Talking Points

The CIA tortured this man. Americans should hear what he has to say.

It's not news that the CIA tortured Majid Khan — that much has been known publicly since a 2014 Senate report on the agency's brutal practices in the war on terror. But when Khan spoke Thursday before a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, it was the first time a terror detainee officially testified about their treatment at the hands of Americans at CIA black sites. What he had to say was horrifying.

Here is some of what American agents and their proxies did to Khan: They beat him. They stripped him naked and deprived him of food. They deprived him of sleep so long he began to have waking hallucinations. They threatened to rape his sister. They dunked him in ice water so he felt like he was drowning, a form of "waterboarding" without the board. They force fed him during hunger strikes. They inserted green garden hoses into his anus to force food and water into his bowels "to make it appear like I had eaten, digested food, and used the toilet"  — a practice described in the Senate report as "involuntary rectal feeding and rectal hydration."

"They sexually assaulted me several times," Khan said. "This was not done as part of an interrogation, but as punishment for my noncompliant behaviors." 

Khan, a native of Pakistan who grew up in Maryland, is no innocent: He long ago pleaded guilty to being a member of al Qaeda, and his activities included aiding the deadly 2003 bombing of a Marriott Hotel in Indonesia and a failed assassination attempt on then-Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf.  But torture is wrong and illegal under both U.S. law and the international Convention Against Torture. It also doesn't work to elicit useful information from terror suspects. Khan has spent most of the last decade cooperating with American officials, but that help became truly useful only after the torture ended, after he had access to attorneys and the courts. His counterproductive torture often seems to have been cruelty for cruelty's sake.

"Whenever I was being tortured, I told them what they wanted to hear. I lied to make the abuse stop," Khan testified. But "the more I cooperated, the more I was tortured." 

Americans went crazy after 9/11. That's understandable, perhaps, but it means few of us pushed back when, in the days after the attacks, then-Vice President Dick Cheney said the country would work on "the dark side." What was done to Khan was done in our names, ostensibly to protect us. The least we can do is refuse to look away.