The story which follows is drawn from a charge laid in an American court a week or so ago. One of the themes of this blog is that the rule of law is a supreme principle never to be violated. This often leads me to take a stand on issues that sometimes seem minor, even trivial. I offer the following as an example of why the rule of law matters. Because once you start down the rabbithole…
Some years ago, an experienced CIA officer named John Kiriakou, together with FBI agents, Pakistani soldiers, and members of the CIA’s “Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation Program” (the office responsible for abducting, transporting, and torturing suspected terrorists) raided an alleged Al-Qaeda safehouse in Faisalabad, Pakistan. There they found a mentally ill war veteran named Abu Zubaydah. They shot him three times, threw him in the back of a pick-up truck and drove him to a hospital.
After emergency treatment, Kirakou abducted Zubaydah and took him to a range of so-called “black sites” in Thailand, eastern Europe, and Diego Garcia, where he was repeatedly tortured by means of waterboarding, a technique in which a person is strapped to a board, a piece of cloth is tightly wrapped around their head, and then water is poured onto their face, slowly drowning them. (Sometimes they are wrapped in cellophane, instead, so that the drowning is merely “simulated.”) Zubaydah was also beaten and “sexually humiliated.”
Under American law, this was a war crime, and all of those involved in the chain of command, from Kiriakou up to Director Tenet and President George Bush, were guilty of it. Indeed, under American legal precedent, waterboarding a prisoner is punishable by the death penalty. Despite this precedent, such acts were commonplace in CIA jails during the War on Terror. The Bush administration “granted” its agents the special power to commit these crimes under a special legal opinion authored by John Yoo, a bureaucrat and now (incredibly) a law professor, which was itself classified secret and not made known to the public until more recently. (If you’re ever planning on committing a crime, make sure you find a lawyer to write you an exemption from the law first.)
Very soon, the CIA’s torturers began getting results from Abu Zubaydah, which were eagerly shared with senior policymakers. For instance, it was stated that he was incriminating Jose Padilla, an American citizen who was arrested by the government and held without charge in a military prison for four years on the grounds that he was an “enemy combatant.” It was also suggested that Zubaydah was providing intelligence about Canadian citizen Abousfian Abdelrazik, who spent several years living in exile in the Sudan after the Canadian government froze his assets and refused to allow him to re-enter Canada. They were eventually forced to do so by the Federal Court, though not without arguing in said court that ministers of the Crown are not accountable to the Constution of Canada.
But then, as the War of Terror dragged on, doubts began to surface. Abdelrazki was declared to be innocent. Zubaydah went from being described in public as “one of al-Qaeda’s top leaders,” in Bush’s words, to a Pakistani “fixer” who knew al Qaeda members, but wasn’t actually one himself. Initially, the Bush administration urged his torturers to waterboard him even more, convinced he must be hiding something. Soon, it became clear the well was dry. Zubaydah is now being held at Guantanamo Bay. This will be the tenth anniversary of his arrest, and he has not been charged — a crime in which two American presidents are now complicit.
Somewhere during this process, Kiriakou began to have second thoughts about whether flying around the world, shooting and kidnapping people in the middle of the night, and flying them off to secret prisons to be tortured was really the best career fit. He left the CIA, and wrote a book about his experiences. That’s when he ran up against the power of the police state he’d helped create, and I’ll tell that part of my story in the next chapter of this series.Tweet