Thank God they are good example[s] of humanitarian behavior


October 2, 2009 by J. Madson

These are the words of Fouad al-Rabiah, a “42-year old father of four children who had no history of any involvement with militancy or terrorism, and had, instead, spent 20 years at a management desk job at Kuwait Airways, and had an ownership interest in some health clubs. Moreover, he had a history of legitimate refugee relief work, having taken a six month approved leave of absence from work in 1994-95 to do relief work in Bosnia, having visited Kosovo with the Kuwaiti Red Crescent in 1998, and having made a trip to Bangladesh in 2000 to delivery kidney dialysis fluid to a hospital in the capital, Dhaka.”

These are the words he uttered when trying to flee Afghanistan he was captured by US soldiers. It is heartbreaking to read those words no in light of what al-Rabiah endured in the ensuing years.

Last Week, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ordered al-Rabiah’s release.

In the ruling, to put it bluntly, it was revealed that the U.S. government tortured an innocent man to extract false confessions and then threatened him until he obligingly repeated those lies as though they were the truth.

A CIA analyst had interviewed al-Rabiah at Guantánamo in the summer of 2002 and had concluded that he was an innocent man caught at the wrong time and in the wrong place but this was not what were told by the last administration. Guantanamo held the worst of the worst. Al-Rabiah’s was tortured in order to elicit what the Judge determined was a false confession.

The judge also noted:

There is substantial evidence in the record supporting al-Rabiah’s claims. The record is replete with examples of al-Rabiah’s interrogators emphasizing a stark dichotomy — if he confessed to the allegations against him, his case would be turned over to [redacted] so that he could return to Kuwait; if he did not confess, he would not return to Kuwait, and his life would become increasingly miserable…

The record contains evidence that al-Rabiah’s interrogators became increasingly frustrated because his confessions contained numerous inconsistencies or implausibilities. As a result, al-Rabiah’s interrogators began using abusive techniques that violated the Army Field Manual and the 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War. The first of these techniques included threats of rendition to places where al-Rabiah would either be tortured and/or would never be found.

Even more shocking and revealing is what an interrogator said to al-Rabiah during his interrogation. The interrogator told al-Rabiah:

“There is nothing against you. But there is no innocent person here. So, you should confess to something so you can be charged and sentenced and serve your sentence and then go back to your family and country, because you will not leave this place innocent.”

Court Memorandum and Order, p. 41

As Andrew Sullivan noted:

This is how totalitarian regimes justify themselves: by inventing enemies and proving their guilt through torture. The parallel dynamic in such regimes is that torture itself needs to be concealed, and errors of judgment, which could discredit the regime, need to be covered up. The techniques used by Cheney were, after all, once used by the Gestapo precisely to avoid the public embarrassment of clearly physically destroyed human beings, to present the appearance of normality, while behind that screen the psychological warfare of torture could proceed unimpeded. And if an error were made, if someone totally innocent were captured or tortured, the regime could then torture the victim to say he was guilty after all. In this closed loop, there are no loose ends. The executive is always right and its victims are always wrong – and torture provides all the evidence you need to prove it.

The judge issued this conclusion:

The Court agrees with the assessment of al-Rabiah’s interrogators, as well as al-Rabiah’s counsel in this case, that al-Rabiah’s confessions are not credible. Even beyond the countless inconsistencies associated with his confessions that interrogators identified throughout his years of detention, the confessions are also entirely incredible. The evidence in the record reflects that, in 2001, al-Rabiah was a 43 year old who was overweight, suffered from health problems, and had no known history of terrorist activities or links to terrorist activities. He had no military experience except for two weeks of compulsory basic training in Kuwait, after which he received a medical exemption. He had never traveled to Afghanistan prior to 2001. Given these facts, it defied logic that in October 2001, after completing a two-week leave form at Kuwait Airlines where he had worked for twenty years, al-Rabiah traveled to Tora Bora and began telling senior al-Qaeda leaders how they should organize their supplies in a six square mile mountain complex that he had never previously seen and that was occupied by people whom he had never met, while at the same time acting as a supply logistician and mediator of disputes that arose among various fighting factions.

David Cynamon, one of Fouad al-Rabiah’s attorneys, explained in an email exchange why this case illustrates the importance of the rule of law and holding our nation accountable for its sins:

To date, the debate about torture in the U.S. has been skewed by the fact that the admitted victims of torture are also admitted al-Qaeda leaders, like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. This gives the Cheneys and Wall Street Journal types the argument that torture was justified to get valuable information from these hardened terrorists. I know this argument is wrong, but it’s being made, with some effect. But what happens when you declare the Geneva Conventions “quaint,” and lift all limits, is that pretty quickly the abusive interrogation techniques are not being limited to the KSMs but are being applied to innocent prisoners like Fouad al-Rabiah, who have no valuable intelligence because they have no connection with al-Qaeda or the Taliban. Instead, they are tortured in support of a cynical and misguided dictum that there can be no innocent men in Guantánamo.
It is hard to believe that the U.S. could ever have sunk so low. And that the new Administration is keeping us down there. The Obama Department of Justice, with Attorney General Holder piously proclaiming that this Administration repudiates torture, and follows the rule of law, in fact is following the Bush playbook to the letter. In this case, the DoJ defended the abusive and coercive interrogation techniques used against Fouad. Thank God, though, that we have an independent judiciary. The importance of the writ of habeas corpus and independent judges has never been more clear.

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4 thoughts on “Thank God they are good example[s] of humanitarian behavior

  1. Forest Simmons says:

    Once again we see that the main use of torture is getting false confessions in the interest of covering up the truth.

    The only other practical use is to put fear into people so they will be obedient slaves. “Want to protest? OK we’ll give you something to complain about.”

  2. Joseph says:

    Wow. Kafka’s “The Trial” comes to mind. Of course, there are many things in this country that bring Kafka to mind, and not just recently (though it seems the past decade has amped things up a bit).

    I was wondering where the “Thank God…” quote comes from. I’m still trying to wrap my brain around exactly what was said when.

  3. J. Madson says:


    Thank God was what al-Rabiah said when he was captured by the Americans. Sadly, he was wrong about us.

  4. Joseph says:

    Well, definitely wrong about CIA, at any rate. I hope most Americans are still better than that, at least somewhere deep down that doesn’t get shown much in the media. Of course, I haven’t yet seen the outrage that should have happened once we knew it wasn’t just a rumor that we were torturing people (which we really knew, anyway, but some were trying to pretend). Well, there was some outrage, but it was mostly that we were somehow making the country “less safe” by coming clean and getting rid of torture. How far we have fallen. Interrogation have, out of necessity, never been nice. But the U.S. once did have a reputation for being kinder than most countries to prisoners of war, like say in World War II, which is, interestingly enough, a war that we won (as much as you can win a war, anyway). So much for the theory that we have to torture in order to win!

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