The big issue: Sparing country [redacted]
In 2002, in the wake of the 9/11 terrorism and US military pushback, the CIA opened a secret facility in central Thailand. The agency brought two high-level al-Qaeda operatives, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, to the site and launched a new programme of "enhanced interrogation" techniques on them including physical assault and waterboarding, distressing many US officials.
Within the year, the waterboarding headquarters in Thailand closed, many records were destroyed and the US moved its rendition operations to other places, especially Poland.
All of the above has been well known for several years, but there are both important and nagging details yet to be learned. Last week, after months of haggling, some US senators released a massively censored report on the CIA's interrogation tactics that contained, in 518 pages, less information about the Thailand operation than the first two paragraphs above.
That doesn't mean there was nothing to the book-length summary of the 6,700-page Study of the Central Intelligence Agency's Detention and Interrogation Programme written by the Democratic Party's members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. It had lots of detail and succeeded, at least in the short run, in vilifying the country and its government.
The details in the report describe how CIA agents handled high- and mid-level terrorist detainees that it took to safe houses that sprouted after the "success" of Detention Site Green, the nickname of the one never identified as in Thailand.
It is unpleasant reading. It also is familiar to anyone who has followed the story of "enhanced interrogation" and the allegations of torture. The waterboards, the loud music, the slaps and punches and psychological brutality — there is plenty of detail on all of it and more.
If anything, the report seems to want to prove that the United States is a terrible country — politically, morally, ethically, legally.
The physical assaults and mental mind games amount to what many would call torture.
Weirdly, though, "many" does not include the report's authors. While they quote opinions that the CIA tortured captives, they don't conclude themselves that any torture was involved. The report does not even state that the infamous act of waterboarding is actually torture.
While the report sold newspapers and soap, it also provided hypocrisy that stretched from the US senate itself all around the world. China and Russia kept straight faces in explaining that the report proves America's horribleness.
The most telling — or damning — part of the report is not found in any of the shocking details. Rather, it's what is not there. There's not a single recommendation meant to prevent this from happening again. And also, both President Barack Obama and his Attorney-General Eric Holder explicitly promised there will be no persecution or prosecution of anyone involved.
Most disappointingly of all, what isn't there is any detail previously unknown about what the report calls "Country [redacted]", the one we call Thailand.
Save your time. You will search in vain for a mention of Thailand and waterboarding on the same page. There is no explanation of how Thailand became the Chosen Country for the great waterboarding experiment, a torture almost never used by US forces before 9/11.
Where was the Detention Site Green? There is not a clue in the report, although it is known to be in central Thailand.
There is no mention of whether then-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra knew about the CIA prison-interrogation chamber. It is doubtful Thaksin was informed before the chicken wire was strung around the first US waterboarding centre in history. Thailand supposedly was chosen as the host of the black site because of just how very close CIA men and women were with the Thai intelligence community — not because of historic diplomatic snugglies.
Last week, we learned nothing that confirmed or reported otherwise. Unlike the US, Thailand displayed the traditional foreign policy of acting in its own interest, not against it.
Suwaphan Tanyuvardhana, the Prime Minister's Office Minister serving as chief of the National Intelligence Agency, said he had no idea what the Americans were on about. There is no secret CIA jail in Thailand. Or torture. The whole issue "is an internal affair of the United States. Thailand has nothing to do with it." The Foreign Ministry was instructed to write to the US government and find out about all this nonsense in the newspapers.
And that's how you do self-protective diplomacy.
So if you want to make a name for yourself, just prove that "Country [redacted]" is Thailand. If you can do that, then the report proves that Thailand happily hosted the CIA's black site where tortu ... er, enhanced interrogation took place for about a year and at least two al-Qaeda members beta-tested the then-new waterboarding project for the US spooks.
Otherwise, about the role played by Thailand in the 2002 enhanced interrogation programme, you've got nothing.
Online Reporter / Sub-Editor
A Canadian by birth. Former Saigon's UPI bureau chief. Drafted into the American Armed Forces. He has survived eleven wars and innumerable coups. A walking encyclopedia of knowledge.