The Legacy of America’s Submit-9/11 Flip to Torture

NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania — Mohamedou Ould Slahi is sort of medical as he remembers particulars of the torture he endured in the summertime of 2003 at Guantánamo Bay.

There have been the guards who menaced him with assault canines and beat him so badly they broke his ribs. The troops who shackled him, blasted him with heavy metallic music and strobe lights or drenched him in ice water to disclaim him sleep for months on finish. The mind-numbing isolation in a darkened cell with out his Quran. The feminine guards who uncovered themselves and touched him sexually in an effort to undermine his adherence to Islam.

However what left Mr. Slahi in utter despair, he mentioned, was the interrogator who tried to threaten him into acknowledging that he was complicit in plotting a terrorist assault.

“If you happen to don’t admit to it, we’re going to kidnap your mom, rape her,” the interrogator mentioned, by Mr. Slahi’s account.

“I bear in mind telling them: ‘That is unfair. This isn’t truthful,’” Mr. Slahi recalled. The interrogator, he mentioned, responded: “I’m not in search of justice. I’m trying to cease planes from hitting buildings in my nation.”

To which Mr. Slahi mentioned he replied, “You want to get these folks, not me.”

At the moment, Mr. Slahi, 50, is a free man in Mauritania, his homeland in West Africa, after almost 15 years as a detainee, an early portion of that point with the specter of a death-penalty trial hanging over him.

Ultimately, he was released in 2016 with out ever being charged, the confessions he made beneath duress recanted, a proposed case towards him deemed by the prosecutor to be nugatory in court docket due to the brutality of the interrogation.

“I used to be very naïve, and I didn’t perceive how America works,” Mr. Slahi mentioned.

For the US, as for Mr. Slahi, the legacy of the torture stays complicated and multifaceted twenty years after the assaults on Sept. 11, 2001, led the George W. Bush administration to put aside authorized and ethical constraints within the title of nationwide safety.

The US has lengthy since stopped using the so-called enhanced interrogation methods utilized in what research have concluded was a fruitless or counterproductive effort to extract lifesaving data from detainees in secret C.I.A. prisons and at Guantánamo Bay.

However the selection to show to government-sanctioned torture stays a stain on the nation’s fame, undercutting its authority to confront repression elsewhere. Even right now, some former Bush administration officers threat questioning when touring to Europe by investigators invoking the United Nations Conference In opposition to Torture.

After his first meeting with President Biden in June, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia reminded journalists that Guantánamo remained open and that the C.I.A. had carried out torture in secret international prisons. “Is that human rights?” he requested.

Using torture is complicating efforts to deliver the 5 males who’re accused of plotting the Sept. 11 assaults to justice.

“There was torture,” mentioned Adele Welty, whose son Timothy, a firefighter, died in New York on Sept. 11. She has come to query whether or not the army commissions at Guantánamo can ship justice.

“The truth that my nation may do that’s so barbaric. It actually bothers me,” she mentioned. “What sort of persons are we that we may do this to different human beings, and did we actually imagine that what they had been saying in response to the torture was actual, or had been they simply saying it to cease the torture?”

Stuart Sofa, a former Marine prosecutor whose job was to place Mr. Slahi on trial at Guantánamo Bay — however who refused as soon as he discovered what the army had accomplished to him — mentioned the US nonetheless suffered from what he known as the “Jack Bauer impact”: the assumption that you might beat a confession out of a suspect, save the day and emerge heroic, just like the star of the TV thriller “24,” which aired on Fox from 2001 to 2010.

Mr. Slahi lived that false impression.

He now has a measure of fame. His best-selling memoir, “Guantánamo Diary,” was launched in a movie model, “The Mauritanian.” Whereas he’s typically denied visas for journey, he lately made a visit to London, the place he took half in a literary studying and was hosted at a celebration by Kevin Macdonald, the director of the film.

A software program engineer, Mr. Slahi has two telephones, a laptop computer and Wi-Fi within the dwelling he constructed since his launch. Remoted for lengthy stretches throughout his imprisonment, he carries on a number of conversations the world over today via texts, video chats and telephone calls.

On one stage, his is a hopeful story.

“I wholeheartedly forgive everybody who wronged me throughout my detention,” he mentioned in a YouTube message to the world quickly after his launch. “I forgive, as a result of forgiveness is my inexhaustible useful resource.”

However the results of what he endured at Guantánamo are certainly not behind him.

Mr. Slahi reveals indicators of post-traumatic stress dysfunction: insomnia, inattentiveness, hyperattentiveness, at instances scattered considering. He has listening to deficits most likely associated to the screeching heavy metallic music that guards blasted to maintain him awake and continual again ache from sciatica that may be attributed to months of shackling.

He has reminiscence lapses of a sure interval of detention and vivid recollections of different instances. Discussing his torture, he juxtaposed the accounts of his abuse at Guantánamo with renditions of songs he remembered listening to there: Drowning Pool’s “Let the Our bodies Hit the Flooring” to deprive him of sleep, and a Justin Timberlake tune, “Señorita,” that soothed him because it seeped into his cell from a close-by guard publish.

Mr. Slahi was one in all two detainees whose torture at Guantánamo Bay was carried out beneath a program authorized by Donald H. Rumsfeld, the protection secretary on the time. The US additionally despatched 119 folks into the C.I.A.’s abroad community of secret prisons — together with the accused plotters of the Sept. 11 assaults — the place detainees had been routinely sleep disadvantaged, shackled in excruciating methods and subjected to rectal abuse and different brutal remedy.

The C.I.A. has acknowledged that three detainees had been waterboarded. One died of abuse. Many extra had been brutalized in U.S. or allied detention as interrogators improvised their very own strategies.

A complete examine by the Senate Choose Intelligence Committee of the company’s program concluded that the methods didn’t save lives or disrupt terrorist plots and weren’t essential, findings that the C.I.A. disputed. (A prolonged executive summary of the report was made public in 2014, however the full report stays labeled.)

Mr. Slahi’s story — specified by interviews, testimony and congressional investigations — spans a lot of the 20 years wherein the US has variously obscured, acknowledged and handled the diplomatic and human fallout of the interrogation packages approved by Mr. Bush and his crew.

Mr. Slahi was a intelligent, curious son in a Bedouin household of 12 youngsters who turned the primary in his household to check overseas. Whereas working towards an engineering diploma in Germany within the 1990s, he traveled to Afghanistan to coach within the anti-Communist jihad at a time when the US endorsed it. He was again in his native Mauritania on Sept. 11, 2001.

Intelligence analysts sifting via data after the assaults famous that he had obtained a name in late 1998 or early 1999 from a satellite tv for pc telephone utilized by Osama bin Laden. The decision was a few household matter and got here from a cousin who had been a part of bin Laden’s internal circle and later fled to Mauritania, Mr. Slahi mentioned.

U.S. intelligence had additionally come to imagine that Mr. Slahi had hosted three Muslim males in his dwelling in Duisburg, Germany, for an evening in November 1999. Amongst them had been two of the Sept. 11 hijackers and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, who’s accused of recruiting the so-called Hamburg cell of hijackers and is charged in a death-penalty case at Guantánamo. Mr. Slahi dismissed the encounter as so informal — a matter of providing hospitality to fellow Muslim vacationers — that he mentioned he didn’t bear in mind the suspect named Ramzi when interrogators pressed him on it.

Investigators additionally observed that Mr. Slahi had moved to Montreal within the winter of 1999 and prayed on the identical mosque as Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian often known as the millennium bomber for a failed plot to plant a bomb at Los Angeles Worldwide Airport on New 12 months’s Eve in 1999. Mr. Slahi was questioned by federal safety forces in Canada and left for dwelling after two months.

By 2001, the US had persuaded the Mauritanian authorities handy Mr. Slahi to Jordanian interrogators. He was then despatched to Guantánamo Bay in August 2002, after what he described as a quick, brutal keep at a U.S. army lockup in Bagram, Afghanistan.

At Guantánamo, guards and interrogators sought to interrupt him each bodily and psychologically. In a single case, described by Mr. Slahi and different detainees, feminine guards uncovered themselves and made sexual advances on him as he was shackled to a chair in an interrogation room. A male guard taunted him whereas a feminine guard took off her clothes.

“There was touching,” Mr. Slahi mentioned. “So humiliating. So destroying.”

After months of interrogation, he admitted to plotting to explode the CN Tower in Toronto — a confession he later mentioned was compelled, including that he didn’t know earlier than his interrogation that the skyscraper existed.

A trial was averted after Mr. Sofa, then a lieutenant colonel within the Marine Corps, stumbled right into a surreal scene at Guantánamo of one other prisoner in an interrogation cell, nude, shackled to the ground and being blasted with heavy metallic music. The colonel was shocked, did some digging and realized that Mr. Slahi’s confessions had been obtained via what he concluded was merciless and strange remedy.

By no means charged, Mr. Slahi was saved as a prisoner within the struggle on terror, deemed too harmful to launch till his e-book, revealed in 2015 after his legal professionals labored to have his writing declassified, put a highlight on his case. A former Military guard, Steve Wood of Oregon, wrote the Obama administration’s interagency parole board that he thought-about Mr. Slahi so secure he would gladly host him in his dwelling.

U.S. forces delivered Mr. Slahi to Mauritania simply as he had been delivered to Guantánamo: blindfolded and in shackles.

However whereas Mr. Slahi has been launched, Guantánamo continues to reckon with what was accomplished to different detainees nonetheless held there — not least the 5 males accused of serving to to plot the Sept. 11 assaults, together with the alleged mastermind, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, whom C.I.A. contractors waterboarded 183 instances at a secret jail in Poland.

The struggle court docket at Guantánamo, run by the U.S. army, is supposed to steadiness the necessity for secrecy with the rights of the accused.

To the frustration of households of the almost 3,000 victims of the assault, the crimes of Sept. 11 have been hardly ever talked about in almost a decade of proceedings.

Relatively, protection legal professionals have successfully managed to place the C.I.A. on trial as they’ve systematically sought to exclude proof towards the lads — notably confessions they made months into their stays at Guantánamo — as a product of torture.

The legal professionals for one defendant, Mustafa al-Hawsawi, who sits gingerly on a pillow in court docket due to ache from rectal abuse in C.I.A. custody, argue that the case ought to be dismissed outright due to outrageous authorities conduct.

In an effort to hurry up the proceedings — and maybe to guard the identities of sure C.I.A. workers — prosecutors have begun acknowledging that the US tortured its captives in abroad prisons. They don’t use the phrase, however they’ve learn aloud in court docket from grisly descriptions of abuse to attempt to argue that protection legal professionals have enough particulars to attempt to transfer both for dismissal of the costs or to exclude the loss of life penalty if the defendants are convicted.

Prosecutors mentioned in 2018 that they might stipulate to “something tethered to actuality” to keep away from the nationwide safety battle over declassifying sure particulars of what went on within the secret websites.

“We’re not going to quibble,” mentioned one prosecutor, Jeffrey D. Groharing. “We’re not going to name witnesses and debate about whether or not Mr. Mohammed was waterboarded 183 instances or 283 instances. We, frankly, assume that has little relevance to the commissions and the problems earlier than it.”

The prosecutors look like banking on the concept that at this level, testimony in regards to the remedy of the defendants won’t lead the army jury within the case to acquit.

However there are additionally loads of Individuals who haven’t forgotten the alternatives made after Sept. 11. The nation’s revulsion of torture dates to “the earliest days of the American Republic,” Decide Jed S. Rakoff, a federal decide in Manhattan, wrote in his recent book “Why the Harmless Plead Responsible and the Responsible Go Free.”

“This isn’t the way in which a civilized colony, or later the US as an entire, conducts itself,” he mentioned. “I do assume that elementary authorized qua ethical strategy was what was undercut within the wake of 9/11 by what occurred in Guantánamo.”

The decide’s courthouse is a number of blocks from floor zero. “What remains to be seared in my reminiscence is watching folks leap out of the home windows of the World Commerce Middle towers as a result of the choice is being burned to loss of life inside,” he mentioned in an interview. “One can always remember the atrocity of that assault. However additionally it is precisely when atrocities happen that the rule of legislation is put to the take a look at.”

Solely a handful of the lads who had been topic to the remedy authorized by the Bush administration have been launched and spoken publicly in regards to the expertise, with Mr. Slahi being distinguished amongst them.

“I solely have the legislation,” he mentioned final month. “And if the legislation fails me, I’m accomplished. There may be nothing else left for me.”

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