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"Marching Orders"

Larry Siems,
The Torture Report
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September 9, 2010

Yesterday, we posted “Marching Orders,” which is Part 2 of Chapter 5, “The Battle Lab.”

In Part 1 of this Chapter we followed the seven-week “special interrogation” of Mohammed al Qahtani in Guantánamo Bay ‘s Camp X-Ray at the end of 2002. This new section, which begins with the arrival of the first planeload of prisoners in Guantánamo at the beginning of 2002 and spans the facility’s first year, looks at how two commanders who were getting their marching orders directly from the White House sought to turn the camp into a “Battle Lab” for abusive interrogation techniques, even as the evidence was mounting that many of the detainees were of no intelligence value whatsoever, and as wave after wave of servicemen and women, officers, military lawyers, FBI agents — indeed, almost everyone outside a tight circle of zealous decision makers and inexperienced interrogators — warned that the techniques we were employing were ineffective, first of all, and secondly were the very ones we had long denounced elsewhere as torture.

As the length of this new section suggests, this is one of the most well-documented episodes of the torture program; much of what we know, in fact, comes from two major official investigations, both of which I believe are essential reading for all Americans: the May 2008 report by the Department of Justice’s Inspector General on FBI accounts of abuse in Guantánamo, Afghanistan, and Iraq , and the November 2008 report by the Senate Armed Services Committee on the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody. While the events these reports document are discouraging and often shameful, the reports themselves ought to be both a source of pride—in fact, we are seeking to illuminate this dark chapter in our recent past — and a foundation for a more comprehensive public reckoning.

In our public reckoning, I believe we should pay particular attention, and particular tribute, to the overwhelming number of Americans who recognized these abusive techniques for what they were and who objected, protested, and fought to prevent, and then to end, these illegal and ill-advised interrogations. There are many such men and women in this new section.