The United States is subjecting top-level al-Qa'ida captives in its custody to extraordinary physical and psychological coercion, blurring the line between acceptable interrogation techniques under international law and outright torture, according to a detailed report in yesterday's Washington Post.
Several present and former CIA counter-intelligence officials told the newspaper that al-Qa'ida members have been roughed up on arrest, deliberately disoriented and, if wounded, denied access to pain medication. If they refuse to cooperate, they can be kept standing or kneeling for hours, often with a hood over their heads, and deprived of sleep.
Some of these "stress and duress" techniques come close to practices denounced by the US State Department in its surveys of human rights violations. Washington has upbraided Israel, Turkey and Jordan, among others, for using sleep deprivation defined by the United Nations as torture.
In some cases, the officials told the Post, prisoners will be taken out of CIA custody and handed over to foreign intelligence services notably from Jordan, Egypt and Morocco with a reputation for torturing political prisoners. The CIA will keep itself clean by staying out of the room but then take full advantage of any information its allies manage to extract.
As one official directly involved in the process put it: "We send them to other countries so they can kick the shit out of them." Another suggested probably accurately that US public opinion was more interested in results than in playing by the rules. "If you don't violate someone's human rights some of the time, you probably aren't doing your job," one official was quoted saying.
The Post report cracked open the door to a very secret area of US foreign policy. While reporters and military lawyers have some admittedly minimal access to the 625 detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, CIA interrogation centres in Afghanistan, Diego Garcia and elsewhere are closed off.
French police said yesterday that they had detained four Islamist militant suspects near Paris. Last week four other Islamists were arrested. They were believed to have been making bombs for an attack.