Until now, this scenario has only been a fear. Now we know it was a reality. An astonishing, and largely ignored, judicial ruling issued on September 17 in the case of one Fouad al-Rabiah told us that the US government knowingly tortured an innocent man to procure a false confession.
We know that an American interrogator, operating under the authority of the US government, said the following words to a detainee: “There is nothing against you. But there is no innocent person here. So, you should confess to something so you can be charged and sentenced and serve your sentence and then go back to your family and country, because you will not leave this place innocent.”
That’s from page 41 of the court memorandum and order, releasing al-Rabiah. Al-Rabiah was captured in Pakistan in December 2001. He had an unlikely history for a top Al-Qaeda commander and strategist. He had spent 20 years at a desk job for Kuwait Airways. As the journalist Andy Worthington has painstakingly reported — and the court reiterated — he was also a humanitarian volunteer for Muslim refugees. Yet informants had described him as an Al-Qaeda supporter and confidant of Osama Bin Laden, and before he knew what was happening to him, he was whisked away to Guantanamo.
The informants’ accounts were riddled with inconsistencies and contradictions. In her ruling, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly noted that “the only consistency with respect to [these] allegations is that they repeatedly change over time”. The one incriminating statement was given by another inmate after he had been subjected to sleep deprivation and coercion. So the only option left to prove that al-Rabiah had not been captured by mistake was his own confession.
The interrogators’ notes, forced into the open by the court, gave the game away. In the judge’s words, although “al-Rabiah’s interrogators ultimately extracted confessions from him”, they “never believed his confessions, based on the comments they included in their interrogation reports”. In fact, “the evidence in the record during this period consists mainly of an assessment made by an intelligence analyst that alRabiah should not have been detained”.
That CIA analyst, moreover, had told the justice department this was his judgment. Rather than withdraw the prosecution, however, the decision was made to get al-Rabiah to confess. He didn’t and wouldn’t. So he was subject to sleep deprivation and other unspecified “interrogation techniques” that led him to suffer “from serious depression, losing weight in a substantial way, and very stressed because of the constant moves, deprived of sleep and worried about the consequences for his children”.
Whatever the techniques applied to him, the outcome was a breakthrough for the US government. It resulted, in the judge’s words, in al-Rabiah’s “confession that he met with Osama Bin Laden, continued with his confession that he undertook a leadership role in Tora Bora, and repeated itself ... with respect to ‘evidence’ that the government has not even attempted to rely on as reliable or credible”.
The ruling also reveals that during the coercion, al-Rabiah began to make contradictory confessions; and when he tried to retract them, he was punished: “As a result, al-Rabiah’s interrogators began using abusive techniques that violated the Army Field Manual and the 1949 Geneva Conventions ... The first of these techniques included threats of rendition to places where al-Rabiah would either be tortured and/or would never be found.”
The only thing I would find remotely satisfying as a form of justice here would be for Dick Cheney to be prosecuted, convicted, and a special punishment added to the books whereby he would be stripped of his citizenship and exiled from the country. He is not fit to be an American.
Since that will never happen, I'll make do with the prosecutions of everyone responsible for these horrors, top to bottom.