The torture itself was horrific enough. Beatings, hangings, sleep deprivation, waterboarding, mock executions — a litany of abuse authorized by the United States government against terrorism suspects held in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, and for which no one in any position of power has ever been held accountable.
But taking fuller stock of the damage inflicted during those dark and brutal days is a continuing task. A series by The Times that began this month details the psychological and emotional scars that haunt the men, potentially hundreds, who suffered at the hands of interrogators at secret C.I.A. “black sites” around the world and at the military detention camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
A disturbingly high number of these men were innocent, or were low-level fighters who posed so little threat that they were eventually released without charge. Yet despite assurances from lawyers in the Department of Justice that “enhanced interrogation techniques” should have no negative long-term effects, The Times found that many of the men still suffer from paranoia, psychosis, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder related to their abuse. They have flashbacks, nightmares and debilitating panic attacks. Some cannot work, go outside, or speak to their families about what they went through.
One doctor compared the psychiatric disorders he saw among the former detainees to what military doctors observed in former American prisoners of war after they came home from Vietnam, Korea and the Second World War.
Suleiman Abdullah Salim, one of the men profiled by The Times, was an itinerant Tanzanian laborer whose only crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He spent five years in American custody, during which he was hung from chains for days, slammed against a wall, waterboarded with ice water, placed in a coffin-size box — all to extract information that he never possessed.
“They always asked the same questions,” he said. “I say, ‘I don’t know.’ They say, ‘You know.’ Same question, same answer, and two guys would beat you, and same question, and they beat you.”
It’s no surprise that this sort of treatment — whatever euphemisms are used to hide its true nature — would result in such long-term harm.
The question now is whether anyone will be held to account for the damage wrought by one of the most depraved periods in American history. For years, the government successfully thwarted lawsuits by claiming the state-secrets privilege. But after the Senate issued its 2014 report on the C.I.A.’s use of torture, confirming that many of the worst brutalities had in fact occurred, Mr. Salim, together with another former detainee and the family of a third, filed a lawsuit against the two psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who were contracted by the C.I.A. to develop and run the interrogation programs.
In April, a federal judge in Washington State refused to throw out the lawsuit, and allowed the plaintiffs to depose top C.I.A. officials who held high-ranking positions when the “enhanced interrogation” program was carried out. This case could provide the first-ever opportunity for the justice system to reckon directly with the brutal legacy of the government’s torture policies.
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