Friday, November 10, 2006

None Dare Call it Torture

Just before the election, the Bush administration went to court to fight the release of any details about the, uh, coercive techniques the CIA (and probably private contractors) have been using on alleged terror suspects.

I refer to them as alleged because the entire process of determining the guilt or innocence of these people is beyond the reach of the courts. In fact, in testimony before the Congress during the summer, a spokesman for the Justice Department admitted that the standard the Bush administration wants to apply to so-called "foreign combatants" is not a standard of justice this country would find acceptable if applied to captured U.S. military.

A story in Friday's Washington Post makes clear just how far outside the norms of convention the Bush administration has pushed the CIA, contractors and military interrogators.

The story details the ordeal of an Islamic cleric kidnapped from the streets of Milan with the complicity (if not the overt help of Italian intelligence officials) in 2003. The kidnapping itself remains the focus of an Italian investigation, with more than 20 U.S. CIA agents subpoenaed for questioning.
MILAN, Nov. 9 -- In an account smuggled out of prison, a radical Muslim cleric has detailed how he was kidnapped by the CIA from this northern Italian city and flown to Cairo, where he was tortured for months with electric shocks and shackled to an iron rack known as "the Bride."
The document has been submitted as evidence to defense attorneys representing 25 CIA officers, a U.S. Air Force officer and nine Italian agents who have been charged with organizing the kidnapping of Nasr, an Egyptian national, in February 2003.

A copy of the document, handwritten in Arabic, was obtained by The Washington Post. Undated, it reads like a homemade legal affidavit, outlining how Nasr was seized as he was walking to a mosque in Milan, stuffed into a van and rushed to Egypt in a covert operation involving spies from three countries.

"I didn't understand anything about what was going on," Nasr wrote. "They began to punch me in the stomach and all over my body. They wrapped my entire head and face with wide tape, and cut holes over my nose and face so I could breathe."

Upon his arrival in Egypt hours later, he said, he was taken into a room by an Egyptian security official who told him that "two pashas" wanted to speak with him.

"Only one spoke, an Egyptian," he recalled. "And all he said was, 'Do you want to collaborate with us?' " Nasr said the other "pasha" appeared to be an American. His captors offered a deal: They would allow him to return to Italy if he agreed to become an informant. Nasr said he refused. As a result, he said, he was interrogated and physically abused for the next 14 months in two Cairo prisons.

Italian prosecutors charge that the CIA and the Italian military intelligence agency known as Sismi collaborated to kidnap Nasr, who was known for preaching radical sermons in Milan and railing against U.S. policies in Afghanistan and the Middle East. According to prosecutors, the abduction thwarted a separate Italian police investigation into Nasr's activities and jeopardized a surveillance operation concerning other radicals in Milan.

Court papers allege that the kidnapping was orchestrated by the CIA's station chief in Rome and involved at least two dozen CIA operatives, most of whom arrived in Italy months before to lay the groundwork. Italian judges have issued arrest warrants for the CIA officers and have pledged to try them in absentia if necessary.

Although the case has caused a furor in Italy, the U.S. government has neither confirmed nor denied playing a role in Nasr's disappearance. Egyptian officials have also remained silent. A CIA spokesman declined to comment for this story.

Nasr's wife and his lawyer in Cairo have said the cleric is still imprisoned in Egypt, although he has been released under house arrest for brief periods. It is unclear how Italian prosecutors received a copy of his letter. Investigators said handwriting experts have verified that Nasr was the author.

Prosecutors in Milan are also investigating allegations that Italian spies offered to give Nasr $2.5 million if he would sign papers saying he had left Italy voluntarily and was not kidnapped, according to Italian news reports.
Then this:
In his letter, Nasr described how his health had badly deteriorated. He had lost hearing in one ear from repeated beatings, he said, and his formerly pitch-black hair had turned all white. He said he was kept in a cell with no toilet and no lights, where "roaches and rats walked across my body."

He also gave a graphic account of Egyptian interrogation practices, including how he would be strapped to an iron rack nicknamed "the Bride" and zapped with electric stun guns.

On other occasions, he wrote, he was tied to a wet mattress on the floor. While one interrogator sat on a wooden chair perched on the prisoner's shoulders, another interrogator would flip a switch, sending jolts of electricity into the mattress coils.
About the only thing in worse shape than the U.S. military (which is pinned down in Iraq) is the reputation of this country in the world.

Ronald Reagan's image of America as "the shining city on a hill" has been replaced by the image of a hooded, manacled man standing on a box in Abu Grahib Prison. That second image may be becoming outdated. It seems that a person being beaten by 'rent-a-torturer' goons from places like Egypt at the behest of American kidnappers is likely the emerging current image the Bush administration has created for our country.

The human carnage of the war and occupation of Iraq (as gut-wrenching as they are) pale in comparison to the damage done to this country's ability to act as a standard bearer for human decency and the rule of law.

Bush and Cheney have done a heck of a job on this score.

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