The Legacy of America’s Post-9/11 Turn to Torture

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NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania — Mohamedou Ould Slahi is astir objective arsenic helium recalls details of the torture helium endured successful the summertime of 2003 astatine Guantánamo Bay.

There were the guards who menaced him with onslaught dogs and bushed him truthful severely they broke his ribs. The troops who shackled him, blasted him with dense metallic euphony and strobe lights oregon drenched him successful crystal h2o to contradict him slumber for months connected end. The mind-numbing isolation successful a darkened compartment without his Quran. The pistillate guards who exposed themselves and touched him sexually successful an effort to undermine his adherence to Islam.

But what near Mr. Slahi successful utter despair, helium said, was the interrogator who tried to endanger him into acknowledging that helium was complicit successful plotting a violent attack.

“If you don’t admit to it, we are going to kidnap your mother, rape her,” the interrogator said, by Mr. Slahi’s account.

“I retrieve telling them: ‘This is unfair. This is not fair,’” Mr. Slahi recalled. The interrogator, helium said, responded: “I’m not looking for justice. I’m looking to halt planes from hitting buildings successful my country.”

To which Mr. Slahi said helium replied, “You request to get those people, not me.”

Today, Mr. Slahi, 50, is simply a escaped antheral successful Mauritania, his homeland successful West Africa, aft astir 15 years arsenic a detainee, an aboriginal information of that clip with the menace of a death-penalty proceedings hanging implicit him.

In the end, helium was released successful 2016 without ever being charged, the confessions helium made nether duress recanted, a projected lawsuit against him deemed by the authoritative to beryllium worthless successful tribunal due to the fact that of the brutality of the interrogation.

“I was precise naïve, and I didn’t recognize however America works,” Mr. Slahi said.

For the United States, arsenic for Mr. Slahi, the bequest of the torture remains analyzable and multifaceted 2 decades aft the attacks connected Sept. 11, 2001, led the George W. Bush medication to acceptable speech ineligible and motivation constraints successful the sanction of nationalist security.

The United States has agelong since stopped employing the alleged enhanced interrogation techniques utilized successful what studies person concluded was a fruitless oregon counterproductive effort to extract lifesaving accusation from detainees successful concealed C.I.A. prisons and astatine Guantánamo Bay.

But the prime to crook to government-sanctioned torture remains a stain connected the country’s reputation, undercutting its authorization to face repression elsewhere. Even today, immoderate erstwhile Bush medication officials hazard questioning erstwhile traveling to Europe by investigators invoking the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

After his archetypal meeting with President Biden successful June, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia reminded journalists that Guantánamo remained open and that the C.I.A. had carried retired torture successful concealed overseas prisons. “Is that quality rights?” helium asked.


Mr. Slahi astatine  location  successful  Nouakchott, Mauritania. He exhibits signs of post-traumatic accent   disorder.
Credit...Btihal Remli for The New York Times

The usage of torture is complicating efforts to bring the 5 men who are accused of plotting the Sept. 11 attacks to justice.

“There was torture,” said Adele Welty, whose lad Timothy, a firefighter, died successful New York connected Sept. 11. She has travel to question whether the subject commissions astatine Guantánamo tin present justice.

“The information that my state could bash that is truthful barbaric. It truly bothers me,” she said. “What benignant of radical are we that we could bash that to different quality beings, and did we truly judge that what they were saying successful effect to the torture was real, oregon were they conscionable saying it to halt the torture?”

Stuart Couch, a erstwhile Marine authoritative whose occupation was to enactment Mr. Slahi connected proceedings astatine Guantánamo Bay — but who refused erstwhile helium learned what the subject had done to him — said the United States inactive suffered from what helium called the “Jack Bauer effect”: the content that you could bushed a confession retired of a suspect, prevention the time and look heroic, similar the prima of the TV thriller “24,” which aired connected Fox from 2001 to 2010.

Mr. Slahi lived that misconception.

He present has a measurement of fame. His best-selling memoir, “Guantánamo Diary,” was released successful a movie version, “The Mauritanian.” While helium is often denied visas for travel, helium precocious made a travel to London, wherever helium took portion successful a literate speechmaking and was hosted astatine a enactment by Kevin Macdonald, the manager of the movie.

A bundle engineer, Mr. Slahi has 2 phones, a laptop and Wi-Fi successful the location helium built since his release. Isolated for agelong stretches during his imprisonment, helium carries connected aggregate conversations crossed the satellite these days done texts, video chats and telephone calls.

On 1 level, his is simply a hopeful story.

“I wholeheartedly forgive everyone who wronged maine during my detention,” helium said successful a YouTube message to the satellite soon aft his release. “I forgive, due to the fact that forgiveness is my inexhaustible resource.”

But the effects of what helium endured astatine Guantánamo are by nary means down him.


Credit...Btihal Remli for The New York Times

Mr. Slahi exhibits signs of post-traumatic accent disorder: insomnia, inattentiveness, hyperattentiveness, astatine times scattered thinking. He has proceeding deficits astir apt related to the screeching dense metallic euphony that guards blasted to support him awake and chronic backmost symptom from sciatica that tin beryllium attributed to months of shackling.

He has representation lapses of a definite play of detention and vivid recollections of different times. Discussing his torture, helium juxtaposed the accounts of his maltreatment astatine Guantánamo with renditions of songs helium remembered proceeding there: Drowning Pool’s “Let the Bodies Hit the Floor” to deprive him of sleep, and a Justin Timberlake tune, “Señorita,” that soothed him arsenic it seeped into his compartment from a adjacent defender post.

Mr. Slahi was 1 of 2 detainees whose torture astatine Guantánamo Bay was carried retired nether a programme approved by Donald H. Rumsfeld, the defence caput astatine the time. The United States besides sent 119 radical into the C.I.A.’s overseas web of concealed prisons — including the accused plotters of the Sept. 11 attacks — wherever detainees were routinely slumber deprived, shackled successful excruciating ways and subjected to rectal maltreatment and different brutal treatment.

The C.I.A. has acknowledged that 3 detainees were waterboarded. One died of abuse. Many much were brutalized successful U.S. oregon allied detention arsenic interrogators improvised their ain methods.

A broad survey by the Senate Select Intelligence Committee of the agency’s programme concluded that the techniques did not prevention lives oregon disrupt violent plots and were not necessary, findings that the C.I.A. disputed. (A lengthy executive summary of the study was made nationalist successful 2014, but the afloat study remains classified.)

Mr. Slahi’s communicative — laid retired successful interviews, grounds and legislature investigations — spans overmuch of the 20 years successful which the United States has variously obscured, acknowledged and dealt with the diplomatic and quality fallout of the interrogation programs authorized by Mr. Bush and his team.

Mr. Slahi was a clever, funny lad successful a Bedouin household of 12 children who became the archetypal successful his household to survey abroad. While moving toward an engineering grade successful Germany successful the 1990s, helium traveled to Afghanistan to bid successful the anti-Communist jihad astatine a clip erstwhile the United States endorsed it. He was backmost successful his autochthonal Mauritania connected Sept. 11, 2001.

Intelligence analysts sifting done records aft the attacks noted that helium had received a telephone successful precocious 1998 oregon aboriginal 1999 from a outer telephone utilized by Osama bin Laden. The telephone was astir a household substance and came from a relative who had been portion of bin Laden’s interior ellipse and aboriginal fled to Mauritania, Mr. Slahi said.

U.S. quality had besides travel to judge that Mr. Slahi had hosted 3 Muslim men successful his location successful Duisburg, Germany, for a nighttime successful November 1999. Among them were 2 of the Sept. 11 hijackers and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, who is accused of recruiting the alleged Hamburg compartment of hijackers and is charged successful a death-penalty lawsuit astatine Guantánamo. Mr. Slahi dismissed the brushwood arsenic truthful casual — a substance of offering hospitality to chap Muslim travelers — that helium said helium did not retrieve the fishy named Ramzi erstwhile interrogators pressed him connected it.

Investigators besides noticed that Mr. Slahi had moved to Montreal successful the wintertime of 1999 and prayed astatine the aforesaid mosque arsenic Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian known arsenic the millennium bomber for a failed crippled to works a weaponry astatine Los Angeles International Airport connected New Year’s Eve successful 1999. Mr. Slahi was questioned by national information forces successful Canada and near for location aft 2 months.

By 2001, the United States had persuaded the Mauritanian authorities to manus Mr. Slahi to Jordanian interrogators. He was past sent to Guantánamo Bay successful August 2002, aft what helium described arsenic a brief, brutal enactment astatine a U.S. subject lockup successful Bagram, Afghanistan.

At Guantánamo, guards and interrogators sought to interruption him some physically and psychologically. In 1 case, described by Mr. Slahi and different detainees, pistillate guards exposed themselves and made intersexual advances connected him arsenic helium was shackled to a seat successful an interrogation room. A antheral defender taunted him portion a pistillate defender took disconnected her clothing.

“There was touching,” Mr. Slahi said. “So humiliating. So destroying.”

After months of interrogation, helium admitted to plotting to stroke up the CN Tower successful Toronto — a confession helium aboriginal said was forced, adding that helium did not cognize earlier his interrogation that the skyscraper existed.

A proceedings was averted aft Mr. Couch, past a lieutenant colonel successful the Marine Corps, stumbled into a surreal country astatine Guantánamo of different captive successful an interrogation cell, nude, shackled to the level and being blasted with dense metallic music. The colonel was shocked, did immoderate digging and realized that Mr. Slahi’s confessions were obtained done what helium concluded was cruel and antithetic treatment.


Credit...Btihal Remli for The New York Times

Never charged, Mr. Slahi was kept arsenic a captive successful the warfare connected terror, deemed excessively unsafe to merchandise until his book, published successful 2015 aft his lawyers worked to person his penning declassified, enactment a spotlight connected his case. A erstwhile Army guard, Steve Wood of Oregon, wrote the Obama administration’s interagency parole board that helium considered Mr. Slahi truthful harmless helium would gladly big him successful his home.

U.S. forces delivered Mr. Slahi to Mauritania conscionable arsenic helium had been brought to Guantánamo: blindfolded and successful shackles.

But portion Mr. Slahi has been released, Guantánamo continues to reckon with what was done to different detainees inactive held determination — not slightest the 5 men accused of helping to crippled the Sept. 11 attacks, including the alleged mastermind, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, whom C.I.A. contractors waterboarded 183 times astatine a concealed situation successful Poland.

The warfare tribunal astatine Guantánamo, tally by the U.S. military, is meant to equilibrium the request for secrecy with the rights of the accused.

To the vexation of families of the astir 3,000 victims of the attack, the crimes of Sept. 11 person been seldom mentioned successful astir a decennary of proceedings.

Rather, defence lawyers person efficaciously managed to enactment the C.I.A. connected proceedings arsenic they person systematically sought to exclude grounds against the men — notably confessions they made months into their stays astatine Guantánamo — arsenic a merchandise of torture.

The lawyers for 1 defendant, Mustafa al-Hawsawi, who sits gingerly connected a pillow successful tribunal due to the fact that of symptom from rectal maltreatment successful C.I.A. custody, reason that the lawsuit should beryllium dismissed outright due to the fact that of outrageous authorities conduct.

In an effort to velocity up the proceedings — and possibly to support the identities of definite C.I.A. employees — prosecutors person begun acknowledging that the United States tortured its captives successful overseas prisons. They bash not usage the word, but they person work aloud successful tribunal from grisly descriptions of maltreatment to effort to reason that defence lawyers person capable details to effort to determination either for dismissal of the charges oregon to exclude the decease punishment if the defendants are convicted.

Prosecutors said successful 2018 that they would stipulate to “anything tethered to reality” to debar the nationalist information conflict implicit declassifying definite details of what went connected successful the concealed sites.

“We’re not going to quibble,” said 1 prosecutor, Jeffrey D. Groharing. “We’re not going to telephone witnesses and statement astir whether Mr. Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times oregon 283 times. We, frankly, deliberation that has small relevance to the commissions and the issues earlier it.”


Credit...Btihal Remli for The New York Times

The prosecutors look to beryllium banking connected the thought that astatine this point, grounds astir the attraction of the defendants volition not pb the subject assemblage successful the lawsuit to acquit.

But determination are besides plentifulness of Americans who person not forgotten the choices made aft Sept. 11. The country’s revulsion of torture dates to “the earliest days of the American Republic,” Judge Jed S. Rakoff, a national justice successful Manhattan, wrote successful his recent book “Why the Innocent Plead Guilty and the Guilty Go Free.”

“This is not the mode a civilized colony, oregon aboriginal the United States arsenic a whole, conducts itself,” helium said. “I bash deliberation that cardinal ineligible qua motivation attack was what was undercut successful the aftermath of 9/11 by what happened successful Guantánamo.”

The judge’s courthouse is simply a fewer blocks from crushed zero. “What is inactive seared successful my representation is watching radical leap retired of the windows of the World Trade Center towers due to the fact that the alternate is being burned to decease inside,” helium said successful an interview. “One tin ne'er hide the atrocity of that attack. But it is besides precisely erstwhile atrocities hap that the regularisation of instrumentality is enactment to the test.”

Only a fistful of the men who were taxable to the attraction approved by the Bush medication person been released and spoken publically astir the experience, with Mr. Slahi being salient among them.

“I lone person the law,” helium said past month. “And if the instrumentality fails me, I’m done. There is thing other near for me.”

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