The Associated Press reports that the British government lost its attempt to keep sensitive intelligence involving former Guantanamo Bay detainee Binyam Mohamed secret despite pleas that it would damage cooperation with the US, and the courts have published a summary of what Mohamed’s advocates claim was torture at Gitmo. The AP’s opening paragraph makes a damning statement:
Britain was forced by an appeals court Wednesday to reveal a long-secret description of how a former terrorism suspect was beaten, shackled and deprived of sleep during interrogations by U.S. agents.
Was Mohamed beaten, and shacked and deprived of sleep by US agents? Most people would consider beatings to be torture, but not shackles or sleep deprivation. Prisoners get shackled every day in the US, especially when transported from one location to another or for security purposes, and sleep deprivation is an interrogation technique that may not be pleasant but hardly rises to the level of torture.
The question in reading the AP report is whether the qualifier “by US agents” actually applied to the beatings — and in reading the article, in the 22nd paragraph, we discover that the alleged beatings took place in Pakistan and more torture in Morocco:
Mohamed, 31, moved to Britain as a teenager. He was arrested as a terrorist suspect in 2002 in Karachi by Pakistani forces and later transferred to Morocco, Afghanistan and in 2004 to Guantanamo Bay.
He says he was tortured in Pakistan, and that interrogators in Morocco beat him, deprived him of sleep and sliced his genitals with a scalpel.
Mohamed and his lawyers claim that the questions asked in both interrogations, especially Morocco, could only have come from British intelligence. MI5 denies participating in torture, but the beatings and stabbings didn’t take place anywhere near Guantanamo.
[It was reported that a new series of interviews was conducted by the United States authorities prior to 17 May 2001 as part of a new strategy designed by an expert interviewer.
v) It was reported that at some stage during that further interview process by the United States authorities, BM had been intentionally subjected to continuous sleep deprivation. The effects of the sleep deprivation were carefully observed.
vi) It was reported that combined with the sleep deprivation, threats and inducements were made to him. His fears of being removed from United States custody and “disappearing” were played upon.
vii) It was reported that the stress brought about by these deliberate tactics was increased by him being shackled in his interviews
viii) It was clear not only from the reports of the content of the interviews but also from the report that he was being kept under self-harm observation, that the inter views were having a marked effect upon him and causing him significant mental stress and suffering.
ix) We regret to have to conclude that the reports provide to the SyS made clear to anyone reading them that BM was being subjected to the treatment that we have described and the effect upon him of that intentional treatment.
x) The treatment reported, if had been administered on behalf of the United Kingdom, would clearly have been in breach of the undertakings given by the United Kingdom in 1972. Although it is not necessary for us to categorise the treatment reported, it could readily be contended to be at the very least cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by the United States authorities]”
What did the US actually do to Mohamed? They used the sleep-deprivation technique, under close supervision for any attempt at suicide, shackled him, and threatened him. We would not use sleep deprivation in our criminal system, but that’s really the point. Mohamed was not a suspect in a robbery, but a terrorist trained to kill Americans, which Thomas Joscelyn explains at Front Page, which makes him an unlawful combatant in a war captured abroad. The US needed to know what terrorist plots were ready to be executed against our citizens.
Jacob Laskin scoffs at the notion that any of this amounts to “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment”:
As evidence of torture, this is far from compelling. Leaving aside the question of whether coercive interrogation techniques like waterboarding constitute “torture,” they were never used on Mohamed. The furthest that U.S. interrogators were willing to go was to deprive Mohammed of sleep – always under closely supervised conditions – and threaten – only threaten – him with the possibility of rendition – that is, that he could be sent somewhere where he really could be tortured.
Nor does the disclosure that Mohamed was shackled amount to torture. That is standard procedure for detainees interrogated at Guantanamo Bay, and it imposes no physical stress. In one section of Guantanamo Bay, for instance, detainees can sit for interrogations on a plush couch, even as they have to wear leg shackles. The latter does not significantly detract from their comfort.
It’s true that measures like sleep deprivation, even if carefully monitored, are by design unpleasant. But to conclude, as the High Court did, that this treatment qualifies as “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by the United States authorities” is to expand the definition of torture beyond all reasonable boundaries. And while it’s possible that Mohammed did suffer from “mental stress” due to his confinement, it’s equally clear that nothing he experienced at the hands of U.S. authorities can be construed as torture. (To be sure, Mohamed has also alleged that he was tortured with a scalpel during a rendition to Morocco. That is a serious allegation. Yet the intelligence summary released this week provides no evidence for this abuse, let alone that either the British or U.S. authorities knowingly approved of it.)
Suffice it to say that the proclamations that this proves torture at Gitmo are very much overblown, assisted in no small part by some very sloppy writing at the Associated Press.