as long as they do not endanger the security of the country.
And that lowers expectations about the declassification of the report, in which it is rumored that the names of members of the Bush administration involved in the torture program appear.
A useless brutality
The summary of the report that was released in 2014 already revealed that the CIA techniques were more brutal than policy makers believed and included simulated drownings known as ‘waterboarding’, baths in frozen water, sleep deprivation and rectal feeding and hydration.
Former FBI agent Ali Soufan witnessed some of these abuses and assured Efe that the force and violence of the CIA were useless.
“It’s not just that the torture didn’t work, the torture also came at a cost. It damaged the reputation and moral prestige of the United States It also cost livesSoufan said.
A Muslim and a Lebanese and American national, Soufan had another way to obtain information when questioning members of Al Qaeda.
He used a kind of ‘poker game’ in which he established a relationship with the suspects by inviting them to tea or discussing the Koran so that they would relax and be able to catch them in a lie., or get them to reveal secrets on their own.
One of the people Soufan questioned was the Yemeni Salim Ahmed Hamdan, who the US locked up in Guantánamo for allegedly being Osama bin Laden’s driver.
The heritage of Guantanamo
Hamdan was sentenced to five and a half years in prison for controversial commissions that they functioned outside the civil and military justice system; and one of the lawyers in charge of defending him was Andrea Prasow, current deputy director in Washington of Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Prawson also represented ten Saudis at Guantanamo, and what he remembers most from that time is frustration at the difficulties in obtaining justice.
“You feel absolutely powerless as a lawyer when you represent those who are detained at Guantánamo. Other people control their living conditions, other people control their detention, and the things you can do as a lawyer are very few compared to the daily needs they have,” he explained Prawson to Efe.
Biden has said he wants to close Guantanamo, but has taken a more low-key approach than Obama, who ran into intense opposition from Republicans in Congress.
What Obama did do was transfer prisoners to third countries and in 2014 he exchanged a US military officer for five high-ranking officials of the Taliban regime that ruled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001.
Years later, those five insurgents became part of the Taliban delegation that negotiated the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and some have already been acquiring positions of responsibility. For example, Mohammad Nabi Omari has been appointed governor of Khost province.
And it is that, although the history of the torture of the CIA has not yet been written, the present – and the uncertain future of Afghanistan – will prevent the United States from forgetting its dirty war against terrorism.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.