CHAPTER 7 :
Costs and Consequences of the CIA’s Torture and Rendition Program
Beyond the obvious costs to the victims, the RDI program imposed painful costs on the State of North Carolina and on the nation. The federal government’s use of torture undercut national security in numerous and profound ways. It undermined the United States’ moral standing in the world, which is critical to promoting international cooperation and the rule of law. Among other costs, the program produced faulty intelligence; eroded key counterterrorism partnerships; turned terrorists into martyrs, and led to infighting, rather than critically needed cooperation, amongst the nation’s intelligence agencies. The use of torture continues to impede ongoing efforts to prosecute those responsible for the 9/11 attacks and other heinous acts. In addition, participation in torture damages perpetrators and their communities including, in this case, the State of North Carolina. This chapter addresses each of those costs in turn.
YIELDED FAULTY INTELLIGENCE
Torture produces information that may be inaccurate, unhelpful, and even misleading for intelligence-gathering purposes. In an effort to make the torture stop, the individual being harmed may say anything, including what the interrogator appears to want to hear, whether or not it is accurate. This is illustrated repeatedly by CIA documents quoted in numerous places in the declassified summary of the SCCI Report. For example, “[Hambali] said he merely gave answers that were similar to what was being asked and what he inferred the interrogator or debriefer wanted, and when the pressure subsided or he was told that the information he gave was okay, [Hambali] knew that he had provided the answer that was being sought.”700
The use of torture in the RDI program led intelligence officials to chase false leads and reach faulty conclusions.701 Perhaps the most infamous example with long-lasting consequences was Ibn Sheikh al-Libi’s testimony, obtained under torture and later recanted. His false testimony concerning Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction” and relationship with al-Qaeda resulted in Secretary of State Colin Powell’s false claims in front of the United Nations that helped propel the U.S. to war in Iraq. “A year later al-Libi retracted his statement. The US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) later opined that al-Libi’s information was not correct and that he had made the confession either under duress or to get better treatment.”702, 703
The SSCI Report provides extensive analysis of the claim that information the U.S. learned from torture was useful in pursuing terrorists. Among 20 examples of purported RDI counterterrorism successes examined, the SSCI Report found that in some there was no relationship between the cited successes and information acquired from tortured detainees, while in all of the remaining cases the information acquired from torturing detainees was already available to the intelligence community from other sources, or was acquired from detainees prior to the use of torture.704 Regarding the interrogation of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, recently released cables indicate that “the waterboarding and other brutal treatment of Mr. Nashiri produced little or no new intelligence about existing plots or imminent attacks.”705
As Ali Soufan, a former FBI interrogator with extensive experience questioning members of al-Qaeda, testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” are ineffective and unreliable. Soufan explained that traditional interrogation techniques are most likely to achieve the disclosure of useful and accurate information: building rapport, taking advantage of the captive’s desire for normal human interaction, demonstrating awareness of and respect for the subject’s culture, background, and motivations, and showing awareness of possible evidence of criminal activity by the suspect.706 Using physical or mental torture undermines all of these dynamics of successful interrogation.
Steven Kleinman, U.S. Air Force Colonel and expert in interrogation, human intelligence, and survival and resistance training, testified to the NCCIT that behavioral science researchers have “uniformly concluded that torture is an ineffective means of gathering reliable information.”707 Kleinman detailed the ways in which torture, first, undermines and corrupts memory and, second, diminishes cooperation by the person who experiences it. Core attributes of torture, such as infliction of fear and pain and manipulation of the body’s circadian rhythms, impede accurate recall. Interrogations that feature “leading and loaded questions” can “permanently alter memory.”708 Moreover, coercive interrogation techniques that aim to break the subject’s will by producing debility, dependence upon the interrogator, and dread of what else might happen may make the subject feel helpless; however, they also increase his or her antagonism toward the interrogator. Kleinman emphasized that extensive empirical research and field validation studies demonstrate that rapport-based, information-gathering methods are dramatically and consistently superior in eliciting accurate and comprehensive information.709
The Commission is aware that some former CIA officials and government officials have disputed the conclusions of the SSCI Report.710 Given this crucial discrepancy, it is essential for the public to have access to the full 6,700+-page investigative report, which remains classified.
HARMED COUNTERTERRORISM PARTNERSHIPS
As information regarding the torture and RDI program came to light, international partners withdrew their cooperation with the United States in a variety of contexts.711 Key allies refused to extradite individuals suspected of terrorism to the U.S. after they became aware of practices in the torture program.712 Diplomats spent their time defending the U.S. practices rather than pursuing proactive policies designed to address ongoing threats.713
Photo courtesy: Christian Johnson | Xianstudio.com
Our team of researchers at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School [. . .] has found that Washington’s use of torture greatly damaged national security. It incited extremism in the Middle East, hindered cooperation with U.S. allies, exposed American officials to legal repercussions, undermined U.S. diplomacy, and offered a convenient justification for other governments to commit human rights abuses.
- Foreign Affairs - (click to read the essay)
September/October 2016, 122
International partnerships were strained on various fronts. Britain released detainees of interest in Iraq because it did not have facilities to detain them, and it feared the U.S. would not respect the captives’ fundamental human rights.714 The Netherlands delayed sending troops to Afghanistan from 2003 to 2006 in part because of concerns with the United States’ use of torture.715 Australian, Canadian, British, and New Zealand military lawyers approached Alberto Mora, then General Counsel to the U.S. Navy, and warned him in 2005 that their cooperation with the U.S. on the whole range of war on terror activities would decline if the U.S. continued to engage in torture.716 These concerns undoubtedly made U.S. efforts to suppress terrorism more difficult.
ENERGIZED TERRORIST RECRUITMENT
The use of torture shifted attention from the heinous acts of al-Qaeda and others responsible for 9/11 to the misdeeds of the United States in response. Not only did this weaken international support for the U.S. in the wake of the horrific attacks, but it turned the torture victims into martyrs and eroded the moral authority of the U.S.717 Rather than rallying behind the America in its effort to address the terrorist threat and the atrocities perpetrated by terrorists, populations around the world focused on the abusive actions of the U.S..718 Revelation of U.S. torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and at Guantánamo Bay was used almost immediately by insurgents in both Afghanistan and Iraq to recruit militants. Many members of al-Qaeda in Iraq, and its successor organization, ISIS, have specifically stated they are acting in response to American abuses of prisoners in Abu Ghraib and at Guantánamo.719
EXACERBATED TENSIONS BETWEEN AGENCIES AND DAMAGED INSTITUTIONS
According to the SSCI Report, the RDI program hindered the national security missions of the FBI, State Department, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). To maintain sole control over the RDI program, the CIA restricted information sharing, provided inaccurate information, and prevented these agencies from getting access to detainees.720
Of particular concern, the initiation of the torture program led to a split between the FBI and CIA, with FBI agents often being excluded from and/or unwilling to participate in abuse perpetrated by the CIA.721 This meant that the CIA was operating without the knowledge and expertise that could have been provided by the FBI based on its long experience with interrogation of hostile and challenging subjects.722
The secret renditions also led to direct conflict between the U.S. Department of State and the CIA. When the International Committee of the Red Cross wrote to the U.S. government with a detailed list of individuals being detained under the control of the CIA in a redacted country, the State Department told the ICRC that U.S. policy was to encourage that country and all countries to give the ICRC access to detainees.723 At the same time, the CIA repeatedly directed the same country to deny the ICRC access. According to the SSCI Report, the contradiction “created significant tension” between the country involved and the U.S.724 Such episodes seriously impede the U.S. government’s ability to persuade other nations to cooperate, and to refrain from holding individuals in secret detention.
Torture and the prohibition on the use of evidence obtained from torture has significantly interfered with efforts to hold individuals responsible for the atrocities committed against the United States on September 11, 2001 and other terrorist acts.725 In regular legal proceedings, information obtained from suspects through torture cannot be used in court. The fact that so much information was obtained by torture has mired the Guantánamo trials in discovery battles. In cases such as the 9/11 proceedings against Khalid Sheik Mohammed, Walid bin al-Attash, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Ammar al-Baluchi, and Mustafa al-Hawsawi, the U.S. government’s desire to keep secret the details of the RDI program has led to protracted legal battles over what information defense attorneys and their clients can access and whether capital cases should proceed when the defense counsel’s right to discovery is significantly limited.726
As recently declassified and released transcripts of arguments in Guantánamo Bay’s death penalty military commission cases reveal, “When the public and accused terrorists aren’t allowed to listen, the legal arguments are often about the CIA’s secret overseas prison network, the circumstances of Guantánamo detention and how now outlawed Bush-era interrogation methods might affect future justice.”727
Photo courtesy: NCSTN
Testifying before the Commission on behalf of his client, Ammar al-Baluchi, Lt. Col. Sterling Thomas noted that the “locations of Mr. al Baluchi’s torture and identity of his torturers (beyond the understanding that they were affiliated with the CIA) are considered to be classified information by the United States government. Even defense counsel holding Top Secret security clearances, including myself, are barred from accessing that information.” Thomas also testified to the “use of torture-derived evidence in the military commissions proceedings by the U.S.” and to the “withholding and destruction of exculpatory evidence” from his client, who may face the death penalty.728
The use of torture in the RDI program has made it difficult to prosecute those involved in the 9/11 attacks and other acts of terrorism, creates enormous challenges for prosecutors and defense counsel alike, and continues to hamstring efforts to obtain justice for the victims of terrorism.
UNDERMINES THE RULE OF LAW
The use of torture was so clearly illegal and indefensible that when sued over it, the U.S. government hid its actions by resorting to a distortion of the “state secrets” doctrine. By stretching the doctrine far beyond its original purpose, the government claimed immunity for itself and private defendants on the grounds that a judicial proceeding would compromise national security by forcing the revelation of state secrets. Such a self-serving approach further eroded the credibility of the U.S.’ claimed adherence to human rights and the rule of law. The Commission heard testimony from ACLU attorney Steven Watt, who summarized four cases brought by victims and survivors of the RDI program in U.S. courts between 2004 and 2015. All four cases were dismissed on the basis of immunity or “state secrets,” “without any consideration of whether the men were in fact forcibly disappeared and tortured,” and despite the fact that much information about the cases was already in the public domain.729
In testimony before the Commission, Alberto Mora noted that “the continuing legal effort to evade accountability for the use of torture and to prohibit foreign torture victims to seek civil redress in federal courts has weakened the rule of law, drained the crime of torture of its gravity, and diminished judicial independence.”730
DEGRADES OUR SOCIETY MORALLY AND SPIRITUALLY
Torture is widely considered immoral on religious, philosophical, and humanitarian grounds. Most faith and philosophical traditions speak against the practice of torture by calling for protection of the dignity and life of every human being. Torture denies that sanctity and dignity, and therefore is deemed morally wrong in all circumstances and situations. Torture humiliates and dehumanizes people by stripping them of their dignity. It not only demeans the victims, but it degrades the humanity of those who carry out the violent and inhumane actions.731
Credit: North Carolina General Assembly
Political scientist Alfred McCoy argues that the use of torture signals social and political decline:
torture reveals a more complex pathology amid imperial retreat or defeat, involving as it does an unsettling mixture of arrogance and insecurity, a sense of superiority and savagery, as well as a legalistic mentality and an inescapable criminality [ . . .] The repeated use of torture, despite the legal complications involved, seems more comprehensible when understood as an artifact of empire [ . . .] [T]he use of torture by dying empires and the moral damage that comes with it, seems like both a manifestation of and causal factor for imperial decline.732
RELIES ON AND WORSENS RACISM, ETHNOCENTRISM, AND ISLAMOPHOBIA
Innocent or guilty of terrorist connections, what unites all known RDI victims is their Muslim identity. As Dr. Maha Hilal wrote to the NCCIT, the now-discredited legal rationale for RDI – that anything short of organ failure or death would not constitute torture733 – was drawn up specifically for those deemed “enemy combatants,” a category entirely populated by Muslims.734 Yet surprisingly little effort has been made to understand the extent to which Americans’ unusually high level of acceptance of official torture735 may be based on Islamophobia and related forms of discrimination.
Islamophobia, or unfounded fear and hostility toward Muslims leading to discrimination and even violence, is high in the U.S. Around 40% of respondents to a 2016 poll had an unfavorable view of Islam.736 Senior U.S. officials who have defended the CIA torture program are also associated with anti-Muslim organizations and individuals, and demonization of Muslims has become increasingly common in American political discourse.737 Widely viewed TV shows and films738 have popularized torture and equated Muslims with terrorists in many Americans’ minds, facilitating the idea that “they all have it coming.”
Dr. Hilal writes to the NCCIT: “Rectifying the abuse of CIA torture must necessarily include an acknowledgment of who was tortured – Muslims – and what mechanisms need to be put in place to remedy the deep levels of dehumanization that have long justified their torture.”739 A danger in allowing a torture program directed against Muslims to remain unaccountable is that it expands the definition of what is considered allowable government treatment of Muslim populations.
ERODES INTERNATIONAL MORAL LEADERSHIP
America’s reputation — including its commitment to the rule of law, promotion of civil liberties, and support for human rights — has long been an important source of its influence and soft power. Both have been significantly eroded by U.S. support for and use of torture, and the U.S.’ failure to provide accountability and redress.740
Photo courtesy: NCSTN
“Rectifying the abuse of CIA torture must necessarily include an acknowledgment of who was tortured – Muslims – and what mechanisms need to be put in place to remedy the deep levels of dehumanization that have long justified their torture.”
The gap between the U.S. and other democratic nations over torture is widening. Countries that aided the U.S. with the RDI program have been held accountable, or are holding themselves to account. In 2014, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found that Poland and Macedonia’s facilitation of U.S. policy violated Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights which prohibits torture. The court’s vote was unanimous in this matter, and reads in part:
The treatment to which the applicants had been subjected by the CIA during their detention in Poland had amounted to torture. It was true that the interrogations and, therefore, the ill-treatment of the applicants at the detention facility had been the exclusive responsibility of the CIA and it was unlikely that the Polish officials had witnessed or known exactly what had happened inside it. However, under Article 1 of the Convention, taken together with Article 3, Poland had been required to take measures to ensure that individuals within its jurisdiction were not subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. For all practical purposes, Poland had facilitated the whole process, had created the conditions for it to happen and had made no attempt to prevent it from occurring. Accordingly, the Polish State, on account of its acquiescence and connivance in the CIA rendition programme had to be regarded as responsible for the violation of the applicants’ rights committed on its territory.742
More recently, the ECHR ruled that Lithuania and Romania violated the rights of two al-Qaeda terror suspects by allowing the CIA to torture them and ordered that both countries pay monetary damages to the two, both of whom remain detained at Guantánamo.743
In the U.K., progress has been made, although full accountability has yet to be achieved. Prime Minister Theresa May recently apologized for the U.K.’s wrongdoing in the case of two Libyans, Abdel Hakim Belhaj and Fatima Boudchar, who, after torture by the CIA in Thailand, were rendered aboard the Kinston-based N313P aircraft to Libya and handed over to security agents of Muammar Gaddafi, the dictator opposed by Belhaj744 (see Chapter 4). Further, the U.K. Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) has found that U.K. intelligence agencies partnered with the U.S. to commit various acts of rendition and torture in Guantánamo, Iraq and Afghanistan.745 The findings identify 128 incidents of mistreatment reported by foreign intelligence officers and 13 incidents witnessed by British intelligence officers. According to Dominic Grieve, the committee chairman, the “U.K. tolerated actions, and took others, that we regard as inexcusable.”746 He also claimed the U.K. government has been hesitant in fully cooperating with the ISC inquiry, and this has undermined the work of the committee.747 Prime Minister May prevented the committee from requesting evidence from four intelligence officers who had pertinent information concerning the incidents.748
DAMAGE TO NORTH CAROLINA
The RDI program relied heavily on North Carolina’s public infrastructure, military installations, and private corporations. As such, the program damaged the State of North Carolina and implicated its citizens in torture and other human rights violations. The failure to account fully for North Carolina’s role in the RDI program extends those damages into the present.
RDI Harms North Carolina’s Reputation
Through a series of media reports,749 there is growing national and international awareness of the state’s rendition history and refusal to investigate rendition flight allegations. Fifteen years of official tolerance for torture-related activities from public airports have likely affected North Carolina’s national and international image. Economic development plans that involve partners from anti-torture countries could be endangered, particularly as other countries pursue the kinds of accountability measures noted above.
RDI Turns All NC Taxpayers into Accomplices of Torture
Since Aero’s role in torture was revealed, the North Carolina Department of Transportation has given several grants to the Johnston County Airport for maintenance and security without requiring the airport authority to take action regarding criminal activity by its tenant, Aero Contractors.750 State elected officials oversaw the Kinston Global TransPark, funded by state taxes, while Aero operated an important rendition aircraft based there. Through these activities, all taxpaying residents of North Carolina became complicit in the hosting of torture infrastructure.
RDI Alienates Citizens from the State
A considerable level of frustration is felt by local citizens when their governments persistently fail to uphold the rule of law.751 When elected officials refuse to acknowledge the concerns of their constituents, public distrust grows, and some citizens are alienated from the political process. Most elected officials have been silent on the role of North Carolina’s public and private infrastructure and employees in the CIA program (Chapter 8 addresses the role of state authorities in more detail). The exception has been Johnston County commissioners’ defense of Aero Contractors and torture. The combination of silence and support for torture stifles valuable public debate on what constitutes the public good and how the State of North Carolina should fulfill its obligations to both its citizens and the rule of law.
The CIA’s secret rendition and torture program substantially damaged the reputation of the United States, its national security, and its democracy. These negative effects are ongoing, and are unlikely to be repaired without: a thorough, public accounting for what occurred; substantial criminal and financial punishments for the persons responsible for carrying out the torture program, which are required as matters of state, federal, and international law; and appropriate redress for the individuals who suffered rendition and torture without due process of law. The lack of accountability increases the likelihood of the use of torture as U.S. policy in the future. It also weakens the ability of the United States to convince other governments not to torture.
Furthermore, because the RDI program relied so heavily on North Carolina’s infrastructure and public and private actors, the abuses of the program also damage the reputation of the state and make its citizens unwittingly complicit in violations of human rights.