Monday, August 6, 2007

Siting "unspeakable" secrets

Kudos to Jane Mayer for her article "The Black Sites: A rare look inside the C.I.A.'s secret interrogation program," just posted at the New Yorker's website.
Mayer, author in 2005 of a definitive article on extraordinary rendition, "Outsourcing Torture," provides more detail in this article than a reader ought to have to stomach regarding the interrogation of so-called high-value detainees, post-September 11 captives believed to possess significant information about Al Qaeda and its activities. Last September President George W. Bush admitted that 14 of those detainees had been held at CIA secret sites, but that they'd just been transferred to Guantánamo, where they're believed to remain to this day. Mayer writes that after the transfer detainees were interviewed for the 1st time by the International Committee for the Red Cross; the resulting, confidential report is said to have "harshly criticized the C.I.A.’s practices," and to have asserted that some violated both U.S. law and the grave breaches proscription of the Geneva Conventions.
Mayer pays particular attention to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who the U.S. executive says has confessed to plotting the 9/11 attacks and to a laundry list of other terrorist acts. Her article underscores that any statements were the result of extremely harsh conditions of detention and interrogation. Mohammed reportedly was visited by a stream of female interrogators while he was locked in a cell without benefit of clothing. And he reportedly was subjected to simulated asphyxiation via drowning; that is, "waterboarded".
The waterboarding allegation's been heard before, so much that a reader may find herself becoming inured to, less shocked by, it. It's a concern voiced here and here with respect to repetition of images of torture. What once was "unspeakable" and "unthinkable" is, now, spoken of and thought about all the time. That sad fact brings to mind a quote that my colleague Jack Ayer of Underbelly blog found in Abba Eban's Autobiography. Eban's precise reference to "Jewish history" is altered here to emphasize the quote's applicability to all manner of violations of human dignity:

Many things in history are too terrible to be believed, but nothing in history is too terrible to have happened.

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