Revelations about torture from a former US prisoner, Ali al Marri, hasn't raised as much as an eyebrow in America. That shouldn't be a surprise, the President supports torture. And society is desensitised to claims of torture.
Last week, UK based civil rights advocacy group CAGE published testimony and documents alleging FBI interrogators tortured convicted “sleeper terrorist” Ali al Marri in 2004, who not only insists he’s innocent, but also that he accepted a plea bargain only as a result of the suffering he endured for 13 years while detained in the United States.
Today, Marri seeks justice against those he accuses of carrying out acts of torture against him, including former FBI counterterrorism officer Ali Soufan, a popular figure in the US due to his commentary on CNN, and the ‘Looming Tower’ documentary-drama series which narrates Soufan’s role in attempting to foresee and forewarn the 9/11 attacks.
“Initially, Soufan played the good cop routine with me, bringing me Arabic food and pizza, and telling me that speaking to him was the best way for me to get back to my family,” Marri told me. “But then he noticed it was not working, playing the good cop, and then he threatened to have me raped by gays in the US military, and for my wife to be raped in front of me and my children.”
Marri also described to me how US interrogators tortured him using what is known as a “dry-boarding,” an enhanced interrogation technique whereby interrogators ram a cloth down the subject’s throat, sealing the mouth shut with duct tape to simulate suffocation.
“They forced my head to look up, and when I looked up, I closed my eyes. At that moment, Ali Soufan brought the socks, put his hand on my jaw, forced me to open my mouth. He put the socks in, closed my mouth and then Ramos [FBI interrogator] taped my mouth this way, vertically and horizontally, and then I started choking.”
In 2009, he pleaded guilty in a civilian court to conspiracy to provide material support to Al Qaeda and was jailed for 15 years – a sentence that took into account his previous time held in US custody. In 2015, he was released from prison, and received a hero’s welcome in Qatar.
Despite the potential headlines this story invokes – including until now unbeknown use of torture on US soil, which was allegedly carried out and/or overseen by a well-known television and media personality who has not only long denied any involvement in torture, but also speaks out against its use – Marri’s credible allegations, which are supported, at least in part, by 35,000 pages of obtained documentation, have fallen on deaf ears.
In fact, the story has barely generated a ripple, appearing nowhere in the US television media, and failing to become a trending topic on social media.
The reason for this collective indifference is clear: Americans are pro-torture and proud of it.
A 2016 Reuters poll found that nearly two-thirds of Americans believe the use of torture to extract information from suspected terrorists is justifiable.
When then US presidential candidate Donald Trump promised to torture suspected terrorists during his election campaign bid, promising to bring back waterboarding and “a lot worse than that,” pundits in the US media rightly recoiled and condemned his remarks. But it turns out the punditry class are out of step with the typical American voter, particularly those who self-identify with the Republican Party.
In fact, Republican voters are almost giddy in their enthusiasm for torture – with 82 percent in favour of its use to extract information from suspected terrorists.
“You’re dealing with people who don’t play by any rules. And I can’t see why we would tie our hands and take away options like waterboarding," a Trump supporter told Reuters.
Evidently, her sentiments echo those of an overwhelming majority of Americans, which is both tragic and perverse, and thus little wonder why those who have advocated, prescribed, or overseen torture have not suffered any significant setback in their careers.
As a matter of fact, one could argue that the use of torture has been a career advancer, especially given the recent confirmation of Mike Pompeo as US Secretary of State, and the expected confirmation of Gina Haspel as CIA Director, both of whom oversaw or endorsed the darkest chapter in the self-defeating US War on Terror.
As reported by The New York Times, Haspel “oversaw the torture of two terrorism suspects and later took part in an order to destroy videotapes documenting their brutal interrogations at a secret prison in Thailand.”
One of those detainees, Abu Zubaydah, was waterboarded 83 times and nearly drowned after being rendered “completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.” He also lost his left eye.
Worse – the US government had accused Zubaydah of being senior Al Qaeda operative. He wasn’t, but still finds himself in Guantanamo Bay today.
On Tuesday, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice invoked 9/11 to defend Haspel against torture allegations, telling Fox News, “My reaction is if you were not in a position of authority on September 11th, you have no idea the pressures that we faced to try and make sure that this country wasn't attacked again.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who defended the CIA’s use of torture during the Bush administration, declared in November 2016, “These men and women are not torturers, they are patriots,” and, “the programs being used were within the law, within the Constitution.”
Pompeo also claimed that detainees at Guantanamo Bay are “treated exceptionally well.”
Atop of all this, you have a president in the White House who was not only rewarded by American voters for his pro-torture positions, but also has never recalibrated or recanted these views.
So as it stands today, the United States’ top spy, top diplomat, and incumbent president have each advocated the use of torture, with each being rewarded by the public and elected representatives for it, and the reason for this is clear: Americans are unashamedly pro-torture, and proud of it.
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