Dscharged US army private Damien Corsetti has described the “morally unacceptable” cases of physical and psychological torture he says he witnessed as an interrogator at the prisons of Bagram in Afghanistan and Abu-Ghurayb in Iraq. Speaking in an interview with a Spanish paper, he said the vast majority of the individuals he questioned in the course of his duties “had nothing to do with either the Taleban or Al-Qa’idah” and that while he never took part in acts of abuse, many were tortured “to make them suffer, not to get information out of them”. The following is the text of the report on the interview with Corsetti published by the Spanish popular liberal newspaper El Mundo website on 10 December; subheading as published:
Fairfax (Virginia): Damien Corsetti looks at me with his small eyes and says: “Look, they leave us alone in this room, they give me a roll of duct tape to tie you to the chair, I turn off the light and in five hours you sign a piece of paper for me saying that you’re Usamah Bin-Ladin”.
It is a Thursday night. Damien Corsetti - who, according to The New York Times was nicknamed “The King of Torture” and “The Monster” by his colleagues at Bagram prison, in Afghanistan - is sitting down having a glass of wine in a French restaurant in Fairfax, on the outskirts of Washington. Four days ago, this US private arrived on the outskirts of Washington from North Carolina, where he had been living since September 2006, when he was discharged from the army following a trial in which he was found not guilty of the charges of dereliction of duty, maltreatment, assault and performing indecent acts with prisoners at Bagram.
Now, Corsetti - who was also under investigation in the Abu-Ghurayb torture case - only wants to put his life “in order”. It is a difficult task. Because first he will have to forget the torture to which he says he was a witness in Afghanistan of prisoners such as Al-Qa’idah leader Omar al-Faruq. “The cries, the smells, the sounds are with me. They are things that stay with you forever”, he recalls.
Corsetti arrived in Afghanistan on 29 July 2002. He was a military intelligence soldier, not an interrogator. “But the army needed reliable interrogators, because most interrogators do not meet security requirements. They are not reliable. So we arrived there”. A five-hour course in Afghanistan and, at 22, Corsetti began trying to extract information from the prisoners in the jail - prisoners who, in his opinion, “in 98 per cent of cases had nothing to do with either the Taleban or Al-Qa’idah”.
That is how Corsetti found himself interrogating prisoners at the jail. Many of them were people who had nothing to do with (George W.) Bush’s war on terror, like his first prisoner, whose name he still remembers: Khan Zara. “He was a peasant and grew opium. But he was there three months until he told us. Do you know how I found out. Because of his hands. His hands were full of calluses. Those are not the hands of a terrorist”.
Other prisoners include a farmer who had put mines on his land to kill his neighbour, with who he had a long-standing family dispute, and an Afghan who had bombs in his house to fish in the river. They were people like Dilawar, a taxi driver detained in 2002 who had nothing to do with the Taleban and who died after four days of beatings from US soldiers.
Because Bagram is a very tough prison. “Each prisoner has in his cell a carpet measuring 1.2 m by 2.5 m. And they spend 23 hours a day sat on it, in silence. If they speak, they are chained to the ceiling for 20 minutes and black visors are put on them so they can’t see and protectors are put on their ears so they can’t hear. They are taken down to the basement once a week, in groups of five or six, to shower them. It’s done to drive them crazy. I almost went crazy”, recalls Corsetti. Apart from those normal cells, in the basement of the prison there are six isolation cells, plus two rooms for who the former soldier describes as “special guests”.
But Bagram has an underworld in which the CIA tortures the leaders of Al-Qa’idah. “One day I went to an interrogation session and as soon as I arrived I knew that it was not a normal case. There were civilians, among them a doctor and a psychiatrist. The prisoner was called Omar al-Faruq, an Al-Qa’idah leader in Asia who had been brought to the prison by one of those agencies”, recalls Corsetti. “I don’t want to go into details because it could be very negative for my country, but he was brutally beaten - daily. And tortured by other methods. He was a bad man, but he didn’t deserve that”. Al-Faruq escaped from Bagram in action which, according to some, was tolerated by the USA and was killed in April 2006 by the British in the Iraqi city of Basra.
Corsetti says that he never took part in the torture. “My sole job was to sit there and make sure the prisoner didn’t die. But there were several times when I thought they were about to die, when they were interrogated by those people who have no name and who work for no-one in particular. It’s incredible what a human being can take”. A resistance similar to that of the memory of those torture sessions. Because Corsetti, a veteran of two wars, says: “I have seen people die in combat. I shot at people. That is not as bad as seeing someone tortured. Al-Faruq looked at me while they tortured him and I have that look in my head. And the cries, the smells, the sounds, they are with me all the time. It is something I can’t take in. The cries of the prisoners calling for their relatives, their mother. I remember one who called for God, for Allah, all the time. I have those cries here, inside my head”.
“In Abu-Ghurayb and Bagram they were tortured to make them suffer, not to get information out of them”. And the fact is that at times the torture had no other goal that “to punish them for being terrorists. They tortured them and didn’t ask them anything”. That is the case of the practice known as “the submarine”: to simulate the drowning of the prisoner. “They have them hooded and they pour water on them. That makes it very difficult to breath. I think you can’t die with the submarine. I certainly never saw anyone die. However, they do cough like crazy because they are totally submerged in water and that gets on their lungs. Perhaps what it can give you is serious pneumonia”. The civilians who took part in the interrogations used the submarine whenever they wanted. They gave it to them for five or 10 minutes and didn’t ask anything”.
Other torture included using extreme cold and heat. “I remember one of my prisoners trembling with cold. His teeth wouldn’t stop chattering. I put a blanket on him and then another, and another, and his teeth never stopped chattering, never stopped. You could see that man was going to die of hypothermia. But the doctors are there so that they don’t die, so as to be able to torture them one more day”. At other times, “they put them under blinding lights that worked mechanically, giving out flashes”.
“They are going to kill your children”
An important subject was that of psychological torture, administered by psychiatrists. “They tell them they are going to kill their children, rape their wives. And you see on their faces, in their eyes, the terror that that causes them. Because, of course, we know all about those people. We know the names of their children, where they live - we show them satellite photos of their houses. It is worse than any torture. That is not morally acceptable under any circumstances. Not even with the worst terrorist in the world”, says Corsetti, before adding: “Sometimes, we put one of our women (female US military personnel) in burqas and we made them walk through the interrogation rooms and we told them: ‘That is your wife’. And the prisoner believed it. Why wouldn’t they! We had those people going without sleep for a whole week. After two or three days with no sleep, you believe anything. In fact, it was a problem. The interpreters couldn’t understand what they were saying. The prisoners were having hallucinations. Because, of course, this is not like if you or me go three days without sleep when we’re partying. I’ve gone five days without sleep when I’ve been partying. But this is different. You’re in a cell where they let you sleep only a quarter of an hour every now and then. With no contact with the outside world. Without seeing sunlight. Like that, a days seems like a week. Your mental capacity is destroyed”.
In the opinion of Corsetti, the only thing his experience as an interrogator taught him “is that torture doesn’t work. One thing is losing your temper and punching a prisoner, another is to commit these acts of brutality. In Bagram we managed to find out about an Al-Qa’idah plan to blow up dozens of oil tankers across the world. We smashed the plot so well that they only managed to attack one, the French oil tanker Limburgh, in Yemen in October 2002. And we managed to get a guy to tell us without laying a finger on him”.
(Description of Source: Madrid El Mundo (Internet Version-WWW) in Spanish — independent national daily)