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The Psychological Impact Of The US Torture Program

A new in-depth report confirms that a North Carolina-based company “played an absolutely central role in the CIA’s torture program.” After an 18-month investigation, the North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture identified 49 people who were taken on so-called “torture flights” by North Carolina-based aviation companyAero Contractors, Ltd., a private aviation company operating out of Johnston County. 

The report concludes that the company facilitated these flights and delivered detainees to black sites where many received further enhanced interrogation approved by a post-9/11 administration. The report also details the abuses suffered by the detainees and the lingering psychological impacts on survivors’ health. It also points to the need for greater accountability from federal and state officials for their involvement in this program.

Host Frank Stasio is joined by two experts to review the report "Torture Flights: North Carolina's Role in the CIA Rendition and Torture Program,” which was released in September. Joe Margulies, a professor of law and government at Cornell University, talks about his work representing detainee Abu Zubaydah. Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times in CIA custody, according to the report, and still remains at Guantanamo Bay. Katherine Porterfield joins the conversation to talk about the psychological impact of the CIA torture program. Porterfield is a senior psychologist at Bellevue Hospital in New York City who has worked for the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture since 1999 and interviewed some of the detainees.


Joseph Margulies on the torture his client Abu Zubaydah endured:

He’s the only guy who was subjected to the entire catalogue of the “enhanced interrogations” as well as quite a number not authorized — in addition to the waterboard … He was also kept awake for seven consecutive days and nights, suspended from hooks in the ceiling, and doused with cold water to keep from falling asleep. He was crammed into boxes. One box was about the size of the space underneath a dining room chair.


Margulies on why Zubaydah received such harsh treatment:

At the time, they believed that Abu Zubaydah was a senior al-Qaida figure with close associations to Osama bin Laden and that he had participated in the planning for all of al-Qaida’s operations. And that he had a particular expertise in resisting interrogations … [However] he didn’t know the information [they were] seeking because he wasn’t the person they thought he was.  

Porterfield on how the CIA torture program victims’ symptoms differ from other torture victims:

I’ve seen something else in these men that is sort of different than what I see at my work at Bellevue where we deal with folks coming out of war zones and prisons all around the world. And that is what I think of as a real psychic damage to them done by the severity of what the torture program was and the intentionality of it … For such extended periods of time, [they were] abused by such a powerful, powerful set of forces.

Porterfield on the impact of being interrogated by a world power:

What I saw in these situations that came out of the U.S. program were the consequences were coming out of the experience of having the most powerful government in the world train all of its resources and all of its organizational capacity against you. So, it’s a very long reach — very deep coffers, many actors. And these men knew that. They felt the power of what was coming at them, and they also felt the fact that these actors would stop at nothing to harm them. And that they were really going to be destroyed.


Margulies on the lack of accountability for the torture program:

The existence of the program has been widely acknowledged … There’s a great deal that’s already in the public record. The government insists that it’s all still a state secret and that bars litigation about it. And as long as the courts are prepared to accept that, and as long as there’s no meaningful other process by which we might achieve transparency or accountability … then they get away with it — not because they have a legal right, but because they can.  

Dana is an award-winning producer who began as a personality at Rock 92. Once she started creating content for morning shows, she developed a love for producing. Dana has written and produced for local and syndicated commercial radio for over a decade. WUNC is her debut into public radio and she’s excited to tell deeper, richer stories.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.
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