The Guantánamo Files: Andy Worthington on the Jeff Farias Show

19.3.09

On March 18 I was interviewed by Jeff Farias for his long-running progressive radio show (the interview starts about 25 minutes in, and lasts for around 25 minutes). The spur was my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published two weeks ago, and Jeff and I discussed the importance of making the stories of the prisoners available, which gave me the opportunity to explain the background to the prisoners’ capture: how many were captured for bounty payments averaging $5,000 a head (equivalent to $250,000 in the US), betrayed by business or political rivals in Afghanistan, or picked up on the street, from buses at checkpoints, or in raids on mosques and houses in Pakistan that were either completely random, or, in many cases, based on distinctly suspicious “intelligence.”

Jeff also asked me my opinion about how much damage Guantánamo has caused around the world, and I was able to explain that, although it has undoubtedly caused widespread resentment and anger in the Muslim world in particular, it’s important to remember that, in spite of regular pronouncements by the Pentagon, and by Bush administration officials — especially Dick Cheney — that numerous prisoners have “returned to the battlefield,” a large number of those who have been released managed to endure their ordeal with remarkable fortitude, sustained primarily by their faith, and that it is actually remarkably difficult to turn peace-loving individuals seized by mistake — or, for that matter, ordinary Taliban recruits who had been encouraged to believe in the Taliban’s “holy war” against its Muslim rivals in the Northern Alliance — into terrorists.

Speaking of Cheney, we also discussed the ex-Vice President’s recent scare-mongering interview, discussed the morally corrosive and futile use of torture, and how fundamentally distressing it is that the CIA embarked on a torture policy in spite of ferocious complaints by other agencies including the FBI and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, who withdrew from situations in which torture and coercive interrogations were used. What’s particularly distressing is that these agencies’ experience in successfully interrogating prisoners without the use of torture was shamefully discarded by the administration, whose senior officials — none of whom had a background in the military or in the intelligence agencies — preferred to believe their own insular hype about being “tough” on terror suspects, which was inspired more by Fox’s 24 than it was by any credible accounts of the use of torture.

We also talked about Mark Danner’s recent article in the New York Review of Books discussing, and drawing from the secret report presented to the Bush administration by the International Committee of the Red Cross, after it had been allowed to interview the 14 “high-value detainees,” including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who had been held — and tortured — for years in secret CIA custody. This allowed me to express some doubts about how parts of the mainstream media had questioned the truth of the accounts, even though Danner had spelled out explicitly that the similarities in the prisoners’ accounts of their strictly regimented torture (in which every move had to be authorized from the highest levels of government) were particularly difficult to criticize, as the men had been held in total isolation from one another, and had had no opportunity to compare notes and to fabricate stories accordingly.

This led to a discussion of how to proceed with bringing to justice those responsible for authorizing torture, which should be straightforward, given that senior Bush administration officials have admitted that they used waterboarding, that Eric Holder has declared that waterboarding is torture, and that those responsible for authorizing torture must be prosecuted according to the terms of the government’s obligations under treaties and agreements including the UN Convention Against Torture. This led to a discussion of the “golden shield” — the cover allegedly provided by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, whose lawyers (primarily John Yoo) issued legal advice, including the notorious “Torture Memo” of August 2002, which attempted to redefine torture — and how a crucial element in calling the Bush administration to account is the highly critical internal report on the OLC’s advice that has not yet surfaced.

We also discussed my concern that, although holding those responsible for authorizing torture is essential to restore America’s moral standing, we need a mechanism to discover what has happened to the many other prisoners — probably in the hundreds — who were subjected to “extraordinary rendition” and spirited away to face torture in third countries, and Jeff followed up by discussing how important it is to make sure that laws are in place to prevent such activities from happening again. This allowed me to point out that, unless the crimes of the administration are addressed, and all such activities brought to an end, without any exceptions or loopholes, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that the White House is above the law, and that any number of crimes can be committed with impunity so long as those responsible are voted out of office in the end.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed.

3 Responses

  1. Connie L. Nash says...

    Thans for your summary of the radio show, Andy! There’s always something new to learn about this terrible topic. For example, the amount of $ in US value for bounty & that the highly critical internal report on the OLC’s advice that has not yet surfaced. I thought after -Phillipe Sands: The Torture Team- that these critiques with more corroboration & completeness would surface much sooner. How might we -many acting in unison – cause that this internal report surface?

    Although originally so convinced Obama truly wanted to fully restore the rule of law, I’m puzzled & more aware all the time about the dire concerns we still have in this administration…carry overs? Not enough time for Obama to explore, study what with the financial crisis? His choice of Hilary? what with the recent reports on our US giving/promising so much $ to this torture-friendly group: Blackwater.- which many of us considered defrocked & out of Iraq…(not yet, although Iraq wants this.) So how might some of this $ given and promised in Feb 2009 by current administration be used for payment of bounty perhaps in Afghanistan and Pakistan or at secret spots around the globe?

    What might be the hidden motives of using Blackwater? Would they keep the adminstration & the military – even the CIA protected should some shady happenings emerge later because they, Blackwater, are mercenary?

    Here’s the recent report & comments – calling again for unified pressure on the US admin from many:
    Jeremy Scahill who wrote the “bible” on Blackwater: The rise of the world’s most powerful mercenary army just wrote an article for alternet.com about the huge amount of ongoing $ being paid to this notorious group. He refers to an article in Washington Times. I am not clear how they are involved with our issues here yet somehow I’m quite sure they are. I know personally of an incident where Blackwater group, all dressed/hooded in black pulled young & old out of New Orleans prisons/jails during the hurricane and tortured/threatened these men before putting them in a new prison together under isolation where they were forbidden contact with anyone for a long time.

    I just added these urls to this blogpost under the Shuler letter & in the last Comment: on this site: http://oneheartforpeace.blogspot.com/2009/03/us-representative-states-why-torture.html

    Does anyone know how specifically Blackwater may have been used in renditions?

  2. Connie L. Nash says...

    The Bill of Rights Defense Committee has some especially pertinent items to this website for March 18-19. Find them by going to these links to see which works best for you. Or sign up for free emails. http://www.bordc.org/news http://www.bordc.org/ and scroll down to the news

    3/20, David Glenn, Chronicle of Higher Education, ‘Torture Memos’ vs. Academic Freedom

    3/18, Luke Baker, Reuters, UK to reveal secret agents’ interrogation methods

    3/18, Peter Finn, Washington Post, Holder Urged to Probe Allegations of Torture

    3/18, Associated Press, US rejects deal to end long Gitmo hunger strike

    3/18, Mark Danner, New York Review of Books, US Torture: Voices from the Black Sites

    3/17, Geoffrey R. Stone, Huffington Post, The Guantanamo Detainees and the Obama Administration: A Meaningful Step for Civil Liberties

  3. connie l. nash says...

    Just in March 19 US Constitution/Bill of Rights/Torture related

    http://oneheartforpeace.blogspot.com/2009/03/us-constitutionalbill-of-rights-news.html

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