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The heavily redacted report on torture does not include Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, says Michael Ratner, President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. Also, welcome to the Michael Ratner report.

Michael Ratner is the president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York and chair of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin.

Thank you so much for joining us, Michael.


PERIES: So, Michael, it is a grim torture report. Give us the highlights.

RATNER: You know, it’s certainly grim. I guess highlights is one word. I guess another word is lowlights, because it’s really brutal reading. And I’ve been working on this with the Center for Constitutional Rights for years on the torture. We have clients who were tortured, some of them mentioned in this report. But to read this in black and white and to read how ferociously brutal it was and the individual stories is just shocking. I mean, I recommend highly people read that report, read excerpts of it online. I mean, some of the most brutal. We’ve seen some of it before, the waterboarding of people, up to, in some cases, 183 times. The CIA had claimed that only three people were waterboarded, but then they have photographs, apparently, the Senate committee who did this report–and that’s the Senate Intelligence Committee found photographs in Afghanistan and other places of buckets of water around water boards, for, obviously, other people. CIA had a process called dousing, which is like waterboarding–very similar; they just don’t call it that.

I mean, when you read the stories of people waterboarded, hung from the ceiling, and then in one case, while the person’s being interrogated, when they knew the person didn’t have any information on what they wanted, which was about plots in the United States, they kept going for a week, waterboarding, and then putting the person into coffins. One was called the large coffin, for something like 11 days on and off; another one, the small coffin, 21 inches wide, two and a half feet high, and you’re locked into that coffin. I mean, this is hard to believe, this report.

Another technique which, despite my knowledge and others of the torture regime, was called rectal rehydration or rectal feeding. A word that we could use for that is anal rape. And in one case, Majid Khan, who was a client of the Center, what they did is they would serve his meal tray, which had hummus on it in this case, pasta, and then they would puree it. And then, according to the report, they would puree it and force it up his anus, basically not for medical reasons, but as a form of torture of Majid Khan. I mean, it is shocking.

And the questions that I have are many. First of all let’s understand what we have here. We have a report of the executive summary of 500 and some pages from the Senate Intelligence Committee. It’s heavily redacted. There was a big struggle to even get this out. The CIA and (sad to say) the Obama administration insisted on more redactions than the Senate committee wanted or while the Senate committee and Senator Feinstein, who was close to the intelligence agencies, said, we’re not putting it out unless you let us put in a more thorough report.

Things that are redacted out like crazy: the names of the nine countries where they had secret black sites where this torture of over 100 people went on. They gave them the code names in the report. Something called cobalt is, for example, one.

Well, anybody in this field, like me and others, we know what these places are. They’ve been revealed. Cobalt is what we refer to as “The Salt Pit” in Afghanistan. Heavy torture went on in “The Salt Pit”. They take out the names of two of the people, Jenson & Mitchell, who were the private contractors during the interrogations. Their company received something like $80 million. They did 85 percent of the interrogations. The report just is scathing about their lack of knowledge about what they were doing, the money that went to them. The report doesn’t put their names. It gives them a pseudonym. Their names have been out there forever. So you’ve got those kind of stupid redactions. But it doesn’t take away from the incredible, incredible impact of this report, a brutality far worse, far worse than any of us knew.

Now, let’s put it into this context. This is only a report on the CIA interrogation program at the so-called black sites, the nine sites we know about from Thailand to Poland to Romania that we know about. But just remember, this doesn’t include Guantanamo, it doesn’t include Abu Ghraib, it doesn’t include other prisons run by the military around the world.

PERIES: Now, Michael, does it include the contractors that had been hired to do some of this torturing?

RATNER: It doesn’t include renditions either. And then, as far as contractors, that’s what I was saying about Jenson & Mitchell, who were two psychologists who ran the program here, and private contractors. Eighty-five percent of the interrogations at these nine black sites, these torture sites, were done by private contractors. A contract of $80 million went to them for these private interrogations. And so you ask yourself: yes, it’s driven by torture, it’s driven by our government. But has it also been driven by the fact that so much of this money of our military is going to private contractors who were making billions, billions, ultimately? So, yes, it’s private contractors did a lot of this.

As I said, the report is explosive on the types of things that were done to people and their stories, including one story of a person who was tried here in New York eventually, /ˈnæʃəri/, hung him from the ceiling for two and a half, two and a half days, hung in a position with a diaper on, not allowed to go to the bathroom, etc., a death from hypothermia, a man chained to the floor, etc. So we get all of that.

Now, one of the big arguments that’s being had is: was it effective or was it not effective? Did we get intelligence like that we saw in Zero Dark Thirty to track down Osama bin Laden as all the propaganda says, the CIA says, as Cheney said, Bush says, all of these, you know, what you’d only have to call politician pundit torturers are saying? In fact, according to this report, no intelligence was gotten by the torture, none that would led to any of these, the 20 plots, from being stopped, none that really led to Osama bin Laden being found. So the answer is, it wasn’t effective.

But, of course, that’s not even the question we should be asking. The question that should be asked here is: why did they do something that was flatly illegal, for which there’s no exceptions, you’re simply not allowed to torture? That’s the first question. But in addition, as I said, this report finds that it was not effective.

And what it makes you wonder is, if it wasn’t effective–and the CIA had to know that–why were they doing it? According to the report, there were studies before 9/11 that said this kind of interrogation under torture is doesn’t work. You get false stories, people say anything to stop the torture, etc. So they knew it didn’t work before, they clearly knew it didn’t work during it, and they kept on going.

And I remember reading a book called–it was torture from Algeria to Abu Ghraib or something like that about Algeria written by an Algerian. And her thesis was the torture that went on in Algeria was not for information; it was because of a declining empire in which it was sort of the macho declining empire just decided, and in our case the current one, Muslims on the other side, an empire that’s been attacked at the heart of its financial area in New York City. And, in fact, you have to say that this torture really is about brutalizing and sending a message to the world: you fall into the hands of the United States, you will be tortured. So that was a conclusion. That’s my conclusion, but the conclusion of the report is that nothing actionable, no justification for what went on.

PERIES: Michael, the gruesome details of the report is today all over the internet. And I guess what’s in minds of everyone as well: what are going to be the consequences for these people who conducted these interrogations in such unlawfulness?

RATNER: Sharmini, that was exactly the last point I was going to get to, which is–I’m glad you asked it. It’s about prosecutions, what’s going to happen. There’s clear crimes were committed, 100 percent. This is not 99 percent. This is 100 percent. We know who did it. We don’t know everything, but we know a lot. And the U.S. has an obligation to prosecute torturers on its land. It’s the Convention against Torture. They’re required to investigate and prosecute. And if they don’t do it, any other country where these people travel to has to do it. And the key thing that happened on prosecutions was, when Obama took office, he blinked and blinked badly. Remember his statement: he said, we have to look forward and not backward, forward where we won’t torture, but not backwards where we did or where he almost said we did. He said: in my mind, we torture.

But, in any case, he said, look forward, don’t backward. He said, we’re not going to have prosecutions. And, in fact, of course, it makes no sense, because if you want to stop torture going forward in the future, you have to teach people a lesson that if you do it, you will be punished. It’s not enough to write an executive order saying, let’s not torture, because the next president, or even this one, can simply revoke it.

And, of course, I want to make as an aside here, there was still, we believe, some torture going on, forced feeding at Guantanamo, still sleep deprivation being allowed, isolation, sensory deprivation. But let’s just talk about prosecutions. So Obama blinked, and he blinked not because they couldn’t get convictions in the end, because they were worried about an American jury. That’s what some pundits are putting out now. He blinked because essentially this country and this part of our establishment is run by the security establishment–the military and the intelligence. The person who’s a CIA director was involved in this back when he was in the Bush administration. He could–that’s John Brennan. They wouldn’t let him become CIA director the first four years of Obama. Apparently, they did enough washing of him that he is now the CIA director. So Obama is like this with the people who were deeply, deeply involved in what I consider one of the worst, worst excesses of this government and the total denial of obligation that they had to take regarding torture.

Now let’s talk about what Obama said recently. He’s made some press statements, as have his press people. First of all, he gave a whole thing yesterday about how these people in the CIA are patriots. They put their lives on the line. He talked about the CIA stars in front of the building for the dead CIA agents who died in the so-called cause of America, or, I would say, the cause of imperialism all over the world. And so he talks about that. And then he says, in my mind this was torture. He doesn’t say this was torture, it has to be gone after, we have to really prosecute the people, as is our obligations.

Then they asked today at the press conference of his press person, they asked, well, what do you think about this question of did it work or did it not work? And the press person made an incredible answer. He says, we’re going to remain agnostic on that. It’s being debated now.

Well, let me just say, that debate shouldn’t be happening. There should not have been torture. The question of does it work or not work is irrelevant, although this report clearly says it doesn’t work.

So what do we have now? We have, first of all, a number of liberals, people I’ve worked with, not–saying there shouldn’t be prosecutions, it’s impossible, we’ll never get it, therefore let’s just go on with this. You know, that’s an outrageous position. It’s required legally to get prosecutions. We have to all be calling for it. The Center for Constitutional Rights has on its website a petition and phone numbers calling for prosecution of the torturers. It has to be done. The United Nations rapporteur, Ben Emmerson, the UN said, absolutely there has to be investigations and prosecutions of the torturers. I think it’s a very hard struggle, but when I think about it, I think about Argentina, I think about Chile, I think about the countries that went through their bad, dirty wars of torture, and eventually, today, as we speak, 200 trials going on in Argentina for torture and killings that took place over 20 years ago.

So I’m not without hope on it. The United States is difficult. But, of course, now there’s even a bigger call for international prosecutions. I don’t mean by that the International Criminal Court, which the U.S. is not a member of; I mean national courts in various states. My office, the Center, has brought a prosecution that’s still pending in Spain for Guantanamo torturers. We lost the ones in Germany and Switzerland. If there’s a time to renew it, it’s now. And so I feel really strongly this report has actually sent an incredible message, and perhaps, perhaps we will be turning a page on getting prosecutions.

Now, is prosecutions the only answer? No, to stopping torture. But is it a necessity? Yes, because other than that–and this is my last comment–torture becomes a political football, which, if you look at the pundits and the stations and the radio and TV and the newspapers now, that’s what it is, Cheney and everybody saying, oh, /wʊks/ we had to use it. Other people are saying it didn’t work, the Senate committee. And it becomes a political controversy. It’s not that. Torture is illegal under all circumstances by anyone anywhere in the world.

PERIES: Michael, one final question to you: is the Obama administration, if the torture Convention on the Torture requires them to prosecute those who have tortured, are they not on the hook to actually bring about some cases against those who are here legally?

RATNER: Well, yes, they are. Legally, the Convention against Torture requires the Obama administration to begin investigations and prosecute. And it recently came up at the UN. In the United Nations they have what’s called a Committee against Torture that meets to decide whether a country is meeting its obligations under the Convention against Torture.

And the Obama administration, just a few weeks ago, presented before that committee their claim that they had done what they can. They talked about their investigation. And the committee in its final report just shredded the administration, said, you have to close Guantanamo, you have to open investigations and prosecute people, you haven’t done what you’re supposed to do for the Committee against Torture and under the torture convention. So the U.S. is out of its international obligations.

And what we have to find outrageous here is that the U.S. tries to insist that other countries comply with international obligations. The U.S. doesn’t comply with its own, whether it comes to torture or making war as it did on Iraq. The U.S. is probably, continues to be, as Martin Luther King said, the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.

PERIES: Michael, thank you so much for joining us today.

RATNER: Sharmini and The Real News, thank you for having me.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Michael Ratner is President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in New York and Chair of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin. He is currently a legal adviser to Wikileaks and Julian Assange. He and CCR brought the first case challenging the Guantanamo detentions and continue in their efforts to close Guantanamo. He taught at Yale Law School, and Columbia Law School, and was President of the National Lawyers Guild. His current books include Hell No: Your Right to Dissent in the Twenty-First Century America, and Who Killed Che? How the CIA Got Away With Murder.

NOTE: Mr. Ratner speaks on his own behalf and not for any organization with which he is affiliated.