The Twin Towers terror attacks on September 11, 2001, changed America’s Center Intelligence Agency (CIA) forever. The “agency,” especially during the height of the Cold War and its waning years, has a sordid history of either engaging in or supporting political assassinations, murderous death squads in Latin America; and importing cocaine into the U.S. that created and fueled the “crack cocaine epidemic” of the 1980s. These are just a few historical examples of bad acts by the agency that purports to support American security, values, and interests around the globe.
These illegal activities and wholesale violations of human rights pale compared to what the intelligence agency did in the wake of 9/11.
War on Terror, Torture Program Defy Basic Human Rights
Under cover of the “war on terror,” the agency adopted a quasi-official kill before capture policy; used torture techniques through an “enhanced interrogation” program on “suspected” terrorists; and established secret “black site” prisons in foreign countries that shredded every definition of human rights.
On December 9, 2014, a U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence issued a 6700-page report, “Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program,” that made 20 “Findings and Conclusions,” which served as an indictment of a government agency gone rogue. This report presented irrefutable evidence that the CIA violated U.S. laws, international laws and treaties, and human rights.
The CIA’s conduct was put on public display in graphic detail during the October 28, 2021, sentencing hearing conducted at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, before an American military commission in the case of Majid Khan. Khan became the first prisoner to openly describe the torture and “enhanced interrogation” technique used to extract confessions from suspected terrorism suspects.
Guantanamo Bay Detainee Speaks Out at Sentencing Hearing
Khan was arrested in March 2003 by Pakistani forces in Karachi, where he had traveled to visit with family. Pakistani forces turned him over to American authorities because they believed he had ties to Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, one of the suspected masterminds of the 9/11 attacks. He was eventually sent to the American military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay in 2006.
After being subjected to nine years of torture in various degrees, Khan in 2012 struck a plea deal with military prosecutors in which he agreed to plead guilty to terrorism charges—including murder, attempted murder, and spying—and to testify against fellow Guantanamo Bay detainees. In return, he would face a prison sentence not to exceed 25 years, which, with his cooperation, could mean release as soon as February 2022.
After some 18 years in CIA and American military custody, Majid Khan had plenty to say to the military tribunal. His statement took up 39 pages of the sentencing hearing transcript.
His statement traced the abuses he suffered while in American custody and included being:
- Tortured and forced to live in uninhabitable conditions in CIA black site prisons around the world.
- Raped with a garden hose.
- Force-fed fluids intravenously by an individual called “Torture Doctor,” who sharpened the tubes and put hot sauce on the tip.
- Sexually assaulted by one interrogator after hanging for three days naked.
- Beaten, while the CIA allowed foreign interrogators to force him to stand, hooded and shackled.
- Forced to stand hooded while in “metal boots” that did not allow him to move his feet.
- Threatened by interrogators who said they would kill his family and rape his sister.
- Deprived of sleep for three days nonstop.
- Restrained in a folding chair with hard seat while subjected to physically and verbally abusive interrogations for hours.
- Forced enemas.
- Dragged on the ground, and his head slammed into a wall.
- Forced to defecate in a prison cell that had no lights.
- Dragged up a staircase while shackled with face hitting each step.
- Retrained in chains wrapped around his body and pulled up with only the tip of his toes touching the ground while being interrogated
- Tortured in a bathtub filled with ice water and held underwater during 30-minute interrogation sessions.
- Doused frequently with cold cell and ice water on face and head.
- Hung for two days, sleep-deprived in freezing temperatures.
- Forced to urinate in bowls with metal shackles cutting into ankles.
There is a list of additional torture techniques, physical abuses, and living degradations Khan suffered while in military custody at Guantanamo.
Torture in the Name of American Security
The Majid Khan case vividly illustrates what the U.S. government did to hundreds of detainees in the name of the United States’ security interests, including this American citizen reared in Baltimore, Maryland, who had no previous criminal history.
Court documents cited by the Washington Post in February 2012 stated that “Khan couriered $50,000 to al-Qaeda associates to fund a hotel bombing in Jakarta, Indonesia; discussed terrorist strikes in the United States, including poisoning water reservoirs; and agreed to a suicide attack to assassinate the president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf.”
Khan’s actions were serious and should be treated as such. He admittedly committed crimes and should be held responsible for his actions. But betraying our American values and principles by torturing people to get information, and confessions, of questionable value, is unjust. Our determination to engage in these Orwellian “enhanced interrogation techniques” has permanently tainted America’s moral leadership and strategic interests abroad and has limited our ability to demand civil rights for others around the world.
The 2014 Intelligence Committee’s report acknowledged that agencies must often act quickly to threats and world events. “Nevertheless, such pressure, fear, and expectation of further terrorist plots do not justify, temper, or excuse improper actions taken by individuals or organizations in the name of national security. The major lesson … is that regardless of the pressures and the need to act, the Intelligence Community’s actions must always reflect who we are as a nation, and adhere to our laws and standards. It is precisely at these times of national crisis that our government must be guided by the lessons of our history and subject decisions to internal and external review. Instead, CIA personnel, aided by two outside contractors, decided to initiate a program of indefinite secret detention and the use of brutal interrogation techniques in violation of U.S. law, treaty obligations, and our values.” To date, no one has been prosecuted for these violations.
This immoral and illegal conduct will forever be a shameful legacy of the “War on Terror.” Khan may be released next year after nearly two decades of torture while in American custody. It will take much longer for the U.S. to overcome the stigma of this dark and dangerous episode of America’s unchecked imperial power.