We know that Dick Cheney enjoys television (at least when he’s on) and we can only hope he gets HBO – not because of the therapist series “In Treatment” or Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” No. The former vice president should be watching the network’s documentaries, including one called “Ghosts of Abu Ghraib.” The movie aired earlier this year but is more relevant than ever because of yesterday’s release of a CIA document that details the prisoner abuse that happened under Cheney’s reign as vice president.
Cheney claims the Inspector General’s report proves that America’s “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” – water-boarding, sleep deprivation and the like – prompted detainees to reveal information that stopped other 9/11-like terrorist attacks. “The documents,” Cheney said in a statement, “clearly demonstrated that the individuals subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques provided the bulk of intelligence we gained about al Qaeda.”
Not really, according to the report itself, which questions how valuable the enhanced interrogation techniques really were. In fact, using the example of Abu Zubaydah, who was somewhat more cooperative after he was water-boarded 80 times, the report states (on page 90) that “it is not possible to say definitively that the waterboard is the reason for Abu Zubaydah’s increased production.”
Among the reports details: Abu Zubaydah – one of al-Qaeda’s top operatives – was deathly afraid of insects, which is why his interrogators considered putting bugs into his cell. But the interrogators had to be careful: They couldn’t tell Abu Zubaydah that the insects were deadly – otherwise, that could be violating international conventions against abuse of prisoners, according to a Department of Justice memo written by Jay Bybee. The Kafkaesque memo is Appendix C in the report released yesterday, but you don’t have to wade through the file to get a taste of it – just watch “Ghosts of Abu Ghraib,” which features the words of former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, Bybee’s twin when it comes to rationalizing U.S. abuse of 9/11 suspects.
“At the Justice Department,” Yoo says in the movie, “we didn’t think the Geneva Convention applied to al-Qaeda since they didn’t sign the Geneva Convention and they don’t follow the rules of war.”
The documentary is stunning in its narrative of the abuse that happened at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison. By getting Yoo and former U.S. guards at the prison to talk on camera, it explains how the beatings, forced stripping, and other abuses happened there with the tacit approval of Washington higher-ups, including Donald Rumsfeld. Former Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib are also interviewed in the documentary, and their stories – of being shackled and dragged naked on the ground; of being beaten day and night – are made more powerful when we find out they were all innocent, and released from Abu Ghraib without being charged with a single crime. These Iraqis became “collateral damage” – just like the millions of other Iraqis who were killed, injured or displaced by the Iraq war, and just like the U.S. guards who are interviewed in “Ghosts of Abu Ghraib.”
“That place turned me into a monster,” one of them says.
Cheney thinks it’s a mistake for the Obama administration to scrutinize the U.S. prisoner abuse that happened under his watch and that of George W. Bush. But when you’re Dick Cheney, a “chickenhawk” who got out of Vietnam service because of deferments, it’s easy to say, “Don’t look back.” Cheney should ignore his own advice and watch “Ghosts of Abu Ghraib.” He doesn’t even need HBO since the documentary is available for viewing free right here: