ANALYSIS & EDITOR’S COMMENT: The imprint of torture

CIA agents sense shifting support for methods

For six years, Central Intelligence Agency officers have worried that someday the tide of post-Sept. 11 opinion would turn, and their harsh treatment of prisoners from Al Qaeda would be subjected to hostile scrutiny and possible criminal prosecution.

Now that day may have arrived, after years of shifting legal advice, searing criticism from rights groups — and no new terrorist attacks on American soil. [complete article]

See also, CIA chief cites agency lapse on tapes (NYT) and From a critic of tribunals to top judge (NYT).

Editor’s Comment — Suppose that soon after 9/11, at a time when many Americans were fixated on the question, why do they hate us?, we had been presented with part of an answer to that question:

because we let our allies torture them.

If 9/11 itself had widely been seen as, in part, an act of revenge for torture, would we now be having a debate about the wisdom, morality, or effectiveness of the use of torture?


On December 4, 1982, at the opening of the trial of three hundred Egyptian Islamists who had been implicated in the plot to assassinate President Anwar Sadat, the Islamists’ spokesman, Ayman Zawahiri (later to become Osama bin Laden’s deputy), said, “Now we want to speak to the world.”

Clips from his statement have often been televised. The image they portray is of a revolutionary Islamist, intent on toppling governments and imposing Sharia law. But the part of Zawahiri’s message to the world that received less attention than it should — especially in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 — related to torture.

In The Looming Tower, Lawrence Wright writes:

[As spokesman for the defendants] Zawahiri calls out the names of several prisoners who, he says, died as a result of torture. “So where is democracy?” he shouts. “Where is freedom? Where is human rights? Where is justice? Where is justice? We will never forget! We will never forget!”

Zawahiri’s allegations of torture were later substantiated by forensic medical reports, which noted six injuries in various places on his body resulting from assaults with “a solid instrument.” Zawahiri later testified in a case brought against Intelligence Unit 75, which had conducted the prison interrogations. He was supported by testimony of one the intelligence officers, who confessed that he witnessed Zawahiri in the prison, “his head shaved, his dignity completely humiliated, undergoing all sorts of torture.” The officer went on to say that he had been in the interrogation room when another prisoner was brought into the chamber, chained hand and foot. The interrogators were trying to get Zawahiri to confess his involvement in the Sadat assassination. When the other prisoner said, “How would you expect him to confess when he knows the penalty is death?” Zawahiri replied, “The death penalty is more merciful than torture.” (pp.64-65)

In the name of supporting Egypt’s “stability” and its peace treaty with Israel, the United States has for decades provided billions of dollars in military and economic aid while most of the time choosing to ignore the violent repression for which Egypt is infamous and that U.S. tax dollars continue to enable. The intimate relationship between the U.S. government and the Egyptian torturers has never been lost on the tortured.

Shouldn’t one of the many lessons of 9/11 have been that torture can produce profound hatred and that those who have been tortured do truly never forget? Only a nation intent on making itself impervious to the past could continue to create so many inerasable memories.

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One thought on “ANALYSIS & EDITOR’S COMMENT: The imprint of torture

  1. Jean-Ollivier

    Is there anybody interested in the evidence of a technical support of torture by US doctors ? (inter alia, the last Informed Comment by Juan Cole). This is a war crime in my opinion, and nobody seems to care… how strange.

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