Ten years. It’s been exactly a decade since President George W. Bush announced on September 6, 2006 that 14 former CIA prisoners had been brought to Guantanamo. That was when we learned about the secret CIA torture program that had held them. And despite the extensive documentation of their torture, not one person has been held accountable for the program.
Within weeks, the Baltimore, Maryland family of Majid Khan asked us to represent him. CCR filed a habeas case on his behalf, yet the government kept us from meeting with him for a year, until 2007. Our attorneys jump through hoops to gain the high-level security clearance required because the government deemed Majid’s experience in CIA detention—specifically, what was done to him there—as a state secret. At long last, our lawyers were given the security clearance and we sent the first civilian attorneys to meet with a former CIA prisoner. Because they’d been kept virtually hidden, the men were also known as ghost detainees; one of our attorneys wrote a piece for The Washington Post before she went called “Going to See a Ghost”, knowing that she wouldn’t be able to say anything once she had actually met him.
The following year, in February 2008, the CIA testified that it had waterboarded three people in its custody. When the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel torture memos came out in 2009, we learned more, we learned that they waterboarded at least two of the men close to a hundred times. In March of 2009, we also learned the full extent of the CIA’s destruction of hundreds of hours of videotapes of its brutal interrogations.
For the next five years, we visited Majid, made motions on his behalf, and litigated his case in sealed documents and heavily redacted briefs, but our attorneys couldn’t tell anyone what they knew about what had happened to him or they would no longer be able to meet with him and could be prosecuted.
Then, at the end of 2014, the Senate released the 525-page executive summary and key findings of its 6000-page Intelligence Committee Report, more commonly known as the Torture Report. Even the executive summary was full of gruesome details about what the U.S. government did to the men in CIA detention, and suddenly the world knew that Majid Khan was raped while in CIA custody through the sexualized violence of “rectal feeding.”
Finally, in 2015, Majid’s legal team was able to release notes, cleared for public release by the government, from conversations with his attorneys in which he had gone over his torture, The New York Times wrote a powerful editorial about his case, and Reuters published a detailed account based on the information we were finally able to provide. Now the world knew from the Reuters article that he had also been waterboarded on two separate occasions, putting the lie to the CIA’s claim that it had only waterboarded three detainees:
“Guards and interrogators brought him into a bathroom with a tub. The tub was filled with water and ice. Shackled and hooded, they placed Khan feet-first into the freezing water and ice. They lowered his entire body into the water and held him down, face-up in the water. An interrogator forced Khan's head under the water until he thought he would drown. The interrogator would pull Khan's head out of the water to demand answers to questions, and then force his head back under the water, repeatedly. Water and ice were also poured from a bucket onto Khan's mouth and nose when his head was not submerged.”
So, where do we go from here? Obama promised to close Guantanamo more times than we can keep track of, but as of this writing 61 men remain there. President Obama must use his existing legal authority to close the prison, and he should also admit he was wrong to let the torturers off the hook. Last week, when the White House released a statement from National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice on the International Day for the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, it rang hollow. She decried the fact that “Some… disappeared individuals are tortured and held for extended periods,” and ended by saying, “The United States calls on all countries to put an end to enforced disappearances and hold accountable those responsible for this practice.” Because Obama chose, as he said, to look forward not backward, the U.S. has lost any credibility it had on the subject. Ten years, and no accountability. It shocks the conscience.