This is a drawing of a locked box which a Libyan man says U.S. interrogators once stuffed him into. It’s said to be about three feet long on each side. Only once during his two years in detention was the detainee put in the box; his confinement there lasted over an hour. The circles are small holes, into which his interrogators “prodded him with long thin objects.”
It wasn’t the only box that the CIA allegedly placed him inside. Another was a tall, narrow box, less than two feet wide, with handcuffs at the top. The detainee, Mohammed Ahmed Mohammed al-Shoroeiya, says he was placed into that one with his hands elevated and suspended by the handcuffs, for a day and a half, naked, with music blasting into his ears constantly through speakers built into the box. A different detainee describes being placed into a similar box for three days and being left with no choice but to urinate and defecate on himself.
Getting shoved into those boxes was only the start of Shoroeiya’s woes. The CIA would later deliver him and at least four others into the hands of the Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who further brutalized them for opposing his regime. Accordingly, a new Human Rights Watch report telling the stories of those detainees strips away a euphemism in the war on terrorism: how the CIA says it holds its nose and “works with” unsavory regimes. ”It can’t come as a surprise that the Central Intelligence Agency works with foreign governments to help protect our country from terrorism and other deadly threats,” spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood told the Wall Street Journal. What may indeed come as a surprise is what that actually means in practice, as recounted by at least five Libyan ex-detainees Human Rights Watch interviewed.
Media reports on Thursday morning understandably focused on what Human Rights Watch called “credible allegations” of waterboarding by CIA officials, since the U.S. has only ever acknowledged waterboarding three detainees. But what Human Rights Watch has uncovered in Libya tells a broader story. It’s a story about how repressive governments used the war on terrorism to get the U.S. to deliver their political opponents to their custody. It was as easy as calling them terrorists — which was enough for the U.S. to play along.