Robert Scheer SI Podcast SI: Democracy & Media SI: Human Rights & Civil Rights

J. Wells Dixon: Why 7 U.S. Military Officers Just Blasted the CIA

Torture victim Majid Khan’s lawyer J. Wells Dixon joins Robert Scheer to discuss his client’s shocking testimony about the CIA’s so-called “enhanced interrogation tactics.”
An excerpt from the handwritten clemency letter the military jury submitted in Khan’s trial. Read the full letter here. [Screen shot / CCR Justice]

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For the first time since the Central Intelligence Agency began its post-9-11 torture operations, Americans got a glimpse into the heinous acts committed in their name last week. At the military court hearing of Majid Khan, the Guantanamo Bay detainee delivered shocking testimony to a jury made up of high-ranking military officials in which he detailed years of waterboarding, rape, forced feedings, and numerous other forms of physical and psychological torture at the hands of the CIA. Khan, a 41-year-old Pakistani man,  became an Al Qaeda operative in the early 2000s after graduating high school in Baltimore, Maryland, and tragically losing his mother. After being detained by the CIA in 2003, he was held for three horrific years at CIA black sites, after which he was transferred to Guantanamo Bay where his torture continued. 

J. Wells Dixon, a senior attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights
J. Wells Dixon, a senior attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. [Photo courtesy of J. Wells Dixon]

Although the U.S. public learned some details regarding the CIA torture program established after the 2001 attacks in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 2014 report, much of the more than 6,700 pages were either never released or heavily redacted. Khan’s detailed testimony, however, puts a face to one of the many victims of CIA torture and highlights just how brutal and inhumane the agency’s actions were. The New York Times reports that Khan “spoke about dungeon-like conditions, humiliating stretches of nudity with only a hood on his head, sometimes while his arms were chained in ways that made sleep impossible, and being nearly drowned intentionally in icy cold water in tubs at two sites, once while a CIA interrogator counted down from 10 before water was poured into his nose and mouth.” 

On this week’s episode of “Scheer Intelligence,” Khan’s lawyer J. Wells Dixon, a senior attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, joins Robert Scheer to discuss the implications of Khan’s testimony, which led the jury to describe his torture–which was unrefuted by the CIA–as “a stain on the moral fiber of America.” 

“There absolutely needs to be accountability [for CIA torture],” Dixon tells Scheer. “There is no question that [the CIA’s actions] constitute torture and there’s no question that torture is universally prohibited in all circumstances. The only open question is whether anyone will be held to account?” 

Listen to the full conversation between Dixon and Scheer as they discuss the details of Khan’s case and the total lack of accountability on CIA torture thus far. You can also read Khan’s full heartbreaking testimony here.


Robert Scheer

Joshua Scheer

Natasha Hakimi Zapata 

Lucy Berbeo 

RS: Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence, where the intelligence comes from my guests. And in this case it’s Wells Dixon, who is with the Center for Constitutional Rights. And they have been representing a prisoner on Guantanamo who finally got his day in court before a military tribunal and offered riveting testimony about how he had been tortured, treated, despite having given a confession, despite that not producing any information. 

And in one of those great, exceptional, heroic acts of American history, the military jurors—all officers in the Navy and the Army, and so forth—issued a compelling statement pleading, yes, he was sentenced for his original involvement with Al-Qaeda; we’ll go into that. But their rebuke of the American system is one of the strongest I’ve read anywhere at any time. And I’m quoting from it—this was written by military officers, they handwrote it; one of them, a captain in the Navy, handwrote it, and it was reprinted in some of the media, New York Times and others. And the statement said: 

Mr. Khan was subjected to physical and psychological abuse well beyond approved enhanced interrogation techniques, instead being closer to torture performed by the most abusive regimes in modern history. This abuse was of no practical value in terms of intelligence, or any other tangible benefit to U.S. interests. Instead, it is a stain on the moral fiber of America; the treatment of Mr. Khan in the hands of U.S. personnel should be a source of shame for the U.S. government.

Now, that is an incredible rebuke. And he is talking about the treatment of a prisoner that continued to be a prisoner, first under George Bush, who authorized this torture, but under Barack Obama, whose own inspector general could find no such evidence, and up to the present. So, really, introduce us to this case. I think it stands as, yes, a deep mark of shame, but it is something that will be studied for generations to come.

WD: Well, thanks for having me on the show, Bob. This letter from the military jury was nothing less than a repudiation of the CIA torture program. Majid Khan is a citizen of Pakistan who grew up in Baltimore, and he got involved with Al-Qaeda after 9/11, and was captured in 2003 and disappeared into the CIA torture program. He ended up in Guantanamo in 2006, where I met him, and to make a very long story short, pled guilty to certain crimes in 2012. He delayed his sentencing until last week so that he could cooperate with the U.S. government. 

And unlike an ordinary criminal case, where a defendant is sentenced by a judge, Majid was sentenced by a jury, which is unique to the system of military justice. This jury was comprised of eight senior military officers who saw Majid Khan as a human being; they saw him as a flawed human being, and they listened to what happened to him, to what he had done. They listened to his account of his torture in CIA detention, and they concluded that it was a moral stain on the United States. That what had happened to him was illegal, and that it was a source of utter shame for the United States. 

RS: Well, this is important, and if you hold back a little bit from the mic, we won’t—there’s a little bit of a clicking. But I want to get this straight. Because—tell us what happened to him and what he said in his statement. I’m going to run his whole statement connected with this so people can read it. But he actually made the charge of being raped by U.S. CIA agents. Of hanging from the wall for a week. Of being—I mean, describe what was done to this human being that so repelled these professional military officers, who are obviously concerned about the nation’s security. 

And again, this had nothing to do with getting usable information, which had certainly been obtained. And just put us there. What was done to this person? And this is all material that somehow is buried in the U.S. Senate intelligence report, which has never been released to us. It’s known to members of the House of Representatives, the intelligence report there; Congressman Adam Schiff from our own area; Dianne Feinstein, the senator from California, who is head of the intelligence committee. Thousands of people have actually had access to these reports. And his case is in the Senate intelligence report, but we learned about it now only because of his trial, right? 

WD: Well, Majid Khan’s torture was described to a limited extent in the Senate intelligence committee report. But what is historic about what happened last week is that Majid was able to speak for two hours about what had happened to him in CIA detention. And this is the first time that a former CIA detainee was able to speak in open court about his torture and abuse. 

And I think it’s important to understand the context here. I mean, by his own account, what Majid Khan told this military jury was that he led a relatively ordinary life as a teenager in Baltimore. He smoked weed, he had girlfriends, he tried to make it as a deejay. But after his mother died in April of 2001, his life spiraled out of control, and he was vulnerable, and he got involved with Al-Qaeda through his extended family in Pakistan. He ends up getting captured in March of 2003, and he disappears into the CIA torture program. That is, he disappears into this archipelago of secret black sites, where he experienced absolutely horrific torture. You know, he described to the jury how he was hung by his arms for a week. How he was beaten repeatedly. How he was submerged in ice water and then waterboarded. And how he suffered multiple instances of rape and sexual assault. 

This is described in his written statement, but what you can’t really get from the cold, hard page is the texture of his delivery in court, where he actually talked and kind of showed the jury how he was held down on his stomach and how he was raped by CIA officials. It was absolutely horrific, but it was an important, necessary step toward understanding the true depravity and illegality of the torture program. And, I would say, a small step toward accountability for what had happened to him. That is, the ability to say: I am a human being, this happened to me. That was important, because for many, many years to this point, neither Majid Khan nor other former CIA prisoners have been able to speak publicly in this way. 

It was a truly extraordinary experience, and I think you see from the jury’s verdict—that is, the sentence they imposed, which was essentially the minimum that they were allowed to impose, plus this letter that they wrote—this truly extraordinary letter that they wrote to the Pentagon officials who oversee the commission, saying Majid Khan deserves mercy because what happened to him was wrong, it was illegal, and it was a stain on the United States. 

RS: And not just a stain. They—you know, come on. We’ve been in the business of condemning governments all over the world, correctly, when they violate fundamental human rights of anybody, you know? We’re doing it right now with China and the Uyghurs; we do it all the time. Saudi Arabia, anyplace. 

And here is a case—and this is information, you know, buried in the Senate intelligence committee report, but we didn’t have access to the specifics. It’s something members of the House, a lot of people in the government know this; they know that CIA agents—CIA agents—raped this person, abused him in this way, year after year. And not him alone; this is probably typical of all the other people we haven’t heard from, and there’s been no accountability. None. And I have to mention John Yoo, who was the lawyer in the Bush administration who defended this whole program as valid. But taking it up even under the Obama administration, John Durham, who was the special prosecutor supposedly looking into things that have been wrong, and could not find any. 

So there’s been this curtain of silence around it. And yet you can—the CIA agents, they’ve never been held accountable. In fact, the only government official that I know of that’s been held accountable for the torture program is the CIA agent, ex-CIA agent John Kiriakou, who was successful in the apprehension of what was supposed to be the top Al-Qaeda person, but refused to participate and endorse the torture program; he went to prison for revealing it, for almost three years. None of these rapists in the CIA have been held accountable; presumably they’re still active duty, right? 

WD: I think what’s important to understand is that he had just barely begun to scratch the surface in terms of public accountability or understanding for what happened in the torture program. I mean, with every new revelation about what has happened, whether that’s the Senate intelligence committee report or Majid Khan’s testimony last week, we see that we are nowhere near the point that the public has a full or complete understanding of what happened. We have just begun to scratch the surface of understanding. 

So it is incumbent on our government and on us as members of the public to insist on greater transparency and, indeed, accountability. Because you are absolutely right: John Durham, who was appointed as a special assistant U.S. attorney at the end of the Bush administration and into the Obama administration, was appointed to investigate the destruction of video tapes of certain interrogations of detainees, and then his remit was expanded to look at other crimes—apparently found no basis to charge anyone with crimes arising from the CIA torture program. 

And it’s very hard—it’s actually impossible to reconcile with what we now hear from men like Majid Khan, who were raped and tortured and abused in the CIA torture program. Claims, I will add, that are not rebutted by the prosecution in Majid Khan’s case or otherwise disputed by the United States government. I think it’s a really important point to understand: that none of the things that Majid Khan says happened to him last week have been rebutted or contradicted or disputed by the United States government.

RS: He said last week in his testimony, which most of us of course couldn’t have access to. But he’s talking about events that went on for, what, 10 years? More?

WD: Majid Khan was held in the CIA torture program for over three years, and he was then transferred to Guantanamo in 2006, where his abuse continued, but in a different way. You know, while he was in CIA detention between 2003 and 2006, he was subject to all of the physical brutality that he described—the hanging, the beating, the waterboarding, the rape, the sexual assault. When he arrives at Guantanamo in 2006, he’s subject more to physical and mental abuse and torment. You know, he described it in his testimony as “death by a thousand paper cuts.” You know, the arbitrary enforcement of arbitrary rules, and petty indignities and abuse that continued day after day after day. You know, he gave an example to the jury of how when he arrived at Guantanamo the personnel at Guantanamo put rocks or stones into his food, right, as a way to torment him. This continued for a number of years. And the torment only ended after he agreed to plead guilty and to cooperate with U.S. officials.

RS: So what I’m trying to understand here is how do members of the legal profession—John Yoo is a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, in the law school. John Durham is, I guess, highly respected; I only learned about him through this. But these people are trained in law school, they generally go to the best—the president of the United States, Barack Obama, was head of the Harvard Law Review, and yet he somehow has passed on demanding an accountability. And we demand accountability all over the world from governments; we believe these are universal rights, these rights, not just for U.S. citizens. And he was the odd member of his family who wasn’t actually legally a U.S. citizen, but he certainly had been raised in a family of citizens here. 

But nonetheless, we believe these are universal human rights. We condemn China, Saudi Arabia, everybody for not—and correctly so—for not respecting these rights. And here, administration after administration says, well, it was bad, some say; some say it was necessary; some say it was good, like the Bush administration still holds to that. But nonetheless, there’s no sense really within the legal community, within our media or anything, about what these officers—I have to keep repeating what they said. This rises to the level of criminality of some of the worst regimes that have ever existed. Do you have that particular paragraph and what they wrote? I mean, this was serious stuff, no?

WD: It is serious stuff. And to your point about lawyers, I’m reminded of what William Kunstler, formerly of my organization, the Center for Constitutional Rights, said about the law: historically the law has been used to legalize and to justify things that are unjustifiable. So slavery, for example, was legal; Jim Crow was legal. And government lawyers like John Yoo tried to make torture, and the CIA torture program, legal. And you know, it is unfortunate that good lawyers use their skill to try to justify and approve things that are absolutely abhorrent. I think it’s important to remember torture, for example, is absolutely prohibited under all circumstances as a matter of universally accepted international law. 

But I’m not quick to condemn all lawyers. I mean, if there is a silver lining to Guantanamo and to the last 20 years, maybe it’s this: that when the Center for Constitutional Rights went to the private bar to recruit lawyers from private law firms, from law schools, from federal public defender offices around the country, hundreds of lawyers came forward to answer that call, and to represent men detained at Guantanamo, or men held in the CIA torture program, and to represent them zealously. And so there have been a lot of lawyers who have spent a significant part of their careers pushing back on these abuses, these injustices, and the cynical attempts to manipulate the law to make absolutely abhorrent things like rape and sexual assault legal. Right? 

And when I say to make them legal, I’m talking about legal as applied only to Muslim detainees, right? Because let’s be clear: Guantanamo is a prison that has only ever held people who are Muslim. The men who went into the CIA torture program were Muslim. And that is something that the Center for Constitutional Rights has absolutely challenged from day one, this idea that the United States government could create a law-free zone, or legalize torture, or set up a secondary system of justice for people who are Muslim. Right? It’s absolutely abhorrent. It’s something we’ve been fighting, and will continue to fight, for as long as we have to.

RS: And the irony here is at this very moment, from the president of the United States, Joe Biden, on down, the Chinese government has been condemned—and I think it’s correct to condemn the Chinese government for this—for their treatment of Muslims in a region of China. And for having this horrible double standard, where they lose all of the human rights protections that we think are universal. 

And again, I’m going to read—I want you to tell me about who wrote this note, and who they are, these people who signed it. But I’m going to read what they said, because every once in a while in our history, we have the people who stand up and say enough is enough. And these officers, I feel, did this, and tell us the circumstances. They wrote this, one of them by hand, and it was given to the media. But I just want to read the operative paragraph. They said, “Mr. Khan was subjected to physical and psychological abuse well beyond approved enhanced interrogation techniques, instead”—and this is the key sentence— “instead being closer to torture performed by the most abusive regimes in modern history.” 

Most abusive regimes—that’s Stalin, that’s Hitler. The most abusive regimes in modern history. And this was done by U.S. CIA agents who presumably are still U.S. CIA agents. No one has been held accountable. So tell us the circumstance. Who are these jurors? What was their professional experience? And how did they come to write this note, which I think needs to be put in the Smithsonian? 

WD: Well, the jurors are anonymous. And that is a unique feature of the military justice system. But what I can tell you is this, that they are all senior military officers, and simply by virtue of their seniority in the United States military, these are individuals who have spent a significant part of their career in the post-9/11 era. 

And what we see from them with this letter is an indictment of what has happened in the post-9/11 era. This is an absolute indictment of torture. And it is a repudiation of everything that has occurred in connection with Guantanamo and the CIA torture program. Right, these are individuals who recognize that whether lawyers like me or government lawyers agree that the U.S. Constitution applies outside of the United States—whether we agree on something like that, these individuals recognize that there has been a complete disregard for the foundational concepts on which the Constitution was founded, that is an affront to American values and the concept of justice. Those are the words that they used. 

And I think it speaks volumes to the importance of juries, right, because these are individuals with no experience, concerning no knowledge of Guantanamo, no prior involvement with Guantanamo or the CIA torture program. Because if they had such knowledge or involvement, they wouldn’t have been able to serve. These are people who were chosen to be fair and impartial, and they took a fair and impartial look at what Majid Khan said—which, again, was not challenged by the United States government—and they saw it, and they named it for what it is. Torture. Unacceptable. Anti-American. 

RS: Really of the most offensive quality. I mean, that’s the sentence that gets me. We’re not talking—and a consistent pattern, conducted by major officials and covered up. That’s what I want to get to. You pointed out that there is reference to this case, and this case is not, it’s by no means the only case—it’s just one that happened to finally get to trial. But you know, again, people don’t understand—we did finally, thanks to Dianne Feinstein’s persistence, we did actually get a redacted version of the introduction to this, what, five-year study of the torture program. We have not, in this land of the free, with a free media and accountability, been able to read that report, OK? They say, because it’ll rile up critics of America—well, the truth hurts. The truth has consequence, you know. 

But the fact of the matter is this case is known to every member of the Senate intelligence committee, their staffs, the people on the House intelligence committee who also read it. So people like Adam Schiff and Dianne Feinstein and others, elected officials, know that there are people in the CIA—and it was officially accepted and covered up by the CIA—who committed these atrocious acts, and they’re still in service. And the only person who got punished was John Kiriakou, who revealed the program. Am I overstating this? Is there another way of looking at this?

WD: The Senate report that was released in part, in highly redacted form, at the end of 2014, does talk about Majid Khan. And you know, it talks in particular about an incident in which CIA officials took food—what they referred to as his lunch tray—and they pureed it and forced it into his rectum, which is a form of rape by any reasonable definition. And you know, we heard from Majid Khan last week about additional instances in which these things happened. And there absolutely needs to be accountability, right? There has to be accountability for these actions. I mean, there’s no question that they constitute torture, and there’s no question that torture is universally prohibited in all circumstances. 

I think the only open question is whether anyone will be held to account. The first step in that process is to acknowledge what happened, and Majid Khan took a substantial step in that direction by talking to a jury directly about what had happened to him. What happens from here on out is up to the Biden administration, it’s up to members of Congress, to ensure that the people who did these things are indeed held accountable. 

RS: You know, let me ask you a broader question before we run out of time. One thing about the whole war on terror that caught my attention and didn’t get enough, I don’t think, notice by most of the media, is in the 9/11, the official 9/11 Commission report—and this was a commission picked at the suggestion of Congress, but decided by President Bush, and all of these people had high clearances, and they all had long public service. 

In their report, there’s a disclaimer. And they say the basic narrative—this is a sort of box in the middle of the report, I forget now the page—and they say this narrative that we have of what 9/11 meant, and how it happened, and what was the role of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others, and so forth—is all dependent upon information given to the 9/11 Commission by people involved in the interrogation, but passed on. We were not allowed to interview the prisoners, the key witnesses, they’re called. We were not allowed—this is the 9/11 Commission—we were not allowed to interview the people who interviewed the key witnesses. That would include the torturers, of course. But this was handed to us, basically, by the CIA. 

Now, you’ve spent, what, 15, 16 years now in this environment. To what degree have we had access to these key witnesses? Who they were, what they did, why they did it? You know, to learn from history, to get an accurate view. So we’re basically still dependent upon the narrative supplied by the CIA interrogators, torturers. But they themselves were not questioned, cross-examined in any way, by the 9/11 Commission. Is that not the essence of this? That you are actually now, for the first time we’re getting to hear from the key witnesses?

WD: I think the essence is actually worse than that. Because one of the things that Majid Khan talked about last week, when he was able to speak to the jury directly, is he talked about how he lied repeatedly to his CIA interrogators, right. He talked about how he lied to stop the torture. He talked about the, what was essentially a catch-22 situation, where when he’s detained by the CIA they torture him to get information from him; they think he has information, so they torture him. And he begins to lie to try to stop the torture, and when he lies and discloses lies to try to stop the torture, that makes them think that he has more information. And so he gets tortured again. It was an impossible situation. 

And you know, if you add on to that the military commission system, right—the military commission system has been going on and on and on for more than a decade at this point. And one of the features of the military commission system is that it has kept detainees like Majid Khan from being able to speak freely, right. The commission system, in one respect, was set up to preserve the status quo—that is, to keep people like Majid Khan under wraps. To prevent them from talking about what had happened to them, and thus to prevent accountability. So Majid Khan, and the fact that he was able to speak openly to the jury and to the public last week, was a very significant step. And I think if his case illustrates anything, it’s that it’s necessary for the world to hear from men like Majid Khan directly if you want to know what they did, whey they did it, what happened to them, and what they hope for the future. 

I mean, take, for example, the 9/11 case. If you really want to know what happened leading up to 9/11, you’re only going to get that information from those who are at least allegedly responsible for those attacks, right. If you want to know, for example, what was the involvement of this person or that government or whatever—you’re only going to get that from hearing from these individuals. You’re not going to get it from reporting by the CIA or others about what was said during the torture program. That’s just not the way it works. Torture is not a means to obtain reliable, accurate information. Torture is about punishment, it’s about debasement. It’s about revenge. And it’s ultimately about the dehumanization of these men who were held in the CIA torture program. That’s what torture is about. Torture is not about getting accurate, reliable information. It just isn’t. 

RS: Well, the important thing about getting information, the reason for the 9/11 Commission, is we’ve developed policy, foreign policy, wars; we’ve gone to war in Iraq, in Afghanistan, extended it into Syria and totally destabilized the place, overthrew the government in Libya, et cetera, et cetera. Huge military expenditures, all based on a narrative: what happened in 9/11. And any cursory examination of it to this day—and I’m not talking about the wilder theories, or conspiracies, what have you; just any ordinary thing. If you were to ask, well, how come 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia? And what did that mean, and what was the relation of the government of Saudi Arabia to it? And the guy who paid for it all was formerly highly respected, his family highly respected, Osama bin Laden, in Saudi Arabia. What motivated them, what was the Saudi connection? We have learned nothing that I know of. 

And the 9/11 Commission’s narrative doesn’t really enlighten. Who were the other four? Didn’t some of them, weren’t they planning to go fight the Russians in Chechnya? They were diverted. What was it all about, what was their relation to the Taliban, which is now back in power in Afghanistan after the longest war? And these people know. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who—by the way, formerly a student at I guess North Carolina, of engineering, didn’t seem very unhappy in America, somehow he’s the mastermind—who really were these people? Who were they reporting to? What was it all about? We don’t know. Now, you’ve been—the reason I’m pushing you is because you’ve been in the midst of this now, right, for 16 years. And to what degree, by the way, could you talk to this client of yours? To what degree have you had access to any of the other prisoners, who clearly would know a lot more than your client, who was a rather minor connection? 

WD: Well, Majid Khan was brought to Guantanamo in September of 2006. And we filed a legal case almost immediately upon the president’s announcement that he’d been brought to Guantanamo. And we tried to get access to him, and the government kept us away from him for a year. And they said in their court filings that simply giving Majid Khan access to counsel—to me—would endanger the national security of the United States, because he might tell us what he knows about what had happened to him. 

And we fought the government for a year in court to get access to him, and eventually we were successful, and I met with him for the first time in October of 2007. And he was at that point able to speak freely with me about everything that had happened to him. What I was not able to do was to then take that information and make it public. I was subject, as his counsel, to a number of security restrictions that prevented me from talking to anyone—except for him, and except the federal court where we had filed his legal case. 

And what happened over time is that information about the CIA torture program, and about Mr. Khan in particular, began to be declassified slowly, right. And so information would start to come out through this declassification process. And you know, that culminated in the Senate intelligence committee report at the end of 2014 that came out in a limited, very limited way, but yet had a lot of information about Mr. Khan. And you know, the information has continued to come out in sort of dribs and drabs, and really culminated ultimately in Mr. Khan’s statement last week. 

But again, we’re just scratching the surface here in terms of public understanding about what’s happened to men like Majid Khan and the CIA torture program, right. To—you know, at the risk of mixing metaphors, if the CIA torture program is an iceberg, we’re only looking at what’s above the water line at this point, right. We are nowhere near public understanding about the depth of depravity of the program overall. And the military commission system at Guantanamo was, in the view of many, set up to preserve that paradigm. That is, to continue to hold men like Majid Khan incommunicado so they couldn’t talk about what had happened to them, right? So to prevent any sort of accountability. 

And again, that’s why Mr. Khan’s two-hour statement last week to the jury was so significant and historic, because it was the first time that someone in his position was able to say, you know, this happened to me. I’m a human being, and this happened to me. And then the government not disputing it, not challenging it. It was remarkable. And hopefully, hopefully it will pave the way for other men, at some point, to talk about what happened to them.

RS: Well, you know, the loss also—I mean, yes, people tortured obviously suffered unspeakable crimes. But if we get back to one of the compelling reasons for public trials, for transparency in every aspect of our lives, is to learn why things happen—why bad things happen—and then have sound policy. And in this case, you learn why did this basically, at one point, happy American teenager, and then quite effective in working, I guess, in what’s now the Silicon Valley environment of computers and so forth, with personal tragedy, end up turning to an extremist interpretation of religion, and end up being caught up in this, and a very minor player in that respect. But we’d also like to learn, who were the major figures, and what did they think? At this point, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has been waterboarded I think 183 times or something. You know, who knows what’s left of even his thought process. How did bin Laden break with the Saudi government? He after all had been quite respected. What’s the politics behind this? 

So trillions of dollars and lives have been lost and everything else, in pursuit of a war on terror that is built on a narrative that may not have any accuracy at all as to what was the enemy. You know, it’s almost Orwellian, in the creation of the enemy that we find convenient. You know, at some point the people who were in Pakistan and in Afghanistan, the so-called terrorists, were brought there, many of them by U.S. policy, to fight the Soviets originally. Certainly bin Laden was one of them. 

So what I’m suggesting is not just the crime of the tortures against the individuals who are tortured, but how it destroys our ability to know what is going on. It’s a crime against the right of the American public to be informed about what happens, what goes wrong, and what to do about it. It’s a violation, a fundamental violation of the democratic process, it seems to me, and that transparency, open public trials where people get defended by lawyers of their choice, is critical to not being deceived by your government. Isn’t that the big issue here?

WD: It is. And I think it’s important to remember, certainly when we’re talking about Guantanamo, that Guantanamo was chosen specifically because it was thought to be a place entirely outside the law. It was chosen by the United States government as a place to detain men who were captured in the so-called war on terror, where they could be held for as long as the government wanted, under whatever circumstances it wanted, without any outside interference. Guantanamo was supposed to be a law-free zone, and that is fundamentally anti-democratic. Now, the CIA torture program was Guantanamo on steroids, right. It took the idea of a law-free zone to unimaginable heights. Majid Khan talked about this in his statement, when interrogators said to him essentially, son, we’re going to take you to a place you can’t even imagine. And they were right: he couldn’t imagine it. When I first heard about it from him, I couldn’t imagine it. But it happened, it’s real. These things happened to Majid Khan.

RS: And they happened to—clearly, from what we know of the Senate intelligence committee report, it happened to people who had no connection with Al-Qaeda. No connection with any terrorist threat to the United States. The torturers were kind of indifferent to the level of culpability of the people being tortured, evidently. 

And one almost has to think of it as a sadistic ritual endorsed by our government. Really, and the statement of these military officers on the jury is quite clear—this had nothing to do with national security. This had to do with primitive urges, of revenge and hostility and contempt, for other human beings. Right? And then to cloak it in national security and making us safer, when in fact it led to false information and stupid policies, dangerous policies like the drone policy, which creates more terrorists—it’s like the original reason people like bin Laden were drawn to Afghanistan, because it was another adventure, fighting the Soviets again. We’re not going to visit that one. 

I want to thank you—I could go on, obviously—Wells Dixon, a truly courageous attorney who has devoted much effort to this thing. Will you please give us the website again where people can learn more about this, and maybe get involved with your organization to some degree, to learn more, or to you? 

WD: Yes, I would encourage all of your listeners to read Majid Khan’s written statement, and to read the letter that the jury wrote recommending clemency. These documents and others are available on our website at 

RS: All right, And you know, this is something you can learn about. I’ll do my best to get the documents published. But you know, they’re available; that’s the good thing about the internet, you don’t have to be in ignorance about this. And then, you know, you can maybe raise questions with the people that you have voted for: Why aren’t we learning more about this? When will we read the Senate intelligence committee report? I do congratulate Senator Dianne Feinstein for at least getting it preserved. Do you happen to know how many copies of that report actually exist? I hear there may be as few as 10 or 12.

WD: I don’t know how many copies still exist. During the prior administration, my understanding is that a number of the agencies returned their copies to the intelligence committee. But there have been some court orders entered mandating preservation of the report. So copies of the report exist; they’re subject to protection of court orders, and certainly can be made available to the public if the intelligence committee so chooses.

RS: So remember, you know, when we think of any totalitarian regime, the destruction of evidence, of culpability, that’s what we mean: totalitarian, you can control the total environment. And we do know that the videotapes of the original tortures and so forth were largely destroyed, and we also know that the person who ordered that destroying was appointed to be the head of the CIA as a kind of reward. So let’s hope that the torture report will be preserved, and that maybe some people might actually ask this administration to finally release it. But that’s, you know, those are the questions, that’s the pressure that needs to be pushed if you want to have the transparency that a democracy requires. 

I want to thank you again, and I want to thank Christopher Ho at KCRW, the excellent FM station in Santa Monica, for getting these things posted. Joshua Scheer, who found our guest today and is our executive producer. Natasha Hakimi Zapata, who does the introductions and edits overall. And Lucy Berbeo, who does the transcription. See you next week with another edition of Scheer Intelligence. 

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