Even Without Video, Proof of CIA Torture Exists

When he didn’t answer or provided an answer they didn’t like, at first [name blacked out] would slap Mowhoush, and then after a few slaps, it turned into punches. And then from punches, it turned into [name blacked out] using a piece of hose.It’s been described [in] several ways. Some people have described it as a rubber hose, like a garden hose. Some people have said it was foamy, like a Nerf ball. But from the best we can tell, [it was] a piece of black insulation that you’d use to insulate water pipes in a house to keep them from freezing, about 3 feet or a meter long, and he was hitting Mowhoush with that when he provided answers that they didn’t like. And then, you know, everybody else in the room is pretty much back, and this action is going on in one corner. But at some point, somebody outside that group of Mowhoush and [names blacked out] came forward, yelled something at Mowhoush. Mowhoush kicked at that person, and then a scuffle ensued, and then basically it was described as a free-for-all. The room collapsed on Mowhoush. Sergeant [name blacked out], for example, said he took out some frustrations by punching Mowhoush six or seven times. Mr. [name blacked out] said he punched Mowhoush a couple times and probably hit him with the heel of his hand a couple times. And that lasted 1 or 2 minutes. Nobody can really say for sure.

Here’s what can be said for sure: While the CIA and the Bush Administration try to hide their torture policies by destroying a videotape of a brutal interrogation, other proof exists.

The italic description above doesn’t come from a spy novel. It comes from a declassified secret transcript in the investigation of the 2003 death of Iraqi Maj. Gen. Abed Mowhoush. The transcript was obtained recently under the federal freedom of information law. Although a Washington Post story referenced the transcript’s existence in a 2005 report, many of the graphic details found in the 285 pages of testimony have never been publicly reported.

Two soldiers were eventually charged in Mowhoush’s death, which occurred two days after the events described above. Those soldiers slipped a sleeping bag over Mowhoush’s head and one of them sat on Mowhoush’s body and smothered him when he didn’t answer questions.

Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer, who did all those things, was found guilty of negligent homicide in 2006. Compared to the beating and abuse that killed Mowhoush, Welshofer’s punishment of 60 days restriction to Fort Carson, Colorado, was a slap on the wrist. But at least Welshofer was tried.

The United States government charged no one for beating Mowhoush with a rubber hose or whipping him with a long thin metal baton called an asp or clubbing him in the chest with a rifle butt. The government charged no one for piling on Mowhoush and indiscriminately punching and kicking him apparently breaking several of his ribs. The government charged no one for lying to Army investigators by saying they were not in the room where Mowhoush was tortured when they actually were.

In fact, although “it was very clear to the doctor (performing the autopsy) that this guy was beaten with several objects,” the worst torturers could not even be questioned, an Army legal officer explained in the transcript that was declassified in 2005, around the time the CIA destroyed the interrogation tapes now causing all the concern. No one has been held responsible for the much of the torture the transcript describes.

The reason why, testified the Army legal officer, is because “the beatings (of Mowhoush) appeared to come from other government agencies that we didn’t have access to investigate.”

“You were not allowed to investigate any allegations involving (non-military) personnel, is that correct?” a defense lawyer asked a different investigating officer.

“That is correct,” came the answer.

“Other governmental agencies” — code for the CIA and its operatives — continue to function under a separate standard that empowers torture, Jennifer Daskal, senior counterterrorism counsel for Human Rights Watch said in an interview last week.

That is why the current flap about the destroyed CIA interrogation tape is so important.

It is why in November 2007, Human Rights Watch pushed for the passage of pending Congressional legislation that “requires all U.S. interrogators to abide by the same rules already in place for the military.”

The military rules grew out of incidents like Mowhoush’s death.

Since then, said Daskal, “The Army has been very specific” about what can and cannot be done to foreign detainees captured in the war on terrorism. By comparison, the CIA has not come close to outlawing torture, she said.

While you’d be hard-pressed to find a CIA or White House official to say that what happened to Mowhoush was standard operating procedure, you’d have to look just as hard to find anyone among the spies or their contractors who has been held accountable for such brutality.

“The CIA has reported some cases (of detainee abuse),” said Daskal. “But only one civilian has been prosecuted for abuse of a detainee in Iraq or Afghanistan. The department’s own internal investigations suggest that many more civilians have been involved in abuse.”

Part of the problem stems from a double standard that thwarts accountability, Daskal insisted.
She cited an executive order issued in July by President Bush that seemed to give the CIA power to use interrogation techniques with foreign detainees that the U.S. military has banned.

The executive order “doesn’t list the techniques available,” said Daskal. “But it’s clear the CIA operates under rules that allow for more abusive interrogation (than the military). Abuse migrates.”

That much is clear from the Mowhoush investigation.

Col. David Teeples, commander of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, actually testified that he “didn’t know what the authorized (interrogation) techniques were.” But he knew “that there were detainees that were kept standing for hours, just to fatigue them. And I know that, you know, sleep deprivation was a technique, and I believe the first time I heard about the claustrophobic effect was in Chief Welshofer’s rebuttal to his letter of reprimand. And, so, I could understand why the sleeping-bag technique could be used as a claustrophobic technique, not intending to harm someone, not intending to kill someone, but intending to put some type of fear in their mind. Now … the way I answered that one question about sitting on somebody, certainly I wouldn’t condone sitting on somebody until they stopped breathing. Now, just sitting on somebody … [to] make somebody afraid … I don’t know that that’s wrong.”

With a commanding officer so morally ambivalent, there is little wonder that civilian and military interrogators step over the line.

A doctor who examined Mowhoush’s body reported that she had seen evidence of similar beatings on another prisoner.

“There was the one particular person that I was quite sure was beaten,” the doctor testified. “He spoke English very well, and he had worked as a translator with me throughout the day and was removed, I believe for interrogation. I’m not even sure. And several hours later, I was called to see him. And he was fine when I saw him in the morning and was badly bruised when I saw him in the afternoon.”

The doctor detailed the injuries.

“He had bruising on the backs of his hands. He had very severe bruising over his entire back. He complained of feet pain, and he had bruising on the bottoms of his feet. And he had bruising on the tops of his feet.”

This is what happens when the Pentagon endorses a “strategy that mimics Red Army methods,” Georgetown University law professor M. Gregg Bloche and British lawyer and Georgetown bioethics fellow Jonathan H. Marks wrote in a November 2005 op-ed piece in The New York Times. The authors claimed methods such as “prolonged isolation and sleep deprivation, stress positions, physical assault and the exploitation of detainees’ phobias” were all methods of interrogation approved by the military for “high value detainees” at Guantanamo. Those techniques were derived from communist torture methods. They were once used in a defensive program called “Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape” — or SERE — to help train American service members who might be captured.

By injecting SERE tactics into America’s interrogation of detainees, Bloche and Marks wrote, “the Pentagon opened a Pandora’s box of potential abuse.”

Often with little to show for it.

Mowhoush was considered a “high value” terrorist.

Only the U.S. tortured him to death before it could get much if any value out of him.

Here, according to the declassified transcript, is how Mowhoush died two days after “other government agencies” beat him so badly that it took five people to carry him back to the cage where he was kept.

At the guidance of Chief Warrant Officer Welshofer, (Specialist Jerry) Loper assisted in placing a green Army sleeping bag … over Mowhoush’s head, actually the feet area over the head so that the face was covered. And then to hold the bag tight, they wrapped a length of electrical wire, not like an extension cord but like white wire that was used to actually run the wiring in the buildings over there. (It was) maybe 20 feet long. And then they laid Mowhoush on the floor … And then at that point … Welshofer straddled Mowhoush, one foot on either side and then kind of squatted or sat on Mowhoush’s upper body while he was on the floor in the sleeping bag … [A]s the interrogation continued, at one point Welshofer covered Mowhoush’s face with his hand and held it for a few seconds and then released …

At first, the Army listed Mowhoush’s cause of death as a “heart attack.” Welshofer told the doctor called to the scene that Mowhoush had “lost control of his urine and collapsed.”

Like the destroyed CIA interrogation videotape that is the topic of today’s controversy, all of this Mowhoush torture testimony was once classified as “secret.” In the now-declassified transcript, an intelligence analyst — whose name is of course blacked out — tries to explain why.

She applies the same rationale that doubtless was applied to the CIA video.

Certain information, said the analyst, “if it were released publicly, could cause serious damage to the national security.”

Or worse, criminal revelations about the people in charge of it.

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Jim Spencer

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