March 15, 2009
Tales From Torture’s Dark World
By MARK DANNER
ON a bright sunny day two years ago, President George W. Bush strode into the East Room of
the White House and informed the world that the United States had created a dark and secret
universe to hold and interrogate captured terrorists.
“In addition to the terrorists held at Guantánamo,” the president said, “a small number of
suspected terrorist leaders and operatives captured during the war have been held and questioned
outside the United States, in a separate program operated by the Central Intelligence Agency.”
At these places, Mr. Bush said, “the C.I.A. used an alternative set of procedures.” He added:
“These procedures were designed to be safe, to comply with our laws, our Constitution and our
treaty obligations. The Department of Justice reviewed the authorized methods extensively and
determined them to be lawful.” This speech will stand, I believe, as George W. Bush’s most
important: perhaps the only historic speech he ever gave. In his fervent defense of his
government’s “alternative set of procedures” and his equally fervent insistence that they were
“lawful,” he set out before the country America’s dark moral epic of torture, in the coils of
whose contradictions we find ourselves entangled still.
At the same time, perhaps unwittingly, Mr. Bush made it possible that day for those on whom the
alternative set of procedures were performed eventually to speak. For he announced that he
would send 14 “high-value detainees” from dark into twilight: they would be transferred from
the overseas “black sites” to Guantánamo. There, while awaiting trial, the International
Committee of the Red Cross would be “advised of their detention, and will have the opportunity
to meet with them.”
A few weeks later, from Oct. 6 to 11 and then from Dec. 4 to 14, 2006, Red Cross officials —
whose duty it is to monitor compliance with the Geneva Conventions and to supervise treatment
of prisoners of war — traveled to Guantánamo and began interviewing the prisoners.
Their stated goal was to produce a report that would “provide a description of the treatment and
material conditions of detention of the 14 during the period they were held in the C.I.A.
detention program,” periods ranging “from 16 months to almost four and a half years.”
As the Red Cross interviewers informed the detainees, their report was not intended to be
released to the public but, “to the extent that each detainee agreed for it to be transmitted to the
authorities,” to be given in strictest secrecy to officials of the government agency that had been
in charge of holding them — in this case the Central Intelligence Agency, to whose acting
general counsel, John Rizzo, the report was sent on Feb. 14, 2007.