From the NYT:
"In a report on Friday, the lead investigator for the Council of Europe gave a bleak description of secret prisons run by the Central Intelligence Agency in Eastern Europe, with information he said was gleaned from anonymous intelligence agents.
Prisoners guarded by silent men in black masks and dark visors were held naked in cramped cells and shackled to walls, according to the report, which was prepared by Dick Marty, a Swiss senator investigating C.I.A. operations for the Council of Europe, a 46-nation rights group.
Ventilation holes in the cells released bursts of hot or freezing air, with temperature used as a form of extreme pressure to wear down prisoners, the investigators found. Prisoners were also subjected to water-boarding, a form of simulated drowning, and relentless blasts of music and sound, from rap to cackling laughter and screams, the report says.
The report, which runs more than 100 pages, says the prisons were operated exclusively by Americans in Poland and Romania from 2003 to 2006. It relies heavily on testimony from C.I.A. agents."
"Clothes were cut up and torn off; many detainees were then kept naked for several weeks. (...)
Detainees went through months of solitary confinement and extreme sensory deprivation in cramped cells, shackled and handcuffed at all times. (...)
At one point in 2004, eight persons were being kept together at one CIA facility in Europe, but were administered according to a strict regime of isolation. Contact between them through sight or sound was forbidden... and prevented unless it was expressly decided to create limited conditions where they could see or come into contact with one another because it would serve [the CIA's] intelligence-gathering objectives to allow it.
A common feature for many detainees was the four-month isolation regime. During this period of over 120 days, absolutely no human contact was granted with anyone but masked, silent guards. (...)
The air in many cells emanated from a ventilation hole in the ceiling, which was often controlled to produce extremes of temperature: sometimes so hot that one would gasp for breath, sometimes freezing cold.
Many detainees described air conditioning for deliberate discomfort.
Detainees were exposed at times to over-heating in the cell; at other times drafts of freezing breeze.
Detainees never experienced natural light or natural darkness, although most were blindfolded many times so they could see nothing (....)
There was a shackling ring in the wall of the cell, about half a metre up off the floor. Detainees' hands and feet were clamped in handcuffs and leg irons. Bodies were regularly forced into contorted shapes and chained to this ring for long, painful periods. (...)
The sound most commonly heard in cells was a constant, low-level hum of white noise from loudspeakers. Other recollections speak of an external humming noise, like aircraft engines or a generator. The constant noise was punctuated by blasts of loud Western music -- rock music, rap music, and thumping beats, or distorted verses from the Koran, or irritating noises -- thunder, planes taking off, cackling laughter, the screams of women and children. (...)
The combined pressure of applied physical and psychological exertion, combined in some cases with more concentrated pressure periods for the purposes of interrogation, is said to have caused many of those held by the CIA to develop enduring psychiatric and mental problems."
Remember: psychological damage is a feature, not a bug.
But there's another paragraph that I think is also worth quoting:
"The rendition, abduction, and detention of terrorist suspects have always taken place outside the territory of the United States, where such actions would no doubt have been ruled unlawful and unconstitutional. Obviously, these actions are also unacceptable under the laws of European countries, who nonetheless tolerated them or colluded actively in carrying them out. This export of illegal activities overseas is all the more shocking in that it shows fundamental contempt for the countries on whose territories it was decided to commit the relevant acts. The fact that the actions only apply to non-American citizens is just as disturbing: it reflects a kind of 'legal apartheid' and an exaggerated sense of superiority. Once again, the blame does not lie solely with the Americans, but also, above all, with European political leaders who have knowingly acquiesced in this state of affairs."
This is true. Ask yourself why we held ghost detainees overseas. Part of the reason, of course, is that holding them here would have been illegal. But that can't be the whole of it: holding them in Poland and Romania is illegal under Polish and Romanian law. (To be precise: I don't know whether what our agents did was illegal -- the report details some extraordinarily permissive bilateral agreements -- but those Polish and Romanian leaders who authorized the detentions would seem to have acted illegally.) So another part of the answer has to be: we'd rather the Poles and Romanians break their laws than that we break ours.
Part of this might be due to the fact that our legal system is probably in better shape than those of Poland or Romania. It is certainly more confident and has had time to sink deeper roots. For this reason it might be easier to get away with things in Poland or Romania than it is here. In this context, the report notes that "the United States chose, in the case of Poland and Romania, to form special partnerships with countries that were economically vulnerable, emerging from difficult transitional periods in their history, and dependent on American support for their strategic development."
Or, in other words, we chose to pick on weaker countries we could pressure, countries that had no earthly reason to do this other than to gain our favor. Moreover, Poland and Romania are countries that were fairly recently under Communist rule, and the report makes clear that we worked with their military intelligence services, which have resisted civilian control and democratic accountability.
Whenever I write a post like this, someone pops up in comments to ask why I am so concerned about the fate of terrorists. In many cases, I don't have to engage with this question: many of the people we have held and tortured are innocent. In the case of the program described in this report, however, I would assume that many, though not all, were terrorists. So it's worth saying explicitly that this is not, for me, just about feeling badly for the people we have detained and abused. Sometimes I feel very badly for them, especially in the case of those who are, as best I can tell, completely innocent; but feeling badly for them is not essential. Because there's another motivation at work, namely: concern for my country, and the desire that it be the best country it can be.
There are some things we, as individuals, should not do to other people. Often, we will also sympathize with those people, and that sympathy might prevent us from, say, torturing or raping them. Sometimes we feel no sympathy, however -- the other person might be a person only a saint could sympathize with, like Jeffrey Dahmer. If our only reason for not torturing or raping people was sympathy, then when faced with such a person, we might have no reason not to do whatever we liked to him or her. But sympathy is not our only reason for not torturing and raping people. There's also self-respect: the thought that whatever someone else might choose to be like, and even if that person has chosen to be Jeffrey Dahmer, there are certain things that I will not choose to do, because I do not want to be the sort of person who does them.
If someone saw me not torturing Jeffrey Dahmer and said: Gosh, there's hilzoy, all undone by the thought that such a horrible person might suffer even a teensy bit of pain, I would think: sorry, but you do not understand why I am doing this at all. And if someone thinks that the reason I do not want my country to abduct children, to disappear people without charges and without trial, to waterboard them, or to keep them in isolation for months on end, is nothing but concern for them, they are making a similar mistake. I feel terrible about what we have done to a lot of people -- the Uighurs, for instance. I do not have a lot of sympathy for Osama bin Laden. But that fact has precisely nothing to do with my thinking that there are certain things I simply do not want my country to do, even to him.