Friday, June 23, 2017

Book Reviews: 'Administration of Torture: A Documentary Record from Washington to Abu Ghraib and Beyond' by Jameel Jaffer and Amrit Singh, 'America's Disappeared: Secret Imprisonment, Detainees, and the "War on Terror"' edited by Rachel Meeropol

Review by Laura Clawson
Administration of Torture 
A Documentary Record from Washington to Abu Ghraib and Beyond

Jameel Jaffer and Amrit Singh 
Columbia University Press 
New York, 2007
America's Disappeared 
Secret Imprisonment, Detainees, and the "War on Terror"

Edited by Rachel Meeropol 
Seven Stories Press 
New York, 2005
Administration of Torture is a big book. The page size is larger in both height and width than the standard and it's more than 400 pages long. You'll notice you're carrying it around.  I dwell on its size not because size is an important thing to know in discussing books in general, but because when a book this size represents only a small fraction of the torture-related documents one of the most secretive administrations in our nation's history has been willing to release, it says something about the extent to which that administration has tortured and has developed a bureaucracy of torture.
An extended introduction and a timeline provide the context, but the bulk of the ACLU-compiled book is devoted to government documents, stretching chronologically from the January 25, 2002:
Memorandum from White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales to President George W. Bush recommending that al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners not be extended the protections of the Third Geneva Convention.
to the August 24, 2005:
Sworn statement of Lt. Gen. Randall Schmidt discussing interrogation methods employed at Guantanamo.
(In the book, documents are not ordered chronologically.)
The documents, many of them heavily redacted, testify to the bureaucratization of torture under the Bush administration, with few detainees named - instead, most are anonymous, often dehumanized (intentionally so) figures. A striking series of emails and memos show the FBI's ongoing (and losing) struggle with the military over appropriate techniques:
The FBI voiced misgivings about the overall coercive nature and possible illegality of elements of this plan. The FBI also voiced its strong objections regarding the efficacy of a fear-based approach.
The FBI offered in writing an alternative interrogation approach based on  long term rapport-building.
FBI emails also offer some of the only glimpses of humanity in any of the documents, speaking to the frustration of their struggle with the military:
yesterday, however, we were surprised to read an article in stars and stripes, in which gen miller is quoted as saying that he believes in the rapport-building approach. this is not what he was saying at gitmo when i was there. [redacted] and i did cart wheels. the battles fought in gitmo while gen miller he was there are on the record.
The evidence of those battles included in this book points to the implacable will of the Bush administration to institute torture as a common practice, that they did so over sustained objection from a key law-enforcement agency. Witness statements and autopsy reports reveal the routine nature of brutality at Guantanamo and elsewhere, the accounts having so many common features that there can be no credible claim of torture being done only by a few bad apples.
On a couple of occassions I [FBI employee] entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor with no chair food or water. Most times they had urinated or defacated on themselves and had been left there for 18 24 hours or more. On one occassion, the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature was so cold in the room, that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold. When I asked the MP's what was going on, I was told that interrogators from the day prior had ordered this treatment, and the detainee was not to be moved. On another occassion, the A/C had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room probably well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his own hair out throughout the night. On another occassion, not only was the temperature unbearably hot but extremely loud rap music was being played in the room, and had been since the day before with the detainee chained hand and foot in the fetal position on the tile floor.
The nature of these government documents is that few detainees are given the opportunity to speak for themselves. For that reason, as important a record of what our government has become under George W. Bush as this book provides, I want to turn briefly to America's Disappeared, a small volume put together by the Center for Constitutional Rights. In addition to essays on subjects such as the development of Guantanamo and the legal status of prisoners there, "the road to Abu Ghraib," and rendition, America's Disappeared contains statements from several people detained as suspected terrorists and people detained while fighting deportation.
Maher Arar:
I am not a terrorist. I am not a member of al Qaeda and I do not know anyone who belongs to this group. All I know about al Qaeda is what I have seen in the media. I have never been to Afghanistan. I have never been anywhere near Afghanistan and I do not have any desire to ever go to Afghanistan. 
If I did not answer quickly enough, he would point to a metal chair in the corner and ask, "Do you want me to use this?" I did not know then what that chair was for. I learned later it was used to torture people. I asked him what he wanted to hear. I was terrified, and I did not want to be tortured. I would say anything to avoid torture. This lasted for four hours. There was no violence, only threats this day. At about 1 o'clock in the morning, the guards came to take me to my cell downstairs. 
The cable is a black electrical cable, about two inches thick. They hit me with it everywhere on my body. They mostly aimed for my palms, but sometimes missed and hit my wrists. They were sore and red for three weeks. They also struck me on my hips, and lower back. Interrogators constantly threatened me with the metal chair, tire, and electric shocks.
The ways the Bush administration has perverted the functions of government, the notion of justice, and humanity itself defy comprehension and will doubtless require decades of study to be fully documented, and years if not decades of steady, patient undoing of damage. These books take a valuable part in that grueling but necessary work. But they sure aren't fun to read.

Editor's note: This review was originally published at the Daily Kos, which notes that its "content may be used for any purpose without explicit permission unless otherwise specified." The original page can be found here. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right. 

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