How America became a torturing regime in the ‘war on terror’

Lisa Hajjar in Dawn:

52cd101c9950dOn the television programme ‘Meet the Press’ on September 16, 2001, five days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, vice president Dick Cheney said: “We’ll have to work … the dark side, if you will. We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies — if we are going to be successful.” The following day, president George W. Bush signed a memorandum of understanding granting the CIA authority to establish a secret detention and interrogation operation overseas.

By December 2001, Pentagon officials were exploring how to “reverse engineer” SERE (survival, evasion, resistance, extraction) techniques that had been developed during the Cold War to train US soldiers to withstand torture in case they were captured by regimes that don’t adhere to the Geneva Conventions. The Clinton-era rendition programme of sending detainees captured abroad to foreign states for trial was revamped as “extraordinary rendition” to permit the CIA to kidnap people from anywhere in the world and disappear them into secret prisons, euphemised as “black sites,” where they could be held as “ghost detainees” — i.e., with no record of their identities or whereabouts and no access to monitors from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) — or transferred extra-legally to other states for interrogation.

Cheney and other officials in the Bush administration devised a “new paradigm” according to which the president, as commander-in-chief, has unfettered powers to wage war. On November 13, 2001, president Bush issued a military order declaring that captured terror suspects were “unlawful combatants,” a heretofore non-existent category conceived to place such prisoners outside of the law. Anyone taken into US custody could be designated an unlawful combatant by presidential fiat rather than on the basis of any status review by a tribunal, and could be held incommunicado indefinitely.

More here.