Outsourcing Torture

In December, the Washington Post reported that, “Under a presidential directive and authorities approved by administration lawyers,” the CIA was being allowed to hold “certain classes of [terrorism] suspects without accounting for them in any public way and without revealing the rules for their treatment.” These suspects are denied even the meager rights afforded to prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. They are reportedly transferred between a series of undisclosed detention centers around the world, including facilities at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, on ships at sea, and on Britain’s Diego Garcia island in the Indian Ocean. Until now, it was unclear how this secretive “presidential directive” squared with the president’s avowed distaste for torture and his promise that all suspects in American custody would be “treated well.”

Today, a 48-year-old Australian citizen who grew up in Egypt, Mamdouh Habib, gives a first-hand account of America’s “gulag” in the LA Times. After being interrogated by Americans in between torture sessions in Pakistan, Habib says he was flown to Cairo in October 2001, where American operatives delivered him to Egyptian interrogators who “shocked him with high-voltage wires, hung him from metal hooks on the wall, nearly drowned him and mercilessly beat and kicked him.”

After confessing to a litany of terrorism-related crimes — all of which he later insisted were false and given under “duress and torture” — Habib was transferred to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in May 2002, where he has languished since. He is expected to be released, uncharged, in the next couple of weeks.

This fairy tale squares nicely with the New York Times story this morning detailing how the White House made Congressional leaders scrap “a legislative measure…approved in the Senate by a 96–2 margin, [which] would have clamped down on C.I.A secret detention centers” and “explicitly extended to intelligence officers a prohibition against torture or inhumane treatment.”


Even as it has expressed disgust about abuses at Abu Ghraib, the administration has said “almost nothing” about the CIA operations.