Tragic case of Kuwaiti detainee Ammar al-Baluchi

Among the many atrocities being committed by humans against humans on a daily basis, one is really stark, tragic and shocking and needs highlighting.

A newly declassified 2008 document from the CIA’s inspector general reveals that a US detainee currently held at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility was used as a living prop at a secret (black) site in Afghanistan to teach trainees enhanced interrogation techniques.

The harsh methods were employed by the George W. Bush administration trampling on the rule of law and violating human rights.

Ammar al-Baluchi (right), a Kuwaiti citizen, was handed over to US detention in 2003 from Pakistani custody and taken to a CIA torture facility known as the Salt Pit north of Kabul.

The declassified document clearly mentions that the CIA was aware that transferring al-Baluchi was illegal because he was no longer a terrorist threat. Yet, it was done by a country which cries aloud about human rights violations in other nations.

There was no legal justification for what happened to Baluchi after that. He was initially subjected to two torture techniques that were not on the approved list.

The first was the use of a stick behind the knees in a stress position and the other involved leaning back while kneeling and dousing with ice water.

The sham continued with the repeated “walling” of Baluchi.

The CIA inspector general’s report says that the agency’s torture trainees took turns to smash Baluchi’s head against a plywood wall.

According to the results of an MRI of Baluchi’s head in 2018, a neuropsychologist found “abnormalities indicating moderate to severe brain damage” in areas affecting memory formation and retrieval, as well as behavioral regulation. The analysis found that the “abnormalities observed were consistent with traumatic brain injury”.

Shockingly, all this was not done to extract information from Baluchi. The declassified report says that the trainees were only interested in completing an interrogation course and becoming certified.

There was no concern for the health and well being of a human being who was illegally detained.

The report said the interrogation of Baluch did not yield any useful intelligence because the interrogators “focused more on whether Ammar was compliant than on the quality of the information he was providing”.

It added that the CIA’s logic in justifying the detention is “fuzzy and circular”.

Baluchi, who is said to be the nephew of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, has been at Guantanamo Bay since 2006. Too long for a person who is of no intelligence value.

The CIA document was released only because Baluchi’s lawyers are requesting an independent medical examination of him.

He is one of five detainees, including Mohammed, whose appearance before a military tribunal on charges of participating in the 9/11 plot is moving forward after 10 years of pretrial delays.

After his time at the Salt Pit, Baluchi was tortured for three more years at a total of six CIA black sites. In December 2005, Human Rights Watch listed him as a “ghost detainee” held in the CIA prison system.

According to a Washington Post report in July 2014, officials reported that Baluchi “was tortured and forcibly dunked into a tub filled with ice water”.

They said: “CIA interrogators forcibly kept his head under water while he struggled to breathe and beat him repeatedly with a truncheon-like object hitting him and smashing his head against a wall.”

Baluchi has been accused of facilitating the 9/11 hijackers by transferring money from the United Arab Emirates to the US at the request of his uncle. He is also charged with acting as a courier for Osama Bin Laden and plotting to crash a plane packed with explosives into the US consulate in Karachi.

Baluchi lived and worked for a computer technology business in the UAE from 1999 to 2001.

One of Baluchi’s lawyers, Alka Pradhan (right), told the Guardian: “If the CIA had not hidden their own conclusions about the illegality of Ammar’s torture for this long, the US government would not have been able to bring charges against Ammar because we now know that the torture inflicted on Ammar led to lasting brain damage in the form of a traumatic brain injury and other debilitating illnesses that cannot be treated at Guantánamo Bay.”

Not many governments or organisations have criticised the US for the abuse meted to Baluchi and other such illegal detainees at black sites. Clearly the “enhanced interrogation techniques” the US has used on them have been reported and are brutal and horrifying.

The CIA has set up these black sites in many countries under the pretext of its “war on terror”. Alleged terrorists are secretly placed in arbitrary detention and confessions are extorted by torture.

Defence lawyers have argued that prisoners held at a secretive CIA-run camp at the Guantanamo Bay detention centre should receive reduced sentences because the conditions to which they were subject were “exceedingly disturbing”.

Lawyers for the detainees held at Camp 7 from 2006 to 2021 are currently inspecting the site and have told The New York Times that conditions at the camp were substandard, with the experience of imprisonment there being like getting “buried alive”.

They are currently gathering information and evidence, including taking photographs and bringing experts to inspect the now-abandoned site.

The attorneys also want anything that the men said while detained at the camp to be excluded from their cases, arguing that the camp was “indistinguishable” from the CIA black sites where detainees were tortured.

Susan Hensler, who represents Iraqi detainee Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, told the New York Times that the place was “chilling” and “akin to being entombed”.

“You’re disappeared off the face of the map at Camp 7,” said Alka Pradhan.

The Costs of War Project of the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University released at the beginning of 2022 noted that, following the 9/11 attacks, the US orchestrated a system of black sites in at least 54 countries and regions across the world.

Over 100,000 people were detained at these sites, including many Muslims, and women and children. US taxpayers are spending US$540 million a year just to detain prisoners at Guantanamo.

However, not a single US official has so far been held to account for devising, authorising or implementing the secret detention and torture programme.

In 2020, after the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) noted that US forces and the CIA may have committed war crimes with prisoner abuse in Afghanistan, the US levelled sanctions and imposed visa restrictions on several officials, including the chief prosecutor of the ICC.

In 2021, after the UN Committee Against Torture said that the CIA black sites are rife with torture, the US government refused to disclose relevant information, citing confidentiality.

The black sites around the world fully indicate that the US has no right to point a finger at any other country in the name of democracy and human rights.

What the US should do honourably is immediately abolish its black sites all over the world, earnestly reflect on its crimes, apologise to and compensate the victims and hold those who authorised and carried out torture accountable.

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