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Inside the Bush Administration's Lawless Global Torture Regime (And How Obama Remains Complicit)

A new report exposes the shocking breadth of the CIA’s lawlessness in the age of the war on terror.

Guantanamo Prison Flight
Photo Credit: Publik15/Flickr


You may not have heard of Mohammed al-Asad, but the torture he suffered was carried out in your name. And his story is one of 136 such ordeals that were perpetrated by the Central Intelligence Agency.

Those stories are told in a comprehensive report issued by the Open Society Foundations (OSF) this month. Titled " Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detention and Extraordinary Rendition," the report is the fullest accounting yet of the Bush administration’s global torture ring. The document aims to fully fill in the gaps of what people know about the Bush administration’s torture program, which enlisted the help of 54 countries around the world.

Al-Asad is a Yemeni national who was detained in Tanzania in 2003 by security forces in that country. He was then shipped off to Djibouti where he was held incommunicado before being transferred to a U.S. “rendition team” which consisted of five people, all of whom wore black with their faces covered.

Then al-Asad was shipped off to a third country, Afghanistan, where he was held in isolation, subject to loud music, faced harsh light 24 hours a day and had his diet manipulated. Finally, al-Asad, by this time damaged by intense CIA-led torture, was handed off to Yemen, his home country and a repressive ally of the U.S., where he was imprisoned for using forged travel documents. He was finally released in 2006, without ever being charged with terrorism--the ostensible reason the CIA picked up him up and tortured him in the first place. 

Mohammed al-Asad’s ordeal was by no means unique. He was caught up in the dragnet of the CIA’s global program of “extraordinary rendition,” which liberally used torture on alleged terrorist suspects, though some were undoubtedly innocent. In total, 136 people were subject to either the CIA’s “black sites” or “extraordinary rendition” operations.

Authored by Amrit Singh, senior legal officer for national security and counterterrorism at the Open Society Foundations, the report fully exposes the shocking breadth of the CIA’s lawlessness in the age of the war on terror. 

“There was a need for a comprehensive public record on the scale and scope of the CIA’s secret detention and extraordinary rendition operations, both in terms of the victims of these operations and the associated human rights abuses, as well as the governments that were complicit,” Singh told AlterNet

The OSF publication gives names to the people tortured by the CIA, exposes the governments around the globe complicit in America’s torture ring, calls for investigations and accountability for the lawless programs, and makes clear that “extraordinary renditions” were not outlawed by the Obama administration and that the U.S. has a responsibility under the law to investigate and prosecute those behind the global torture program right now. It is at once a call for action directed at the Obama administration and an important historical document that lays bare the utter depravity of the Bush administration’s practices.

The Obama administration’s mantra on the torture carried out under the Bush administration has been to “look forward,” and not backward. This has resulted in grotesque abuses carried out by the CIA being swept under the rug, with no criminal prosecutions forthcoming. And while Obama did sign a much-heralded executive order to ban torture, the order also was “specifically crafted to preserve the CIA’s authority to detain terrorist suspects for short periods prior to ‘rendering’ them to another country for interrogation or trial,” writes Singh.

“Globalizing Torture” focuses on two different yet interlocking aspects of the CIA’s global torture program, which the Bush administration put into overdrive following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

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