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If the Good Guys Torture Children With Insects Who the Hell Are the Bad Guys?
Bush Administration memos released by the White House on Thursday provide new insight into claims that American agents used insects to torture the young children of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
In the memos, released Thursday, the Bush Administration White House Office of Legal Counsel offered its endorsement of CIA torture methods that involved placing an insect in a cramped, confined box with detainees. Jay S. Bybee, then-director of the OLC, wrote that insects could be used to capitalize on detainees’ fears.
The memo was dated Aug. 1, 2002. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s children were captured and held in Pakistan the following month, according to a report by Human Rights Watch.
While an additional memo released Thursday claims that the torture with insects technique was never utilized by the CIA, the allegations regarding the children would have transpired when the method was authorized by the Bush Administration.
At a military tribunal in 2007, the father of a Guantanamo detainee alleged that Pakistani guards had confessed that American interrogators used ants to coerce the children of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed into revealing their father’s whereabouts.
The statement was made by Ali Khan, the father of detainee Majid Khan, who gave a detailed account of his son’s interrogation at the hands of American guards in Pakistan. In his statement, Khan asserted that one of his sons was held at the same place as the young children of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
“The Pakistani guards told my son that the boys were kept in a separate area upstairs and were denied food and water by other guards,” the statement read. “They were also mentally tortured by having ants or other creatures put on their legs to scare them and get them to say where their father was hiding.” (A pdf transcript is available here)
Khan’s statement is second-hand. But the picture he paints of his son’s interrogation at the hands of American interrogators is strikingly similar to the accounts given by numerous other detainees to the International Red Cross. The timing of the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s son — then aged seven and nine — also meshes with a report by Human Rights Watch, which says that the children were captured in September 2002 and held for four months at the hands of American guards.
“According to eyewitnesses, the two were held in an adult detention center for at least four months while U.S. agents questioned the children about their father’s whereabouts,” the report said.
The use of insects isn’t mentioned in a recently leaked International Red Cross report, in which Red Cross officials questioned detainees about their treatment at the hands of US forces and ultimately judged them to have been tortured. A second memo released Thursday, dated May 10, 2005, says the CIA told the White House insects were never actually used in interrogations.
“We understand that — for reasons unrelated to any concerns that it might violate the [criminal] statute — the CIA never used the technique and has removed it from the list of authorized interrogation techniques,” Steven Bradbury, a principal deputy assistant attorney general, wrote in a footnote.
It’s worth noting, however, that the Red Cross was denied access to individuals held at CIA black sites. Khan’s son, Majid, was among those President Bush moved from the CIA’s secret prison network to Guantanamo Bay.
The techniques Khan says were employed against his son also match those approved in the Bybee memo.
“What I can tell you is that Majid was kidnapped from my son Mohammed’s [not related Khalid Sheikh Mohammed] house in Karachi, along with Mohammed, his wife, and my infant granddaughter,” Khan said in his military tribunal statement. “They were captured by Pakistani police and soldiers and taken to a detention center fifteen minutes from Mohammed’s house. The center had walls that seemed to be eighty feet high. My sons were hooded, handcuffed, and interrogated. After eight days of interrogation by US and Pakistani agents, including FBI agents, Mohammed was allowed to see Majid.
“Majhid looked terrible and very, very tired,” Khan continued. “According to Mohammed, Majid said that the Americans tortured him for eight hours at a time, tying him tightly in stressful positions in a small chair until his hands, feet and mind went numb. They re-tied him in the chair every hour, tightening the bonds on his hands and feet each time so that it was more painful. He was often hooded and had difficulty breathing. They also beat him repeatedly, slapping him in the face, and deprived him of sleep. When he was not being interrogated, the Americans put Majid in a small cell that was totally dark and too small for him to lie down in or sit in with his legs stretched out. He had to crouch. The room was also infested with mosquitoes. The torture only stopped when Majid agreed to sign a statement that he was not even allowed to read.”
Later in his statement, Khan alleges that the Pakistani guards revealed other abuses by American agents.
“The Americans also once stripped and beat two Arab boys, ages fourteen and sixteen, who were turned over by the Pakistani guards at the detention center,” he said. “These guards told my son that they were very upset at this and said the boys were thrown like garbage onto a plane to Guantanamo. Women prisoners were also held there, apart from their husbands, and some were pregnant and forced to give birth in their cells. According to Mohammed, one woman also died in her cell because the guards could not get her to a hospital quickly enough. This was most upsetting to the Pakistani guards.”
One blogger notes, “The first indications the children may have been tortured were reported in Ron Suskind’s 2006 book The One Percent Doctrine.”
“When KSM was being held at a secret CIA facility in Thailand, apparently the revamped Vietnam War-era base at Udorn, according to Suskind, a message was passed to interrogators: ‘do whatever’s necessary,’” Kevin Fenton writes at History Commons. “The interrogators then told KSM ‘his children would be hurt if he didn’t cooperate. However, his response was, ’so, fine, they’ll join Allah in a better place.’”
Fenton has two questions: “Did the Khans invent the allegations or garble them in some way and then ‘get lucky’ two years later, when it was revealed the CIA was, at least, contemplating the techniques they alleged it used at the time in question?” and “Given that nobody heard of the CIA using insects for another two years, why would they invent these specific allegations, which sounded bizarre when they were made?”