by David Edwards and Stephen Webster
May 15, 2009
A human rights researcher said Friday that any investigation into abuse of
terror war prisoners should focus on what he called the Bush
administration’s “homicides” — prisoners who died while being subjected to
John Sifton, a private investigator with
One World Research, appearing on
Democracy Now with host Amy Goodman, said that up to 100 terror war
prisoners have died in U.S. custody, many of whom were clearly murdered,
some by way of torture.
“A review of homicide cases, however, shows
that few detainee deaths have been properly investigated,” he noted in a
feature story for The Daily Beast.
“Many were not investigated at all.
And no official investigation has looked into the connection between
detainee deaths and the interrogation policies promulgated by the Bush
Senate torture hearings have examined the
effectiveness of enhanced interrogation techniques, but Sifton feels this is
the wrong focus.
“Those are the wrong debates to be having
right now,” Sifton said.
“We knew that up to a hundred detainees had
died in US custody in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we had published this
information previously. But I brought it up again, because I feel like
the debate right now about torture is missing the point,” he said.
“These aggressive techniques were not just limited to the high-value
detainee program in the CIA. They spread to the military with disastrous
results. They led to the deaths of human beings. And when there’s a
corpse involved, when there’s a dead body involved, you can’t just have
a debate about policy differences and looking forward or looking
“…[Four] years since the first known death in U.S. custody, only 12
detainee deaths have resulted in punishment of any kind for any U.S.
official,” found Human Rights Now in a 2006 report on terror war
“Of the 34 homicide cases so far identified by the military,
investigators recommended criminal charges in fewer than two thirds, and
charges were actually brought (based on decisions made by command) in
less than half. While the CIA has been implicated in several deaths, not
one CIA agent has faced a criminal charge. Crucially, among the worst
cases in this list – those of detainees tortured to death – only half
have resulted in punishment; the steepest sentence for anyone involved
in a torture-related death: five months in jail.”
Barack Obama and the mainstream
media tangled over whether photos of abused prisoners would be released,
Sifton said he believes the most vital element still yet to be made public
are the CIA’s operational cables.
“These are operational cables showing the
interrogations’ methodologies, what was approved, who knew about them,
showing the notes of meetings in the White House between the principals
group, people like Condoleezza Rice, John Ashcroft, Donald Rumsfeld,” he
“These are important documents. I mean, the photographs
are important, because they show viscerally what happened, but the memos
show who ordered what happened to happen.”
Amazingly, Sifton actually went on to name a CIA
interrogator believed responsible for the death of Manadel al-Jamadi, a
prisoner who was suffocated to death by hanging.
“And that’s an interesting death, because
that was a case where the CIA inspector general referred the case to the
Department of Justice for prosecution, possible prosecution, and yet the
Department of Justice never took any action,” said Sifton.
“The name of
the CIA interrogator in that case is actually publicly known: Mark Swanner. [...] And he’s, for all I know, still walking around in the
United States, even though he is implicated in this homicide.”
John Sifton: Torture Investigation Should Focus on
Est. 100 Prisoner Deaths
Democracy Now 5/14/09