A little publicized piece by Ali Abunimah in Lebanon’s Daily Star titled “Israeli link possible in US torture techniques: In exchange for interrogation training, did Washington award security contracts?” should be getting a lot more attention. While it is doubtful that the Pentagon and its defense contractors would need to barter with Israel to get their interrogation techniques (they’ve had them for decades), the Abunimah article provides a gold-mine worth of resources establishing, yet again, the inseparable and often damaging linkage between US and Israeli interests in the Middle East and Central Asia. Reading through some of the resource material cited by Abunimah, it is difficult to figure out where US foreign and defense policy ends and Israel’s begins. But more on that later.
History records how much of a mess Great Britain made of the Middle East chopping up tribal lands, establishing arbitrary borders, and at one point even threatening to “gas” the Iraqi’s during the failed occupation of their country in the early 1900’s. But little is known about the role that Great Britain played in developing the fine art of torture. It was Great Britain, not Israel or the US, that pioneered the torture tactics so common in military practice in 2004.
For over 30 years Israel and the US have used time-tested torture practices devised by the British. The British Army pioneered these methods way back in 1971, using them against the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the Irish people. According to one of the world’s most respected, and underrated, human rights groups B’Tselem (btselem.org), in 1971 British security forces in Northern Ireland used coercive interrogation methods against fourteen IRA suspects. These methods were known as the five techniques and surfaced in a legal proceeding known as Ireland versus the United Kingdom. The five pillars of torture include the following:  Wall-Standing: Forcing the detainees to remain for periods of some hours in a “stress position,” described by those who underwent it as being “spread-eagled against the wall, with their fingers put high above the head against the wall, the legs spread apart and the feet back, causing them to stand on their toes with the weight of the body mainly on the fingers.  Hooding: Putting a black or navy colored bag over the detainees’ heads and, at least initially, keeping it there all the time except during interrogation.  Subjection to Noise: Pending their interrogations, holding the detainees in a room where there was a continuous loud and hissing noise.  Deprivation of Sleep: Pending their interrogations, depriving the detainees of sleep.  Deprivation of Food and Drink: Subjecting the detainees to a reduced diet during their stay at the center and pending interrogation.
The United States and Israel have brutally refined British practices adding cultural torture. For prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanimo Bay and Israel’s many detention centers housing Palestinian captives, that means assaulting the integrity of one’s culture and religion while physically pushing the prisoners to the brink of death. Modifications made by Israel and clearly adopted by the US for the Arab captives include constant references to hetero-on-hetero sex, forcing nude inmates to role-play as dogs and simulate hetero-on-hetero sex, and the common practice of photographing the prisoner in humiliating circumstances so that in each interrogation session the broken prisoner, or his comrades/family, can see how far he/she has been removed from humanity.
Been There, Done That
In a March 1991 report titled Interrogation of Palestinians During the Intifada: Ill-Treatment, “Moderate Physical Pressure?” or Torture? B’Tselem reported on a method of torture called Shabah which now seems to be the preferred method of the US military and intelligence communities. “Shabah entails tying the detainee’s hands in front or behind his body with plastic or metal cuffs. He is blindfolded or his head is covered to the neck by sacking [hood] with only a slit left open to breathe. He stands in this position in an open yard, or sometimes with his hands tied to a pole, for several days during which he is interrogated for several hours each day. He is subjected to inadequate food; sleep deprivation (sometimes for up to a week) and restriction of toilet facilities; beating (with clubs, fists or boots, sometimes on the genitals or head, sometimes banging the head on the wall); the “cupboard” (being placed in a closed dark space, some one meter by one meter for hours or days); partial suffocation (by pressure on the windpipe or by placing sacks on the head and pressing them against the nose and mouth); and Falaqa (beating the soles of the feet with a stick or plastic hose, usually while the detainee is handcuffed and hooded).”
What does Shabah feel like? According to B’Tselem quoting a prisoner, “They had me sit on a chair about 25cm high that is chained to the floor. One leg of the chair is shorter than the others, so the chair is unstable. They shackled my hands behind the back of the chair, and my legs, and put a sack over my head. The shackles are metal. The first day they did this, I felt something drip on me, and the next day I saw that it had been the vomit of a previous detainee. They played music so loud that I couldn’t figure out what it was. Sometimes the chair was really smooth, and I would slide downwards whenever I dozed off to sleep. Anyway, like I said, it wasn’t straight. They kept me in Shabah for forty-eight hours”
Meanwhile, back in the mother country of democracy and torture, Great Britain’s prisons have been the home of brutal practices against the IRA, although they’ve apparently managed to whitewash much of their atrocities. In 1997, Amnesty International reported on the despicable conditions for the Irish in British prisons. “Category A prisoners (prisoners regarded as a high security risk) were held in conditions which led to serious deterioration in their physical and mental health. Róisín McAliskey, who was four months pregnant, was temporarily detained in a filthy cell in the special security unit of an all-male prison. She and other prisoners, including Patrick Kelly, who was suffering from cancer, received inadequate medical treatment.” In another incident in Brixton Prison in the late 1990’s, six Irishmen hanged themselves under suspicious circumstances. Some of the guards responsible for monitoring them were former members of the British military.
Peace is Our Profession
As Abunimah noted in his article, The Jerusalem Fund of Aish AhTorah earlier this year sponsored the first annual Defense Aerospace Executives Mission of Peace to Israel and Jordan (http://www.jerusalemfund.com). Members of the US Congress such as Friend of Zion award winner Senator Evan Bayh play a critical role in ensuring that the Judeo-Christian lines of communication remain open to negotiate lucrative contracts and ensure that the US will stay in Iraq and support whatever nutty policy the Sharon government comes up with. Another Friend of Zion award winner is Robert Liscouski, an Assistant Secretary of US Homeland Security for Infrastructure Protection. The Jerusalem Fund’s honorary chairs include a former head of Mossad and Israel’s Minister of Internal Security. In this case, appearances are not deceiving.
The Chairman of the Mission of Peace for the Jerusalem Fund is not an Israeli but the Joe Reeder, a former US Army undersecretary and now corporate lobbyist for Greenberg Traurig. Albert Einstein might be surprised to learn that his name is used by the Jerusalem Fund for four classes of the Albert Einstein Award (technology, lifetime achievement, etc.) which, by coincidence, end up in the hands of defense and security contractors, not to groups like B’Tselem. Just how this effort translates into some sort of Mission of Peace is something only George Orwell would understand.
As long as we are talking irony and oddity, it’s worth mentioning that Reeder heads a defense industry ethics study group in the US whose stated purpose is to improve the ethics practices of the industry. In reality, Reeder’s effort goes more toward to defending the image of the defense contractor as ethical patriot in the face of mismanagement of Iraqi reconstruction contracts, abuse of revolving doors, overcharging the government and the nightmarish fact that a former Pentagon official and Boeing employee, Darlene Druyun, is now a convicted felon. So much for ethics.
Even though the January 2004 gathering in Israel was billed as a Defense Aerospace Executives gig, Robert Roth of Viacom and Mark Kamlet of Carnegie Mellon University showed up to talk about telecommunications network and cybersecurity issues. A number of investment banking firms were also present. The celebrity of the event was Jack London, CEO of CACI and Abu Gharib fame, who headed a seminar titled How to work with the Department of Defense: A prime consolidator perspective. Reeder, as noted by Abunimah, gave insights on how to sell to the Pentagon. And this was a Mission of Peace?
So what does all this have to do with torture? “The visit of the US delegation that included the CACI head exposes a rarefied web of influence sharing in which US government officials and congressmen, defense contractors and lobbyists parcel out huge contracts, and siphon significant portions off to Israel,” wrote Abunimah. That “rarefied web” includes Great Britain who violated its own sanctions on Israel and adopted the US arms export approach to that country. Commenting on the revised British arms transfer policy, Oxfam stated that “rather than solely basing decisions to export arms components on human rights, conflict and poverty considerations, new criteria were introduced to assess potential deals against their importance for the arms industry.”
And that’s the rub. The liberating principles of human rights that took humanity centuries to adopt are once again being tortured and minimized on behalf of greed, of fanaticism and of fear. We are back to Britain’s five techniques. We are all drowning in violence. Can Crucifixion for the enemy be far behind? The simplistic rationale of British, American and Israeli leaders has led us all into a world where television, the Net, radio, newspapers, magazines, conversations and dreams are focused on war, death, and destruction. Bin Laden is winning big time and dragging us all down with him.
No one is rising above it all and there’s no telling the depths to which this will affect generations of children. And it all begins when leaders become unaccountable and their methods go unchallenged. How can the three enlightened societies that are the UK, US and Israel be so plain stupid when viewing their unpleasant histories with the Arab and Central Asian worlds? How did it come to this? There were no consequences for the political and military dereliction of duty on 911. No consequences for the lies that led to the Iraq War and Occupation which, in turn, led to slaughter of Iraqis and Americans in Falluja, the torture at Abu Gharib and the beheading of American Nick Berg. As more and more Americans view Arabs as “animals” it’s worth posing the question, Does a 500lb precision guided munition released from a US aircraft that ultimately incinerates a Iraqi family make the US any less sick than the group that beheads an American citizen? Are the 2500 US civilians killed on 911 worth 20,000 Afghani and Iraqi civilians killed? Is it ethical that Israel uses British and US military equipment for assassination missions or the killing of the Rachel Corrie’s of the world?
How much retribution, how much torture, how many brains splattered across the earth, how much of the “rarefied web of influence” can the world stand?
When will a Mission of Peace really become a mission of peace?
JOHN STANTON is a Virginia based writer specializing in political and national security matters. He is the author of the forthcoming book A Power, But Not Super. He is also the author along with Wayne Madsen of America’s Nightmare: The Presidency of George Bush II. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.