There was a nasty dustup on Twitter between the Glenn Greenwald forces and sympathizers with Bashar al Assad concerning the case of Maher Arar—a Canadian citizen who was deported by the US to Syria, where he was detained for 9 months and tortured (he describes his treatment here)–and whether Syria under Assad had assisted the US in its torture/rendition projects.
Much wroth was waxed on the issue over Assad-as-a-US-accomplice vs. Assad-as-anti-imperialist.
I’m going to tiptoe past that issue to highlight some interesting information about the role of Jordan in US rendition/interrogation/torture projects.
Perhaps Arar elicits the disapproval of pro-Assad forces because he has used the publicity gained by his mistreatment to engage in anti-Assad agitation. When Arar appeared on Democracy Now! his profile stated:
He now works as a human rights advocate in Canada. “The cooperation with the Syrian government, as well as other dictatorships in the Middle East post-9/11, gave some kind of legitimacy to those dictatorships,” says Arar. He calls on the United States and the United Nations to declare the Syrian regime illegitimate and refer the matter to the International Criminal Court.
In the interview, Arar highlighted the odious character of the Assad regime as follows:
Now, why the — and let me also say that when the American government sent me to Syria, they knew exactly what they were doing. In fact, I can vividly remember what an ex-CIA agent said around 2004 about the rendition program. He basically something said like — if I remember correctly, his is name is Robert Baer. He said, “If you want people to be well interrogated, you send them to Jordan. If you want people to be disappeared, you send them to Egypt. And if you want people to be tortured, you send them to Syria.”
I recently read the heavily-redacted Guantanamo Diary of Mohamedou Ould Slahi. It is an eloquent and fascinating document. It also demonstrates the pitfalls of relying on the received wisdom & privileged narratives of ex-CIA agents whose primary experiences with torture are perhaps gleaned from chitchat in the offices eager-to-impress-and-please-and facilitate-and favorbank security bureaucrats in distant lands.
Slahi was rendered from his home in Mauritania in late 2001 by the US to Jordan for detention and interrogation and we can see with good confidence, the Jordanians do torture, just not routinely and reflexively:
Jordanians practice torture on a daily basis, but they need a reasonable suspicion to do so. They don’t just jump on anybody and start to torture him…In the beginning the Jordanians were seen as a potential associate for doing the dirty work; the fact that Jordanians widely use torture as a means to facilitate interrogation seemed to impress the American authorities. But there was a problem: the Jordanians don’t take anybody and torture him; they must have reason to practice heavy physical torture…I learned later from the Jordanian detainee in GTMO who spent fifty days in the same prison…that they do have…painful methods of torture, like hanging detainees from their hands and feet and beating them for hours, and depriving them from sleep for days until they lose their minds.
“In Jordan they don’t torture unless they have evidence…The torture starts around midnight and finishes around dawn. Everybody takes part, the prison director, the interrogators, and the guards…”
In February 2002, the director of Jordan’s Antiterrorism Department was the subject of an assassination plot…The investigation led to a suspect, but the secret police couldn’t find him…The peaceful brother was to be taken as a pawn and tortured until his brother turned himself in. Special Forces were sent out, arerested the innocent boy in a crowded place, and beat him beyond belief…The boy was taken to the prison and tortured every day by his interrogator. “I don’t care how long it takes, I am going to keep torturing you until your brother turns himself in,” his interrogator said.
So Jordan tortures. But they’re selective. (Judging from Arar’s account, the Syrians are less finicky and cut to the chase immediately, beating him brutally for two weeks to extract a bogus confession, perhaps as a matter of convenience, since they apparently quickly determined that the US dossier was without foundation. They finally released Arar after over a year of inhumane detention.).
According to Slahi’s account, Jordan’s insufficiently gung-ho attitude irked the US and perhaps contributed to the idea that the US had to develop and manage its own in-house torture apparatus rather than rely on the Jordanians:
“September 11 didn’t happen in Jordan; we don’t expect other countries to pry Intels off detainees as we do,” [redacted] said once. The Americans obviously were not satisfied with the results achieved by their “torture allies.”
Slahi was detained and interrogated for eight months in Jordan without being physically tortured (psychologically, of course, another matter), since the Jordanian intelligence services considered the US dossier on him was, like Arar’s in Syria, BS.
This was not good enough for the United States, which was sure, apparently incorrectly, that Slahi was an Al Qaeda kingpin; they shipped him to Guantanamo (where he is still imprisoned today) and tortured him using the notorious regimen of sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, stress positions (and disregard for his sciatic condition and medication needs), temperature manipulation, forced water drinking, slaps, beating, psychological abuse, threats of execution and the imprisonment and abuse of his family, and the bizarre sexual humiliation gambit.
The sex stunt involved women fondling and rubbing up against him, and talking dirty and maybe more (Slahi, a devout and puritanical Muslim, does not give all the details); the women were either NCOs in the US Army, which seems, well, incredible, or hookers maybe flown in from Miami. Slahi’s allegations, by the way, were confirmed years ago in an ignored report by released British Gitmo detainees, who asserted that women smeared them with what was supposed to be menstrual blood and engaged in similar sexual provocations, as well as several subsequent US government investigations. If anybody knows if this is a unique US breakthrough in interrogation science, or if it has a precedent in the Middle East, Russia, China or elsewhere, please let me know.
Long story short, everybody tortures. So leave Bashar Assad aloooooooooooooooooone! Well, I wouldn’t go that far, but it seems unlikely that Syria was involved more than peripherally in the US GWOT global rendition/detention/interrogation/torture regime. Jordan, it appears from Slahi’s account, was at the system’s heart, and indeed was the primary US asset in navigating the Arab world and in providing precedents and best practices for interrogation…and torture.
And also, I guess we can blame the Jordanians for being so stingy with their precious torture and forcing US to set up the enhanced interrogation system at Gitmo.
Maybe that’s the takeaway.
Peter Lee edits China Matters and writes about Asia for CounterPunch.