Revelations on the use of torture by US intelligence personnel during the George W Bush presidency have been described as one of the “darkest chapters” in US history.
Not only did it erode whatever moral authority the US claimed to have had during the first decade of the “War on Terror,” but the egregious mistreatment of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca also helped to give birth to the self-proclaimed Islamic State and to re-energise the global jihad movement.
You’d be mistaken, however, if you believed this nefarious chapter in US history started and ended with the Bush administration – and given that the Republican-controlled Congress has voted to probe whether US troops resorted to torture as part of their interrogation of prisoners in Yemen, you can be sure there is still much to learn.
Secret network of prisons
The measure, adopted on Thursday in a unanimous vote, calls on Defence Secretary James Mattis to investigate whether US military personnel or their allies were involved in torturing detainees in Yemen – no doubt a response to an Associated Press investigation, which revealed that hundreds of men detained in the hunt for al-Qaeda fighters disappeared into a secret network of prisons in southern Yemen.
Detainees described “being crammed into shipping containers smeared with faeces and blindfolded for weeks on end” and being subjected to “the grill,” in which victims were tied to a metal rod and spun above a fire, much like a spit roast.
According to the AP investigation, at least 18 clandestine lockups have been set up at a range of sites across southern Yemen by the United Arab Emirates and/or Yemeni forces, including military bases, private villas, seaports and even a nightclub. While senior US defence officials have acknowledged that American military personnel have been involved in the interrogation process at these secret prisons, they have denied participating in the torture of detainees or any knowledge of human rights abuses.
The Pentagon has now been directed by the US Congress to investigate the veracity of these denials, at the same time as these lawmakers affirmed the nomination of Gina Haspel as CIA director and Mike Pompeo as secretary of state,