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The Sadistic Reality of Guantanamo Bay

The interview below is a very informative expose of the sadistic reality of U.S.A.’s Guantanamo Bay, by a C.I.A. expert.

[The interview was broadcast on the ABC, one of Australia’s government media corporations.]

[David Hicks is a citizen of Australia – one of the almost 500 people who are locked up in Guantanamo Bay]

Australian Broadcasting Corporation


LOCATION: www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2006/s1662218.htm

Broadcast: 13/06/2006

Hicks ‘severely damaged’, says CIA expert Reporter: Tony Jones

TONY JONES: Well, Alfred McCoy is Professor of history at the University of Wisconsin. In 1972 he wrote The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade,, which is now regarded as a seminal work on the CIA’s complicity in Asian drug trafficking. His latest book is A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation from the Cold War to the War on Terror, which examines the CIA’s development of psychological torture over the past 50 years. And in an article in the latest edition of the Monthly magazine, he turns his attention to the treatment of David Hicks in Guantanamo Bay, which he says must be viewed through the lens of CIA torture techniques. Well, he joins us now from Madison Wisconsin. Thanks for being there and can I first get your reaction of the suicide deaths at Guantanamo Bay on the weekend?

PROFESSOR ALFRED MCCOY, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN: The two statements, one by Admiral Harris and the other by the State Department official that this is an act of asymmetrical warfare, that this is a good PR stunt, is indicative of the Guantanamo mentality. Guantanamo is not a conventional military prison. It’s an ad hoc laboratory for the perfection of the CIA psychological torture. Guantanamo is a complete construction. It’s a system of total psychological torture, designed to break down every detainee contained therein, designed to produce a state of hopelessness and despair that leads, tragically, sadly in this case to suicide. The statements by those American officials are indicative of the cruel mentality at Guantanamo.

TONY JONES: Those are pretty dramatic statements you are making. I would have to say, though, the Red Cross is about to go and do an urgent inspection of the prison and it does appear that their reports back in 2004 do back up a lot of what you are saying. They also decided that what was happening at Guantanamo Bay amounted to a system of torture.

PROFESSOR ALFRED MCCOY, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN: They argued that it wasn’t just isolated cases. They said that the entire system of treatment of detainees, designed to do one thing, and one thing only – extract information – constituted a system of cruelty, a system of torture. No qualification, not tantamount to torture – a phrase they’d used before – but torture per se. Confinement at Guantanamo constitutes torture. The question is, what kind of torture? It is psychological torture. Not the conventional, physical, brutal torture, but a distinctively American form of torture – psychological torture.

TONY JONES: I’m going to come to the history of how you say that form of torture was evolved by the CIA. Can I first go, though, to some of the most compelling testimony I’ve read in the account you’ve given recently in your essay to the Monthly magazine and that comes from FBI officers who visited Guantanamo Bay. Can you tell us, first of all, why they were visiting and why they were writing these reports?

PROFESSOR ALFRED MCCOY, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN: Sure. The FBI has for the past 60 years, until the start of the war on terror, been in charge of US counter-intelligence and, indeed, the investigation of East African bombings by al-Qaeda in 1998, for example, were handled by the FBI. So the FBI is a partner with the CIA and military intelligence in the war on terror generating intelligence to fight the war on terror. Now, there’s a distinct difference between the CIA methods and the FBI methods. The CIA have allowed the Bush White House to use enhanced techniques whose sum is indeed torture. The FBI, reflecting its legal culture, do not torture. The FBI use a form of torture we might call empathetic interrogation. That is to say, you form a bond with the subject – the interrogator and the subject develop a personal relationship and through this relationship you get accurate, reliable, non-coerced intelligence and information that, by the way, will stand up in a court of law. So the FBI are down at Guantanamo and they have been appalled by what they saw. The standard techniques used on countless detainees – blasted with sound, blasted with light, confined in the dark, short shackled, long shackled. Now, all of the techniques that the FBI describe and literally dozens of emails from Guantanamo are basically describing the two foundational techniques that are key to the CIA psychological torture paradigm. That is self-inflicted pain in the form of –

TONY JONES: OK. Sorry to interrupt you there, Dr McCoy. Once again I will come to the history of how that evolved in just a moment and we’ll talk in more detail about it. I’m very interested in what specifically the FBI officers reported about how individuals were treated. You spoke in general terms and in your essay you talk about some specific cases – people they found unconscious on the ground in cells and so on.

PROFESSOR ALFRED MCCOY, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN: Right. People that were short-shackled to the floor for days at a time. One detainee so desperate that overnight he pulled his hair out, hair by hair. Others covered in faeces, their own waste. Many detainees suffering signs of psychological breakdown. Another thing the FBI established very clearly is that these techniques were of course counter-productive. The FBI would often start interviews and after one of their subjects was subjected, for example, to a regime of strobe lights or blasting rock music, that when the FBI tried to conduct their next interview, the detainees were suddenly hostile and non-cooperative.

TONY JONES: There was evidence the FBI officers saw of people being broken psychologically?

PROFESSOR ALFRED MCCOY, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN: Oh, no doubt about it. Absolutely. They described detainees huddling, quivering, signs of extreme psychological stress. There is also the documented case of the famed detainee Rasul, who was subjected to these techniques of rock music, strobe lights, extreme isolation in a darkened cell for a period much less than David Hicks, by the way, and Rasul was so desperate to end this regime of treatment that shown a video of 40 Jihadists in Afghanistan seated beside Osama bin Laden, he falsely identified himself as one of the jihadists and it wasn’t until an agent of MI5 arrived from Guantanamo and established he had been a clerk in an electronics shop in the United Kingdom and not a jihadist in Afghanistan at the time he said he was that the US officers realised he’d given false information in order to end this harsh treatment.

TONY JONES: We should note at this point that Shafiq Rasul was in fact released. The British caused him to be released. I gather he’s now back in Britain, but he’s a co-litigant, is he not, with David Hicks in the case against the US President?

PROFESSOR ALFRED MCCOY, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN: Well, he was a co-litigant with David Hicks in the landmark decision called Rasul v Bush. David Hicks was the initial litigant, he was the first one, that case started in February 2002, right after detainees began arriving in Guantanamo Bay and David Hicks through his persistence, his refusal to capitulate, his refusal to be broken remained one of the longest standing litigants in that case. The result was a stunning rebuke for the Bush Administration by the US Supreme Court. The Bush Administration had taken the position that Guantanamo Bay is not US territory. The US naval installation at Guantanamo is not US territory and thus was not subject to US courts. The Supreme Court ruled in that landmark case Rasul v. Bush, that indeed Guantanamo is US territory and is thus subject to habeus corpus writs resulting in 160 cases being filed on behalf of 300 detainees. That decision is going to be further tested either this month or next in another landmark case Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, which will test, by the way, the legality of the military commissions. David Hicks is also very significant in the military commissions because as detainee 002 on the Pentagon’s list he was picked to be the first of those 700 detainees tried by the military commissions.

TONY JONES: OK. Let me take you back now into history and back into your book and your research essentially, Question of Torture. The history of the CIA’s attempts to break people through interrogation stem right back to the Cold War and to a point where the CIA believed the Soviets had made huge advances on psychological techniques; is that so?

PROFESSOR ALFRED MCCOY, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN: That’s correct. In the deepest darkest days of the Cold War initially as a defensive move, the CIA launched a massive mind control project to crack the code of human consciousness, a veritable Manhattan project of the mind with research expenses reaching up to $1 billion a year at peak in the 1950s and the first breakthrough in this massive project came at McGill University. It was actually a joint Canadian, British, US effort, top-secret effort, and Dr Donald O. Hebb at McGill University found that he could induce a state akin to psychosis in a subject within 48 hours. Now, what had the doctor done? Hypnosis, electroshock, LSD, drugs? No. None of the above. All Dr Hebb did was take student volunteers at McGill University where he was head of Psychology, put them in comfortable airconditioned cubicles and put goggles, gloves and ear muffs on them. In 24 hours the hallucinations started. In 48 hours they suffered a complete breakdown. Dr Hebb noted they suffered a disintegration of personality. Just goggles, gloves and ear muffs and this discovered the foundation, or the key technique which has been applied under extreme conditions at Guantanamo. The technique of sensory disorientation. I’ve tracked down some of the original subjects in Dr Hebb’s experiments of 1952 and men now in their 70s still suffer psychological damage from just two days of isolation with goggles, gloves and ear muffs. David Hicks was subjected at peak to 244 days of isolation, the most extreme isolation in the 50-year history of these CIA psychological torture techniques. David Hicks has suffered untold psychological damage that will take a great deal of care, a great deal of treatment and probably the rest of his life to move beyond. To say that David Hicks has not been tortured, to say that David Hicks is only suffering from a sore back, a statement that’s been made by the Foreign Minister, I think that just flies in the face of a fact. It represents an ignorance of what torture is, particularly what psychological torture is.

TONY JONES: Do you have any direct evidence that David Hicks was subject over a prolonged period to the sort of things you’re talking about, sensory deprivation on that scale with hoods and masks and so on because from what I’ve read he was subjected to that in the very early days for a short period of time.


TONY JONES: And then he was put in solitary confinement.

PROFESSOR ALFRED MCCOY, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN: Yes, he was put in an extreme form of solitary confinement for 244 days. OK? A dark cell denied any sunlight, denied any emotional support. His contact limited to once a week visits with his military chaplain, OK? So imagine that? 244 days locked up inside a cell with no human contact, no sunlight. That’s an extreme form of sensory disorientation. That leads to tremendous psychological damage and when Hicks’ civilian attorney Joshua Dratel first met him for the first time he found Hicks was in a severely damaged and stressed psychological state, obsessed with himself, unable to grasp reality and unable to focus on the real issues in this case. Showing all the signs, the same kind of signs that the FBI noted in their emails about the treatment of other Guantanamo detainees. Treatment by the way that the International Red Cross has called torture.

TONY JONES: Alfred McCoy, one of the strange things about the Hicks case is he appears to have virtually incriminated himself in a freely given interview with the Australian Federal Police where over a very long period of time he spells out – and evidently under no duress – he spells out how he had training in three phases in al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan. Given that he openly gave that information to Australian interrogators, why would there be any need to torture him?

PROFESSOR ALFRED MCCOY, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN: Guantanamo itself is a system of torture, OK? The complete isolation, the harsh conditions, the daily harsh treatment, that is a carefully constructed system, designed to break down the detainees. Now, why was David Hicks being singled out to be broken down? Very simply he was picked to be the first detainee among 700 placed before the military commissions. I think the Guantanamo Administration was trying to break him down in order to have him capitulate, co-operate and legitimate what is in fact an illegal, an uncivilised form of military justice that’s been repudiated by the United Nations Commission on torture and indeed 76 eminent Australian journalists and the Attorney-General of the United Kingdom. So this was designed to break Hicks down and make him capitulate and co-operate with the military commission, something he’s not done. Something that he’s resisted in a way that very few of the other detainees have been able to do.

TONY JONES: Although some might argue that in fact it’s his lawyers who are resisting and delaying the process of the military tribunals. That’s what the Australian Government says, that you could actually have gone through this process a lot quicker and Hicks could be in some more formal system of justice now, if only he’d gone through the military tribunals.

PROFESSOR ALFRED MCCOY, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN: Look, the military tribunals have been repudiated by the UN committee on torture and one of the reasons that the UN committee on torture in their recent meeting in Geneva called for Guantanamo to be closed – and this was a committee made up of 10 eminent international jurors, because they said that the military commissions do not constitute a legitimate form of justice, OK? This is not a court martial under the uniform court of military justice. This is a system that’s been described by the Attorney-General of the United Kingdom as a mockery of justice. The official legal observer at Guantanamo, Lex Lasry QC, used similar words calling it a mockery of justice. Those 76 eminent Australian lawyers, including four former judges, have called it an affront to civilised standards. So David Hicks by refusing to capitulate, by refusing to confess, falsely perhaps, but to confess and to cooperate by persisting in his insistence upon his innocence, has in fact resisted and his lawyers are representing his will. Let’s not diminish the courage of the man.

TONY JONES: Alfred McCoy, we’ll have to leave you on that note. We thank you for coming in to talk to us tonight and perhaps one day in the future with your perspective we can bring you in on a debate on this subject. Thank you very much for being there tonight.


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