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Issue #1754      October 26, 2016

Culture & Life

The CIA – what a great bunch

The CIA: What a congenial bunch of good-natured humanitarians they are! Just ask anyone. Well, perhaps not anyone. No one who’s had a relative assassinated by order of the CIA, for example. Nor would I ask anyone who has seen their elected government overthrown in a CIA-engineered coup and replaced by a right-wing pro-business anti-people regime. And certainly not any of that large band of people who have found themselves incarcerated and tortured in secret prisons the CIA operates in foreign countries.

Yes, secret prisons. The CIA apparently takes its mission to “gather intelligence” so seriously that when it encounters people who might be reluctant to talk to its agents it has no qualms about resorting to torture. We should bear in mind that some years ago Amnesty International issued a report that described many of the routine practices in the prison system within the US itself as “torture”. Hardly surprising then that they would use it in foreign locations that are kept hidden from the nation’s elected representatives in Congress (on the principle, presumably, that what they don’t know about they can’t interfere with).

Subjecting people to torture is such a US speciality that they have for years trained the torturers for numerous barbarous regimes. When the contradiction between this practice and the USA’s oft-professed concern for “human rights” became too glaring, the relevant US authorities, including the CIA, arranged to hide their involvement by contracting the work out to some of their more brutal client regimes such as the one they’d installed in Egypt.

Taking people prisoner in one country and secretly moving them to an unrecorded prison in another country is given the euphemistic description of “rendering”. It is a CIA speciality.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has just released a report in which Ridha al-Najjar, 51, and Lotfi al-Arabi El Gherissi, 52, two Tunisians who were rendered all the way to Afghanistan, describe what happened to them in a CIA prison called Cobalt, which was known to its inmates as the “Dark Prison” or the “Salt Pit”. The two men give gruesome accounts of various forms of torture they were subjected to. Now, I know HRW is not always reliable, the CIA itself using it to release planted stories of torture and abuse by governments that are out of favour with the US. But in a case like this I think we can be reasonably confident the CIA has not coloured the report!

US commentators have focussed on HRW’s revelations about forms of torture used by the CIA that are not included in the “executive summary” of the US Senate Intelligence Committee’s report into the use of torture. That report was sufficiently embarrassing that it is still classified as “Top Secret” and its details are consequently unknown.

Both Tunisian men independently described being threatened with a makeshift electric chair, deprived of sleep, subjected to multiple forms of water torture, chained by their wrists to the ceilings of their cells for extended periods of time, and severely beaten.

Al-Najjar recounted his interrogators at Cobalt “threatening the ‘well-being of his family,’ using ‘sound disorientation techniques,’ denying him sleep using round-the-clock interrogations, depriving him of any ‘sense of time,’ keeping him in ‘isolation in total darkness; lowering the quality of his food,’ using cold temperatures, playing music ‘24 hours a day, and keeping him shackled and hooded.’”

Horrifying though that is, what struck me most forcibly was the discovery that both men were set free in 2015 “after being in CIA custody for 13 years without charge”! Keeping people in prison, incommunicado and without trial has got nothing to do with gathering intelligence. It’s clearly a form of state terrorism.

Neither man was offered any compensation by the US government, despite the fact that the abuses occurred while they were under the effective control of “US security forces.”

Nadia Prupis of Common Dreams commented: “Today, al-Najjar and El Gherissi live with their families in Tunisia in destitute conditions, struggling with severe trauma. Al-Najjar, who said his hips, ankle, and back were broken in detention, told HRW that he is still suffering from damage to several internal organs, as well as his ear. ‘My sister has five kids,’ he said. ‘I am the sixth.’

“El Gherissi lives with his family in a house that has no doors or full roof. He shares a bed with his elderly mother and cannot afford to see a doctor.”

They could both be compensated out of the CIA’s huge but largely undisclosed budget without any trouble at all, but that would set a very dangerous precedent. After all, no one actually knows how many of these secret prisons there are, let alone how many individuals have been “rendered” to them. Not to mention all those other victims of the CIA’s machinations whose relatives might also seek compensation!

When the working class finally takes over the United States – as it will eventually – one of the most important tasks of the new, people’s government will be to uncover the truth about all the assassinations, coups, disappearances, terrorist massacres and all the rest of the horrific tally of murderous events attributable to the CIA. But of course, that agency was only carrying out the wishes of the capitalists who ran the USA.

Capitalism, not the CIA, would ultimately be responsible. But however diabolical, the activities of the CIA are but part of capitalism’s multifarious crimes. Think about the victims of capitalism’s innumerable wars, for example. As Common Dreams observed, “The United States is currently engaged in active wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia. It has deployed troops on the Russian border, played push-and-shove with China in Asia, and greatly extended its military footprint on the African continent.”

Even more importantly, think about all the people whose lives will be snuffed out prematurely and all the others whose lives will be deformed by the poverty that capitalism creates wherever it goes.

Even the CIA’s budget would be inadequate to provide compensation to them!

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