BILL MOYERS: This week on Moyers & Company.
DOUG LIMAN: Hi, I’m Doug Liman and I’m asking you to help me direct the movie "Reckoning With Torture."
LARRY SIEMS: The documents you begin to recover are just glimpses of humanity, because you hear the voices of detainees. We’ve never heard them.
DOUG LIMAN: And we're asking people to stage their own readings.
ZACK DE LA ROUDA: "Extraordinary rendition" has a human face. And it is mine.
DOUG LIMAN: It will change your life.
BILL MOYERS: Welcome. Facing the truth is hard to do, especially the truth about ourselves. Not surprising. Americans have been sorely pressed to come to terms with the fact that after 9/11 our government began to torture people. And did so in defiance of domestic and international law. It’s no secret such cruelty occurred; it’s just the truth we’d rather not think about.
But Memorial Day is a good time to make the effort. Because if we really want to honor the Americans in uniform who died fighting for their country, we’ll redouble our efforts to make sure we’re worthy of their sacrifice; we’ll renew our commitment to the rule of law, for the rule of law is essential to any civilization worth dying for. So in this broadcast we’ll reckon with torture, the torture done in our name, allegedly for our safety.
Because most of us haven’t come to terms with what that meant, or means today. We hope to engage you, here and online, in thinking and talking about this most uncomfortable subject. Our effort was inspired by a collaboration between the American Civil Liberties Union and the international literary and human rights group PEN. They teamed up to comb through 150,000 declassified documents, as well as large collections of articles and transcripts, to produce “The Torture Report: What the Documents Say About America’s Post 9/11 Torture Program,” written by PEN’s Larry Siems.
ROBERT REDFORD: I am reading an excerpt…
BILL MOYERS: But that’s not all. PEN and the ACLU have staged readings of excerpts from the documents and from first-person testimony at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah and Lincoln Center here in New York.
Those readings have been videotaped and are being made into a documentary by movie director Doug Liman called “Reckoning With Torture.”
KAYLA THOMAS: Hi, my name is Kayla Thomas…
BILL MOYERS: He wants you to participate, too. We’ll tell you more about the project and how you can get involved later in the broadcast. But first, let’s meet Doug Liman – whose feature film credits include “The Bourne Identity,” “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” and “Fair Game” – and the lead writer of “The Torture Report,” Larry Siems, who directs the Freedom to Write and International Programs at PEN American Center.
Welcome to both of you.
DOUG LIMAN: Thank you.
LARRY SIEMS: Thank you.
BILL MOYERS: What's a brief history of this project? What's the beginning of it? How did it come about?
LARRY SIEMS: Well, the beginning is in the Freedom of Information Act action and lawsuit that the ACLU filed for the release of documents that detailed the abuse of prisoners in U.S. custody since 9/11. We have this incredible trove of documents. And I think, you know, the ACLU was looking for ways of putting the public in contact with these documents.
PEN is a writers organization, as you say, that does international human rights work. And like all international human rights organizations, we found our international efforts complicated by the fact that the U.S. was compromising its commitments to standards that we've been asking governments the world to adhere to.
BILL MOYERS: Because we had?
LARRY SIEMS: Immediately after 9/11 a number of regimes launched crackdowns on the usual suspects in their countries. And when they were questioned by that, they just pointed to the United States and said, "Look what the United States is doing." You know, indefinite detention. The Patriot Act. You know, increase surveillance powers. "If the United States can do it, they certainly can't criticize us." And this happened in a number of countries.
So, you know, we knew we had to look to ourselves in order to speak to the world. So we began to work with the ACLU, PEN did, to put together these public readings from these documents.
DOUG LIMAN: You can't believe some of these documents that they've uncovered. And, you know, in a way it's a tribute to this country that the Freedom of Information Act actually works. That you don't actually need WikiLeaks. Like, there is an actual legal way that documents that are quite damaging to the people who committed these acts of atrocity.
LARRY SIEMS: That's something that the book really chronicles is that this was not a case where everybody agreed with these programs. On the--
BILL MOYERS: With the torture?
LARRY SIEMS: Right.
BILL MOYERS: You mean, people inside government?
LARRY SIEMS: Absolutely.
BILL MOYERS: There were dissenters?
LARRY SIEMS: In the military, and in all of the intelligence agencies. And in fact the reason we have these documents is because there were dissenters.
So many people said this is wrong, this is stupid. This violates our principals.
DOUG LIMAN: And ineffective.
BILL MOYERS: Do the documents show that? That torture didn't work?
LARRY SIEMS: Yes. Because there's an internal argument all the time, about whether it's working, or not working. This is all, you know, quite well-documented.
BILL MOYERS: As a storyteller, what was the story you found there?
DOUG LIMAN: Well, first of all, you know, we're in a sort of state in this country where, you know, everything is so polarized. And it's right wing, or left wing. Republican, or Democrat. And it's almost, it's hard to sort of get to the truth of matters because suddenly you're just-- who's telling you the information makes the information itself suspect.
Something that's so extraordinary about this project is that the documents aren't editorialized. I mean, they are-- these are the documents exactly how they were received from the U.S. government. I mean, things are redacted. But they're in no way editorialized. And we're just, we're reading the documents raw.
BILL MOYERS: How did you react, personally, when you began to look at the documents. What was going on inside of your own head?
DOUG LIMAN: On one hand, they are riveting, these documents. And you almost can't believe, I mean, you read John Yoo memo, talking about, you know, just clinically discussing, in a legal memo, you know, torture, and what you can and can't do to a prisoner. And just coldly sort of describing how you waterboard somebody. And it's extraordinary that sort of the Justice Department could participate. That lawyers could participate in sort of putting torture into some kind of legal framework that was, that is, incredibly thuggish behavior.
And one of my favorite documents is a transcript of George Tenet's interview on “60 Minutes”. Which isn't a declassified document, at all.
GEORGE TENET on 60 Minutes: It’s been portrayed is we sat around the campfire and said, `Oh, boy, now we go get to torture people.' We don't torture people. Let me say that again to you, we don't torture people. OK? So...
SCOTT PELLEY on 60 Minutes: Come on, George.
GEORGE TENET on 60 Minutes: We don't torture people.
SCOTT PELLEY on 60 Minutes: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?
GEORGE TENET on 60 Minutes: We don't torture people.
SCOTT PELLEY on 60 Minutes: Waterboarding?
GEORGE TENET on 60 Minutes: We do not-- I don't talk about techniques.
SCOTT PELLEY on 60 Minutes: It's torture.
GEORGE TENET on 60 Minutes: And we don't torture people. No, listen to me. No, listen to me. I want you to listen to me.
BILL MOYERS: What struck you about it?
DOUG LIMAN: He clearly has to say, "We don't torture people." Like, he's just, he's been told, or he knows, like, he must just repeat that sentence over and over again. But he's being confronted with overwhelming evidence. And at the same time he's sort of saying, "Some people need to be tortured."
But he can't really say that. And so seeing somebody sort of squirm in this position, where they know they can't support, they morally can't support what it is they're saying, and what they did. And they just have to sort of keep talking, and filling the space until the interview ends. So just as, like, a student of drama, I find that you know one of the most extraordinary performances I've ever seen.
BILL MOYERS: But as you suggest, the story has been out. We all knew, finally, that torture had happened. And felt badly about it, many people--
DOUG LIMAN: Yeah. But you knew it as, like, maybe there were few bad apples out there.
BILL MOYERS: Yeah.
DOUG LIMAN: Right? I mean, that really was how the story was positioned. And these people here did this horrible thing, and these people here did this horrible thing. And what these documents reveal, is that it comes straight back to the highest levels of government.
BILL MOYERS: But why bring it out now? It is in the past. America's going through hard times. People out there have lost their jobs, lost their pensions, lost their homes. Politics, as you say, mean-spirited. Why take all this dirty linen and dump it in the middle of the room right now?
LARRY SIEMS: Torture is something that happens by human beings, to human beings. And there are lives that have been harmed by this. And the convention against torture, and domestic laws against torture make it clear. When torture happens people must be prosecuted. Victims must be compensated.
BILL MOYERS: No ambiguity in the Geneva Code?
LARRY SIEMS: That's the Convention against Torture and … Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Punishment, or Treatment.
BILL MOYERS: And the United States is a long-time signatory.
LARRY SIEMS: It's been codified into U.S. law. Under U.S. law the question of what's cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment is determined by the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and inhuman punishment. The courts interpret that as behavior that shocks the conscience.
There's much, much that shocks the conscience in this book. But, the one thing, as you look at documents, which seem coldly bureaucratic, and you start to read it, and you realize that they're very, very human. They have human voices in them. They capture, I mean, if you think that the purpose of torture is to dehumanize people. The documents, you begin to recover just glimpses of humanity, because you hear the voices of detainees. We've never heard them. The whole system has been structured so you never hear them tell their stories.
BILL MOYERS: You mean, over the last years we've heard about them, but we've never heard from them?
LARRY SIEMS: You've never--
DOUG LIMAN: Until you hear one of the staged readings, or do-- perform one of them yourself. And it's because some of these documents are detainees, describing the experience of being tortured.
BILL MOYERS: Let me play one of the readings that took place during the Sundance festival. This is the infamous Torture Memo from the Justice Department, 2002. And the first-hand accounts of the interrogations of Abu Zubaydah. Who is he?
LARRY SIEMS: Abu Zubaydah was, according to the Bush Administration, when he was first detained, the number three man in Al Qaeda. This is what their definition of him was. He was detained. He was shot, actually, during a raid in Pakistan. Treated by the U.S. and then flown to a secret C.I.A. prison in Thailand, where the C.I.A. sent a team of contractors who were the ones who would end up sort of driving this torture program. To do this experiment. To really try these new, enhanced interrogation techniques.
Techniques that had really by derived from techniques that the Communist Chinese and the Soviets used in the middle of the 20th Century. Sent them there, interrogated him. The memos are August 1st, 2002. Green lighting, saying that these techniques are not torture.
And green lighting their use on Abu Zubaydah. So throughout August of 2002 he's brutally tortured, including he's waterboarded 83 times. You know, kept nude, subjected to temperature extremes. Sleep deprivation. Dietary manipulation. Slaps. Wallings. Slamming him against the wall. And this reading, I think, that you're going to show is it juxtaposes the John Yoo memo describing the treatment, with one of the only documents that we have in which Abu Zubaydah speaks.
BILL MOYERS: John Yoo was?
LARRY SIEMS: A Justice Department Attorney in the Office of Legal Counsel. He is the architect of a number of the legal manipulations that declare these things legal. And this is Abu Zubaydah speaking to the Red Cross in 2006, four years after he'd been disappeared, literally disappeared, into secret prisons. He's been held in Thailand, and then in Poland. He's finally brought to Guantanamo with 14, with 13 other high-valued detainees in October or in September of 2006.
He finally gets to see the Red Cross. And he tells his story of what happens. And the amazing thing is his account of what happens to him, just by recollection to the International Committee on the Red Cross, matches exactly the instructions that are laid out in the Yoo Memo. So--
BILL MOYERS: Let’s play that for you.
GEORGE SAUNDERS: Hi, I’m George Saunders. I am going to be reading an excerpt from a legal memo written by John Yoo and signed by Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee.
SANDRA CISNEROS: I am Sandra Cisneros. I will be reading excerpts of Abu Zubaydah’s first-hand account of his interrogation in a secret CIA prison.[…] About two and a half or three months after I arrived in this place, the interrogation began again, but with more intensity than before. Then the real torture started.
GEORGE SAUNDERS: In this phase, you would like to employ ten techniques that you believe will dislocate his expectations regarding the treatment he believes he will receive and encourage him to disclose the crucial information mentioned above. These ten techniques are: attention grasp, walling, facial hold, facial slap (insult slap), cramped confinement, wall standing, stress positions, sleep deprivation, insects placed in a confinement box, and the waterboard.
SANDRA CISNEROS: I was taken out of my cell and one of the interrogators wrapped a towel around my neck, they then used it to swing me around and smash me repeatedly against the hard walls of the room. I was also repeatedly slapped in the face. […] The interrogators realized that smashing me against the hard wall would probably quickly result in physical injury. During these torture sessions many guards were present, plus two interrogators who did the actual beating still asking questions.
GEORGE SAUNDERS: Finally, you would like to use a technique called the “waterboard.” […] You have orally informed us that this procedure triggers an automatic physiological sensation of drowning that the individual cannot control even though he may be aware that he is in fact not drowning.
SANDRA CISNEROSM: I struggled against the straps, trying to breathe, but it was hopeless. I thought I was going to die. I lost control of my urine. Since then I still lose control of my urine when under stress.
BILL MOYERS: What does that document tell you?
DOUG LIMAN: I'm just sort of recovering from watching the clip again. But, you know, I'm a filmmaker, but my father was a lawyer. My brother’s a lawyer.
BILL MOYERS: And your father was?
DOUG LIMAN: Was Arthur Liman. He was a lawyer in New York City, but he also, ran the investigation into the Reagan Administration's Iran Contra program. And, actually, I ended up taking a lot of the details from that investigation and making-- those are the characters in "The Bourne Identity."
DOUG LIMAN: And so and clearly this was a situation where you know the White House was turning to lawyers and saying, "We want to torture these people, and we need a lawyer to sort of tell us that it is legal."
And the lawyers that I grew up around would not have done that. And yet, there were lawyers in this Justice Department who were willing to bend the law, figure out, some tricky business to sort of somehow say that this kind of behavior was, in fact, legal. When it so clearly shocks the conscience, in violation of the Convention Against Torture. So, just-- my first reaction is just shock that a lawyer like John Yoo could sort of shirk his responsibilities as a lawyer and a member of the Justice Department, sworn to uphold the law. And write a memo like this, and then when you hear that-- which was so powerful about these readings is to then not read a transcript of Abu Zubaydah, but to actually hear the words spoken out loud--
LARRY SIEMS: Abu Zubaydah, who it turns out is-- the government has finally admitted was in fact never even a member of Al Qaeda, not let alone its number three depute. Had no knowledge of the 9/11 attacks. So what the interrogation--
BILL MOYERS: But he confesses, under torture.
LARRY SIEMS: Of course he does.
BILL MOYERS: To something he didn't do?
LARRY SIEMS: Because everybody does.
BILL MOYERS: Everybody does?
LARRY SIEMS: These techniques that we tried in the secret prisons and in Guantanamo and Iraq were based on the SERE training program of the military. That's S.E.R.E. And it stands for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape. And it's a training program that we, you know, that we put soldiers and airmen and naval officers and Marines, who are particularly in jeopardy of being captured. We put them through this program to, you know, to prepare them for what they may experience if they're captured by countries, specifically, that don’t adhere to the Geneva Conventions and that torture people.
But the scenario that's most often used is the scenario that was used during the Korean War when pilots were captured. And it was in order to get them to sign false confessions, that they had committed war crimes.
This was what the North Koreans did, and these were the techniques that they used to break down your will to the point that you will sign a confession.
BILL MOYERS: So Zubaydah, he confesses.
LARRY SIEMS: He confesses--
BILL MOYERS: To something he didn't do.
LARRY SIEMS: Interestingly, people who go through this, even in a simulated one-week program end up signing false confessions.
So you know, let alone the pressure of being, you know in-- disappeared from the face of the earth, in a secret dungeon in Thailand. You have no access to lawyers, nothing. They tell you there's no law anymore. The law has been suspended. We can do it, do to you whatever we want. Of course he confesses.
BILL MOYERS: But let me ask you both to go back ten years. The United States has just been attacked, thousands of people have been killed. There were more attacks feared. Nobody really knows what has happened. The country is stunned.
There's a ticking time bomb, we keep being told, and we've got to find that ticking time bomb, before it goes off again. The men charged, and women, charged with protecting American citizens, are stunned. They're uncertain. They don't know where this is coming from, they don't know when it will happen again. And they want to find out. Any sympathy for the desperation that drove the decisions to go after the sources of the information?
LARRY SIEMS: We all felt that fear. I think, to some extent the public-- we probably communicated to the administration that we would like them to do anything they could to protect us. That said, I think one of the, again, I think one of the clearest stories that the documents tell is that many, many people who are in positions of high responsibility had felt exactly the same pressure.
And had exactly the opposite reaction that John Yoo, and Dick Cheney, and George Bush had. There were a stream of legal memos that were written by the lawyers of every single service. That challenged John Yoo's memo.
They fought, and fought, and fought. They said, look, these techniques, they violate the convention against torture. They violate U.S. law, and they violate the Uniform Code of Military Justice. These are front-line people.
DOUG LIMAN: Some of the people are pushing back because they know that torture leads to useless information. And in fact--
BILL MOYERS: What do you mean "useless information"?
DOUG LIMAN: The information that's elicited from somebody who's being tortured is mostly, it's strategically useless. And in fact we didn't find Bin Laden's location from somebody who was tortured.
LARRY SIEMS: Right. And if you listen to all these voices that are in the documents, all these people who are saying, you know, history is going to judge this. People say this again, and again, and again, you know? This is the stuff that Congressional investigations are made of. You know? That's a quote that could--
BILL MOYERS: They fear being prosecuted?
LARRY SIEMS: Absolutely fear being prosecuted.
BILL MOYERS: Because they knew it was wrong?
LARRY SIEMS: The dissenters warned about prosecution. And the administration feared prosecution. The administration feared prosecution, that's why--
DOUG LIMAN: That's why there's a John Yoo memo.
BILL MOYERS: There's one of your excerpts that you did at Sundance, of a soldier witnessing torture in Afghanistan I think.
LARRY SIEMS: This was a woman. An interpreter. And it's an incredible moment of what they used to call in you know Aristotelian dramatics, of dramatic irony. Because here she is in Afghanistan. She witnesses this. Some obscure Special Forces team comes in, beats up, and tortures the prisoner that they're interrogating.
Ruins the interrogation for her. And what she has her training as a military training in Geneva Conventions. And she just says, look, I know this is a violation of Geneva Conventions, and I know how important it is to uphold these things.
At the very moment that this is happening, the Bush Administration is putting the final touches on the memos that suspend Geneva protections for detainees for Al Qaeda and Taliban detainees. Two weeks later Bush signs the order that will withhold Geneva protections. And I-- that juxtaposition, it's like one of the things about just lining up the dates of the documents. This happened here, and this happened here. I knew those two things happened, but you put them together side-by-side, and you just see the gulf between, you know--
DOUG LIMAN: The people on the ground, and people in the White House.
LARRY SIEMS: Yeah. And this is us. This woman is us. She was sent out to do this job. Trained in a way to do this job. And the rug's being pulled out from underneath her, even as she's behaving exactly as we would hope.
BILL MOYERS: And here is the reading.
LILI TAYLOR: Hi, I’m Lili Taylor. I’m going to read from the sworn statement of an interpreter at the Kandahar detention facility in Afghanistan. The handwritten document is dated February 13, 2002.
I am writing this in response to events that I witnessed while performing my duties as an interrogator with the Task Force 202 JIF.
Specialist BLANK and I were conducting an interrogation of military prisoner number XXX on 3 January, 2002. BLANK and I took a break to regroup and check our notes. While we were out of the booth, several Special Forces members entered. […] BLANK and I finished the break and went back. When we entered the booth, we found the Special Forces members all crouched around the prisoner. […] The prisoner was extremely upset. He said that they had hit him, told him that he was going to die, blew smoke in his face, and had shocked him some kind of device. He used the term “electricity.” I immediately notified our Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge. I was very upset that such a thing could happen. I take my job and responsibilities as an interrogator and as a human being very seriously. I understand the importance of the Geneva Convention and what it represents. If I don’t honor it, what right do I have to expect any other military to do so?
DOUG LIMAN: The book, and the website are filled with document after document to people who, in that same situation, feeling that same pressure to do something, felt that this was wrong. And that this shouldn't happen. And wrote a memo to her superiors saying that this was wrong.
BILL MOYERS: You've got a segment called “The Repentant Prosecutor.” Set that up for me, before we play it for the audience.
LARRY SIEMS: This is drawn from an affidavit by Lieutenant Colonel Darrel Vandeveld, who was a prosecutor at the military commissions in Guantanamo. And he was assigned to prosecute a Guantanamo detainee, a young man named Mohammed Jawad. And like all of the Guantanamo prosecutors, he was operating in the dark. He had no idea how the person who he was supposed to prosecute had been interrogated or treated.
And so he was going about building his case against him. And at one point at one of the hearings Mohammed Jawad starts telling the story about how he'd been subjected to this program, which came to be known as the “frequent flyer program” of being moved from cell to cell, just to keep him from sleeping.
And Vandeveld thought this was baloney. He thought he was just making this up. And, you know complaining about mistreatment. So he proceeded. But as he went on, he came to discover, that in fact, Mohammed Jawad had been abused. So this is his affidavit that he filed, actually in Mohammed Jawad's habeas corpus petition.
BILL MOYERS: So set this up for me.
LARRY SIEMS: This is Colonel Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor of the military commissions in Guantanamo.
MORRIS DAVIS: In the summer of 2007, a few months before I resigned as the chief prosecutor for the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Lieutenant Colonel, Darrel Vandeveld joined my staff. And I assigned him to the case of Mohammed Jawad. In 2008 Lieutenant Colonel Darrel Vandeveld feeling an ethical conflict, removed himself from the case and provided a sworn statement to the ACLU as part of Mr. Jawad’s habeas corpus petition. This is a portion of Lieutenant Colonel Vandeveld’s sworn statement.
I, Darrel Vandeveld, declare as follows: I am a Lieutenant Colonel in the Judge Advocate General Corps. […] I was the lead prosecutor assigned to the Military Commissions case against Mr. Jawad until my resignation in September 2008. Initially, the case appeared to be a simple street crime, as I had prosecuted by the dozens in civilian life. But eventually I began to harbor serious doubts about the strength of the evidence. […] I learned that the written statement characterized as Jawad’s personal confession could not possibly have been written by him because Jawad was functionally illiterate and could not read or write and the statement was not even in his native language.
I also found evidence that Mr. Jawad had been badly mistreated by U.S. authorities both in Afghanistan and Guantánamo. Mr. Jawad’s prison records referred to a suicide attempt, a suicide which he sought to accomplish by banging his head repeatedly against one of his cell walls. The records reflected 112 unexplained moves from cell to cell over a two week period, an average of eight moves per day for 14 days. Mr. Jawad had been subjected to a sleep deprivation program known as the “frequent flyer program.”
I lack the words to express the heartsickness I experienced when I came to understand the pointless, purely gratuitous mistreatment of Mr. Jawad by my fellow soldiers.
It is my opinion, based on my extensive knowledge of the case, that there is no credible evidence or legal basis to justify Mr. Jawad’s detention in U.S. custody or his prosecution by military commission. Holding Mr. Jawad for six years, with no resolution of his case and with no terminus in sight, is something beyond a travesty. […] Six years is long enough for a boy of sixteen to serve in virtual solitary confinement in a distant land, for reasons he may never fully understand. Mr. Jawad should be released to resume his life in a civil society, for his sake, and for our own sense of justice and perhaps to restore a measure of our basic humanity.
BILL MOYERS: What a turn of events.
LARRY SIEMS: Amazing. Amazing. But not unprecedented. The accounts are full of stories like this. And the thing that compelled me through this work for 18 months was the incredible heroism and the incredible acts of conscience of individuals who were put in these situations.
These are very, very human stories. These are individual stories. Individual grappling with their own consciences. Another Guantanamo prosecutor named Stuart Couch, who was a Marine pilot who's-- one of his best friends was one of the pilots who flew-- was in the planes that flew into the trade center, was killed. He re-upped. He went back to the military to prosecute cases, went to Guantanamo and was assigned to prosecute the case of a guy named Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who was supposed to have recruited some of those hijackers on those planes.
And so he was quite excited about the opportunity to get some justice for his friend. When he first went to Guantanamo, he just went to observe an interrogation and went into one of the trailers and saw the strobe lights and the Metallica music playing and the detainees shackled to the ground.
And he had been through the SERE training program. And he knew immediately what was going on. So he was a little bit suspicious of how we were getting intelligence.
And Stuart Couch describes himself as an evangelical Christian. And he wrestled with his conscience. He talked to his minister. He talked to other members of the military about what he was seeing and people were saying, "You should speak up." But he sat on the fence and he wrestled. And then one day he was in church, on Sunday, for a baptism as he describes it. And the liturgy included the words about the dignity of every human being. And he said that was it.
BILL MOYERS: What did you learn about torture in this work, that you didn't know?
DOUG LIMAN: What shocked me about the memos that Larry and the ACLU uncovered was on one hand how much they contradicted the values that are so important to me as an American, that the government could have not only allowed this to happen, but actually encouraged this to happen. Actually made it legal for this to happen. You know?
And the same time that it again reaffirmed some of my hope and belief in this country, because in the face of this, and all of this pressure, the book is filled with document after document of people who knew this was wrong, and chose to speak out about it.
BILL MOYERS: What techniques of torture were used that would force a confession? We know about waterboarding. But what are the others?
LARRY SIEMS: When you think about reading a book like this, you would think you're going to be subjected to some very horrific, grim, bloody scenes. You know, in fact there was not a lot of physical barbarity. You know?
It's a kind of a relentless degradation, and a relentless assault on the dignity of the person. They very rarely touch a prisoner.
They very rarely do, because they want to preserve the sort of mockingly, this false idea that they follow the rules. But we all know this is torture, this is what they said, so it's things like sleep deprivation. One of the most famous, and well-documented interrogations which was also the subject of you know, ongoing trench warfare, between the F.B.I. and the criminal investigative task forces in Guantanamo, saying, "Stop this."
And the military, on the other hand, saying, "Do this," is the interrogation of this guy Mohammed al-Qahtani, that's carried out over several months, but the most intense period is a 50-day interrogation where they allow this man to sleep for only four hours a day, for 50 days. And then during that time, it's sleep deprivation, it's temperature manipulation.
And then endless, endless humiliations. Just mocking him all the time. At one point dressing him in a bra and panties. Calling him a homosexual. Another time, inflating a latex glove, and slapping him on the face with it, and calling it-- and putting a-- making him wear a sign that says "Coward," and slapping with this sissy-slap glove.
Have a female interrogator constantly getting up in his face, constantly touching him, you know, to constantly sort of just-- what things that, you know, people who looked at this would say, "Well, that constituted an assault, under the universal-- under the Uniform Code of Military Justice." But it wasn't punching him. It's just invading his space. This constant--
BILL MOYERS: Psychological warfare, not physical cruelty.
LARRY SIEMS: Absolutely. and the purpose, as the designers of this program said, was to develop a state of learned helplessness. That was the phrase that they used. You want to break down a person. Now, essentially so they will do what you say they, so that they are compliant.
So again, back to the idea that there's a ticking time bomb scenario. The whole purpose of the techniques that we used was not to get an immediate confession. You know, this was to break people down, to make them compliant. And ultimately, in many cases, it was then to put a piece of paper in front of them, and say, "Sign this."
DOUG LIMAN: And some of the techniques were more physical but also leave no scars. So, you know, it's a technique that's spread out throughout the book called "Walling."
BILL MOYERS: Walling?
DOUG LIMAN: Walling. The, literally, sounds like it would be, you know, something that, you know, I would put in a film when I was trying to show, like, a gangster, beating up a rival gang. Like, here's this drug gang, attacking this drug gang.
But, again, it's something that actually detailed in the John Yoo memo, as one of the techniques that's okay for the U.S. government to do to detainees, called walling, which involves wrapping something behind their neck, so you don't break their neck, and then slamming them into the wall.
There's documents that describe specifically what kind of wall to build, so that you inflict maximum pain, but minimum scarring. So that there's no evidence of what you did to the person. Waterboardings, you know, the most extreme example of it. Because it leaves no scars whatsoever. Except psychological ones. But if, I mean, you can try it yourself at home. You can—
BILL MOYERS: Thanks, I’ll pass.
DOUG LIMAN: I mean, you could take a-- honestly. Lie on your back, and take a wet wash cloth, and put it over your face, and just have somebody dump some water over you. And now imagine that happening to you when you're strapped down, and have no control over it. And these are all techniques designed to physically harm the person, but leave no scars.
LARRY SIEMS: There are trained interrogators who fought against this the whole time. The career interrogators of the F.B.I. What's interesting is, you know, at 9/11, the C.I.A. had no interrogators. This was not their job.
And that-- you know, and one of the first documents in the book is that President Bush signs an order days after the 9/11 attack, giving the C.I.A. power to detain and interrogate suspects. They don't have interrogators. They've never done this. The F.B.I. trained interrogators say, all along, this doesn't work. The thing that works is rapport-building. This is the thing that—
BILL MOYERS: What? Rapport--
LARRY SIEMS: Rapport-building. You know, you build rapport--
BILL MOYERS: Become a--
LARRY SIEMS: Trust me.
BILL MOYERS: Yeah.
DOUG LIMAN: I can help you.
BILL MOYERS: I'm one of you.
LARRY SIEMS: Right.
BILL MOYERS: Really I'm on your side. I'll help you out in this.
LARRY SIEMS: And there's a-- you know, there's a very famous confrontation that happens over the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, which involves this very skillful F.B.I. interrogator named Ali Soufan. Who confront this guy, James Mitchell, who's one of the architects, the C.I.A. contractors who devises this alternative, enhanced interrogation technique regime.
And Ali Soufan is you know, he's nursing Abu Zubaydah, who's been shot. He's feeding him ice, for his fever, but also developing rapport with him, and getting information. That information is going back to Washington. Everybody's like, this is wonderful. And then the C.I.A. finds out that it's not their guys who are getting this information, it’s the F.B.I. So they said, No. We want our guys to do this. We want to get the credit for this.
Ali Soufan ends up having a shouting match with James Mitchell, saying, you know, James Mitchell shows up with one of these confinement boxes. And Ali Soufan says, I swear to God, I'll have you arrested. What you're talking about doing here is illegal.
Not only that, every time the C.I.A. guys go in, and start working on Abu Zubaydah, he's shuts up. Every time they pull out, the information stops. And then for about two weeks there's this back and forth, and they'll send back in the F.B.I. team, and it'll take them a little longer now to get back the rapport. But then Abu Zubaydah will relax, and start talking some more. And then they'll say, no, no, no. We want our guys to-- we want to do this our way. And then send them back in. So you know, there's no secret to interrogation.
Law enforcement, you think, you know are these detainees any more diabolical than some of our domestic criminals that we have to interrogate? Serial killers, you know hardened gangsters. You know, ruthless mobsters. I mean, no. And we know how to interrogate them and get information
LARRY SIEMS: We have the impression, I think we've been given the impression that there was some kind of real method to this. And they were, you know. I mean, in fact, and they thought there was. It was kind of a pseudo-science. When we were interrogating Abu Zubaydah in Thailand, James Mitchell was sending cables back and forth every day to the White House. And each one of those cables would ask permission to do one of these things. It was just this whole "Mother may I?" process. You know?
BILL MOYERS: Going right to the White House?
LARRY SIEMS: Going back to the White House. Yep, going to the C.I.A. and the C.I.A. would report to the White House on what was going on. I mean, the chain of--
DOUG LIMAN: Culpability.
LARRY SIEMS: --culpability is very clear. The orders were coming from Washington. But, so that gives the impression that this is some kind of, you know, extremely scientific, effective regime. But it was really stupidity. At one point in Guantanamo, somebody proposing, proposes taping a detainees mouth shut for several days, on the assumption that when you take the tape off, they'll finally, they'll just blurt out stuff.
BILL MOYERS: You say in the book, and there are some sequences in your film, that our officials tortured the innocent and the guilty alike. And tortured to get specific information, such as Al Qaeda's ties to Saddam Hussein, tortured to hide their mistakes, tortured people to break them. And then you say they sometimes conspired to cover up their crimes. And they tortured to cover up a mistake. Give me an example of who they tortured to cover up a mistake.
LARRY SIEMS: The government knew by August of 2002 that over 80 percent of the people in Guantanamo should not be there, had no business being there. The C.I.A. did an internal audit in August of 2002 that leaked out to the press. And yet, you know, and you're talking, at that time, of over 700 people. And so one of the preoccupations from a public relations point of view, became how are we going to support that we've told about these people who when Guantanamo opened, Donald Rumsfeld declared "the worst of the worst." You know?
General Myers said, these are people who will chew through the hydraulic lines of a transport jet in order to bring it down. And it turns out most of them were in the wrong place at the wrong time. So, you know, the case I know, in one recent habeas corpus case, the testimony was based on the incriminating evidence was based on testimony given by Binyam Mohamed, who had been brutally tortured in Morocco.
And when he was in Morocco, he says that interrogators started to bring him photographs of people. And saying, "These are the people that you're going to testify against." He was moved to a place that a C.I.A. secret prison called the Dark Prison in Afghanistan. And they kept rehearsing him on what his testimony was going to be.
BILL MOYERS: Doug, there's one document from August 2002 written by John Yoo, it's titled, "Standards of Conduct for Interrogation." And it says, they laid out a blueprint for getting around the ban on torture. Asserted that abuse becomes torture only if it results in organ failure, death, or years of mental torment. And then only if the torturer specifically intends to--
DOUG LIMAN: Torturer.
BILL MOYERS: --inflict such extreme bad damage." What do you make of that?
DOUG LIMAN: It's an extraordinary memo, because, it's got sort of a circular logic to it. That it's really only torture if we say it's torture. And if we say it's not torture, it's not torture.
Then if you look at the specifics of what it says is allowed, things like walling, the behavior's so thuggish and so clearly torture.
LARRY SIEMS: And interestingly, when you talk about the damage of torture, you know, we're not only talking about damage to the people who have been tortured. But you're talking about the damage that we have done to our service men and women, who we've put in a position that, you know, required them to violate their training, to violate their consciences. And there's the damage that's happened to the careers of many of the dissenters, people who stood up, felt they had to resign, were blackballed within the services, have had to leave the services. And we leave them carrying the burden of conscience.
BILL MOYERS: Where are we now? I mean, when Barack Obama came and took the oath of office, he said, no more torture. And he said, but let's don't look backward. Let's look forward. So where are we on the issue of torture now?
LARRY SIEMS: I really think we're exactly in a limbo. I think unless you look backward, unless you look backward, you can't move forward. That's what the history of recovery from human rights abuses around the world has taught.
The world knows that when you have periods of human right violations, a process has to happen of publicly encountering and reckoning with what happened. It doesn't necessarily involve prosecutions, but it involves truth telling. Why? Because the victims need to be recognized as human beings. They need to have their experience acknowledged publicly. And that's a crucial, crucial process. And we haven't done that.
BILL MOYERS: Is there a turn in the gross national psychology of a people, when we give a pass to this sort of thing?
LARRY SIEMS: Absolutely. Absolutely. I think it's very, very corrosive. Think about postwar German literature, for example. One of the things that writers have often done in this process is they expand the circle of responsibility.
It's not, it's just not us and those Nazis who did this. The question for German society becomes, "How did this happen in our society? And to what extent were we complicit?" I mean I think, you know, that's one of the reasons we need a public accounting. We have essentially communicated to successive administrations now that, "You do whatever you need to do and we will give you a pass."
BILL MOYERS: But listen to this. According to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, 53 percent of self-identified liberal Democrats and 67 percent of moderate or conservative Democrats support keeping Guantanamo Bay open. Seventy-seven percent of liberal Democrats endorse the use of drones, which we know kill innocent civilians. What does that say about the moral compass both of you have talked about?
DOUG LIMAN: I think your statistics would be very different. And if you polled people who actually went to the "Reckoning With Torture" website or read the book. I think you would find probably 95 percent of conservatives, liberals, anyone would say that torture is wrong. And that this was this program was wrong.
BILL MOYERS: What would change their mind?
DOUG LIMAN: The specifics of it. It's sort of very easy if it's sort of take things are happening in a faraway place. People you don't know with weird-sounding names. You don't have to pay attention to it. So okay, whatever, it's fine. But if you're forced to confront it, or if you stage one of the readings yourself and you hear the words spoken about somebody who was tortured, I don't know any human being anywhere who would say that that was okay.
BILL MOYERS: So what are you trying to do with the website, you're asking us, as citizens, to take our own little camera. And take one of these documents. What do you want us to do?
DOUG LIMAN: We have posted a number of the documents that have been declassified, you know, and put them into sort of script form.
And we're asking people to stage their own readings. These days, it's hard to find a cell phone that doesn't contain the ability to record a video. So just take a few minutes, go to the website, pick a document, and somebody reads it and the other person films it. And for both people involved, you know, it will change your life.
BILL MOYERS: I want to play one for you and the audience. But set up what we're about to see.
LARRY SIEMS: This particular clip is a young New Yorker reading the testimony of Khaled El-Masri, who's a German citizen, who the United States utterly, mistakenly renditioned to the Middle East for torture. Deliberately to be tortured, mistaken identity, wrong man.
ZACK DE LA ROUDA: The US policy of “extraordinary rendition” has a human face, and it is mine.
I was born in Kuwait and raised in Lebanon. In 1985, I fled to Germany in search of a better life. I became a citizen and started my own family. I have five children.
On December 31, 2003, I took a bus from Germany to Macedonia. When we arrived, Macedonian agents confiscated my passport and detained me for 23 days. I was not allowed to contact anyone.
I was forced to record a video saying I had been treated well. I was handcuffed, blindfolded and taken to a building where I was severely beaten. My clothes were sliced from my body with a knife or scissors, and my underwear was forcibly removed. I was thrown to the floor, my hands pulled behind me, a boot placed on my back […] The following night my interrogations began. They asked me if I knew why I had been detained. I did not. They told me I was now in a country with no laws, and did I understand what that meant?
LARRY SIEMS: You know, the United States has not officially apologized to Khaled El-Masri. He had been told that Condoleezza Rice apologized to the Germans privately. But there's never been a public apology to him.
And I think for him, I can think of how meaningful it will be for him, at least to see Americans encountering his experience and speaking his experience, internalizing his experience. That's something. That's something huge, I think, for him.
DOUG LIMAN: It's emotional for me just to sort of start to see, you know, Americans of every size and color sort of step forward and participate in this project. My father, you know, subscribed to Justice Brandeis' mantra that sunlight is the best disinfectant.
And that seeing just ordinary Americans come forward and speak these words out loud is a step of acknowledging the wrong that happened. And it's the fact that ordinary Americans are stepping forward to do it or the Obama Administration may not be willing to do it, so the American people are stepping forward and doing it.
LARRY SIEMS: The test of character is what you-- how you respond when you realize that you've gone astray. And I do think that this country, historically, has had an ability to examine, you know, when it's critical. And make apologies and make adjustments.
The question is what happens if we don’t, you know? And I think in this case to not examine these things and to not reckon with them is first of all, to reward bad leadership.
Because I think real story is there was bad leadership. That these guys weren't operating in a vacuum having to make stuff up on their own. They were ignoring good advice that was saying, don't do these things. It doesn't work. You know? When, if that's the record, I think, you know, we have a responsibility for asking our leaders to account for themselves for that kind of behavior.
The other thing is I think it's, you know, I think if we don't get this right, if we don't reckon with this, we're essentially saying, go ahead and lie to us. Go head. That's fine. We don't, you know, tell us the story that this worked, tell us the story that this was necessary, tell us the story that you were right, that we should just trust you. And I am unable to take that kind of position. I just can't, I can't accept being lied to like that.
BILL MOYERS: Tell us the website again.
DOUG LIMAN: ReckoningWithTorture.org. It takes you through the process. Pick a script, pick a document, and film yourselves reading one of these documents.
It is a cleansing act. It is a patriotic act. It's an act that will make this country stronger. It is taking responsibility for something that was done in the name of this country. And saying, we acknowledge we made a mistake. We're acknowledging the mistake. And we're ready to move forward. But you have to acknowledge the mistake first.
LARRY SIEMS: I think that, that phrase "cleansing act" is great. I mean, that really is something transformative about the process of this project, you know?
And it is amazing to hear this, these words that have been suppressed, that we were never supposed to hear spoken out loud. There's something really empowering about that. And I do think the idea, the way this is structured. We've done that. Now it's open to a national performance. Everybody should be part of this performance. Everybody should be part of this. And I think when, you know, when it's all brought together into one document I think the experience will be, you know, extremely cleansing.
BILL MOYERS: Facing the truth is what you're asking us to do?
LARRY SIEMS: The truth is there. The truth is there. And the question is what you do when it's there.
BILL MOYERS: I have looked at the website. I have read the book. They are both remarkable contributions to facing the truth. And I thank you, Doug Liman and Larry Siems for joining us on the broadcast.
DOUG LIMAN: Thank you.
LARRY SIEMS: Thank you so much.
READER 1: Date of Death: June 6th, 2003. Decedent is a 52 year old Iraqi Male, Civilian Detainee…
READER 2: An Iraqi National, died while detained at the Abu Ghraib prison where he was held for interrogations by government agencies…
READER 3: This Iraqi died while in U.S. custody. The details surrounding the circumstances at the time of death are classified.
READER 1: …died as a result of asphyxia (lack of oxygen to the brain) due to strangulation…
READER 2: Fractures of the ribs and a contusion of the left lung imply significant blunt force…
READER 1: Cause of Death: Strangulation. Manner of Death: Homicide.
READER 2: Manner of Death: Homicide.
READER 3: Manner of death: Homicide.
BILL MOYERS: So here we are, into our eleventh year after 9/11, still at war in Afghanistan, still at war with terrorists, still at war with our collective conscience as we grapple with how to protect our country from attack without violating the basic values of civilization -- the rule of law, striving to achieve our aims without corrupting them, and restraint in the use of power over others, especially when exercised in secret.
Meanwhile, the news keeps coming. Five of the Guantanamo prisoners were recently arraigned before a military commission for their role in the attacks. One of them is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who says he was the mastermind behind 9/11. He was waterboarded by interrogators 183 times. Pentagon officials predict it will be at least another year before the five go on trial.
Then there’s Mohammed al-Qahtani, the so-called “20th hijacker” who didn’t make it onto the planes. Lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights have filed suit in New York federal court to make public what they described as “extremely disturbing” videotapes of his interrogations. He remains in indefinite detention, as does Abu Zubaydah. Just this week a federal appeals court refused to release information on the interrogation methods the CIA used on Abu Zubaydah and other terrorist suspects.
As for John Yoo, the architect of the August 2002 memo that authorized waterboarding - he’s teaching law at the University of California, Berkeley and no doubt breathing easier after a recent appeals court rejected a lawsuit from American citizen Jose Padilla, who’s currently serving time for allegedly aiding terrorists. He accused John Yoo of giving the go-ahead for torture.
Two final thoughts: At our website, BillMoyers.com, we will link you to an excerpt from the documentary we produced a decade ago on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, where whites and blacks were struggling to confront the cruelty inflicted on human beings during apartheid:
RADIO HOST: It’s twelve minutes to seven. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission resumes public hearings.
WOMAN 1: They tortured him and cut off his hands. They shot him and blew him up.
MAN 1: We were lying on the floor and the police were really firing at us.
MAN 2: The act of opening the magazine was the detonating device for a bomb.
WOMAN 2: Pieces of human brains, all of it was scattered around.
MAN 3: I stepped over the bodies, reached my wife, saw that she had been shot.
DESMOND TUTU: We found that very, very many of those who came found the telling, just the telling, in a way, a very cathartic, a very healing thing. Because most of those who came are people who for almost all of their lives had been treated as non-entities.
BILL MOYERS: Seeing the film again caused me to wonder once more, as I often have, what might have resulted if after our own brutal civil war we had created a truth and reconciliation commission aimed at healing the deep wounds of slavery and slaughter. We’ll never know.
And perhaps you caught something said the other day by the president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff. She was held in prison and tortured repeatedly by the military dictators who ruled her country in the seventies and eighties. The state of Rio de Janeiro has announced it will officially apologize to her. Earlier, when she swore in members of a commission investigating the dictatorship, President Rousseff said: “We are not moved by revenge, hate or a desire to rewrite history. The need to know the full truth is what moves us."
That’s it for this week. See you next time.