Mark Benjamin, in Salon.com provides a view inside the CIA’s black sites, supplementing the description of life in these facilities provided last spring by the Council of Europe. He gives an account of an innocent man , Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah, held for over 18 months in the torture center. Benjamin’s article gives a sense of the psychological torture inflicted in the tow CIA centers where he was held. In the first:
There was a foam mattress, one blanket, and a bucket for a toilet that was emptied once a day. A bare light bulb stayed on constantly. A camera was mounted above a solid metal door. For the first month, loud rap and Arabic music was piped into his cell, 24 hours a day, through a hole opposite the door. His leg shackles were chained to the wall. The guards would not let him sleep, forcing Bashmilah to raise his hand every half hour to prove he was still awake.
Cells were lined up next to each other with spaces in between. Higher above the low ceilings of the cells appeared to be another ceiling, as if the prison were inside an airplane hanger.
After three months the routine became unbearable. Bashmilah unsuccessfully tried to hang himself with his blanket and slashed his wrists. He slammed his head against the wall in an effort to lose consciousness. He was held in three separate but similar cells during his detention in Kabul. At one point, the cell across from him was being used for interrogations. “While I myself was not beaten in the torture and interrogation room, after a while I began to hear the screams of detainees being tortured there,” he wrote.
Then he was transferred to another torture facility where, after being photographed and examined by a doctor:
He was then thrown into a cold cell, left naked.
It was another tiny cell, new or refurbished with a stainless steel sink and toilet. Until clothes arrived several days later, Bashmilah huddled in a blanket. In this cell there were two video cameras, one mounted above the door and the other in a wall. Also above the door was a speaker. White noise, like static, was pumped in constantly, day and night. He spent the first month in handcuffs. In this cell his ankle was attached to a 110-link chain attached to a bolt on the floor.
The door had a small opening in the bottom through which food would appear: boiled rice, sliced meat and bread, triangles of cheese, boiled potato, slices of tomato and olives, served on a plastic plate.
Guards wore black pants with pockets, long-sleeved black shirts, rubber gloves or black gloves, and masks that covered the head and neck. The masks had tinted yellow plastic over the eyes. “I never heard the guards speak to each other and they never spoke to me.”
Especially interesting to me are the hints on the role of mental health professionals, including, possibly, psychologists, in the running of these torture centers”
On several occasions, when Bashmilah’s state of mind deteriorated dangerously, the CIA also did something else: They placed him in the care of mental health professionals. Bashmilah believes these were trained psychologists or psychiatrists. “What they were trying to do was to give me a sort of uplifting and to assure me,” Bashmilah said in a telephone interview, through an interpreter, speaking from his home country of Yemen. “One of the things they told me to do was to allow myself to cry, and to breathe.”…
It may seem bizarre for the agency to provide counseling to a prisoner while simultaneously cracking him mentally — as if revealing a humanitarian aspect to a program otherwise calibrated to exploit systematic psychological abuse. But it could also be that mental healthcare professionals were enlisted to help bring back from the edge prisoners who seemed precariously damaged, whose frayed minds were no longer as pliable for interrogation. “My understanding is that the purpose of having psychiatrists there is that if the prisoner feels better, then he would be able to talk more to the interrogators,” said Bashmilah.
Realistically, psychiatrists in such a setting could do little about the prisoners’ deeper suffering at the hands of the CIA. “They really had no authority to address these issues,” Bashmilah said about his mental anguish. He said the doctors told him to “hope that one day you will prove your innocence or that you will one day return to your family.” The psychiatrists also gave him some pills, likely tranquilizers. They analyzed his dreams. But there wasn’t much else they could do. “They also gave me a Rubik’s Cube so I could pass the time, and some jigsaw puzzles,” Bashmilah recalled.
Medical doctors were also involved. In the first facility where he was held:
The blindfold was removed, and Bashmilah was examined by an American doctor.
Similarly, at the second facility:
He was again examined by a doctor, who took notations on the diagram of the human body. (It was the same form from Afghanistan. Bashmilah saw his vaccination scar marked on the diagram.) The doctor looked in his eyes, ears, nose and throat.
Mr Bashmilah was apparently held for eight months after the CIA determined that he was innocent. Then he was unceremoniously dumped in Yemen, with no explanation, apology, or anything.
All health professionals should be outraged at having members of their professions collaborating with such evil. Health professional organizations, including the American Psychiatric, Medical, and Psychological Associations should express this outrage publicly. Further, these associations should join the call for investigations of the roles of health professionals in detainee abuse of all kinds, from abusive interrogations to collaboration in the criminal kidnapping and disappearances that undergird the CIA’s rendition and black site programs. Intensive efforts should be made to identify and bring ethics charges against these professionals. Even more important, however, is for these associations to do everything to bring public attention to the abuses committed by members of their professions.
Read the whole article.
1 comment December 15th, 2007