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'These People Fear Prosecution': Why Bush's CIA Team Should Worry About Its Dark Embrace of Torture

The <i>New Yorker</i>'s Jane Mayer discusses the fallout from the Red Cross' shocking report on CIA torture and its serious legal implications.

On the night of April 6, a long-secret document was published -- in its entirety for the first time -- that provided a clear, stark look at the CIA torture program carried out by the Bush administration.

Dated Feb. 14, 2007, the 41-page report describes in harrowing detail the "ill treatment" of 14 "high-value" detainees in U.S. custody, as recounted by the prisoners in interviews with the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Besides listing the various kinds of harsh interrogation tactics undertaken by the CIA -- among them "suffocation by water," "prolonged stress standing," "beatings by use of a collar," "confinement in a box," "prolonged nudity," "threats," "forced shaving" and other methods -- the report reveals the disturbing role of medical professionals in the torture of suspects, which included using doctors' equipment to monitor their health, even as torture was carried out.

Just as Americans have known about Bush-era torture for years, lawyers and human rights activists have long known about the ICRC report and its contents. Both are due in large part to the work of journalists and their sources, who have brought to light the many post-9/11 abuses committed in the name of counterterrorism.

In February 2005, Jane Mayer of the New Yorker magazine published a story called "Outsourcing Torture: The Secret History of America's 'Extraordinary Rendition' Program," which reported in intricate detail the sordid mechanisms of the Bush administration's kidnap-and-torture program -- a practice so violent and dramatic that it inspired a major Hollywood film a few years later.

As Mayer wrote at the time, however, "Rendition is just one element of the administration's new paradigm."

The CIA itself is holding dozens of 'high value' terrorist suspects outside of the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S., in addition to the estimated 550 detainees in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The administration confirmed the identities of at least 10 of these suspects to the 9/11 Commission -- including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a top al-Qaida operative … -- but refused to allow commission members to interview the men, and would not say where they were being held. Reports have suggested that CIA prisons are being operated in Thailand, Qatar and Afghanistan, among other countries. At the request of the CIA, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld personally ordered that a prisoner in Iraq be hidden from Red Cross officials for several months, and Army Gen. Paul Kern told Congress that the CIA may have hidden up to a hundred detainees."

Among the revelations of the ICRC report is that the CIA did indeed hide prisoners from the Red Cross.

Mayer has been a staff writer at the New Yorker since 1995. In the years after 9/11, her investigative articles have been critical to piecing together the story of how the United States became a country that tortures in the name of the so-called "war on terror."

Mayer was recently awarded the Ron Ridenhour Prize for her book, The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How The War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals (Doubleday). Co-sponsored by The Nation Institute and the Fertel Foundation, the Ridenhour prize honors journalists and whistle-blowers whose work has helped to "protect the public interest, promote social justice or illuminate a more just vision of society." Mayer will be honored alongside other winners of the Ridenhour prize on April 16 at the National Press Club in Washington.

AlterNet's Rights & Liberties Editor Liliana Segura spoke to Mayer over the phone from New York, the morning after the release of the ICRC report.