Most Republicans seem to believe that terrorists still suck their fingers and live in the moon; also that ‘The Birth of a Nation’ was a documentary, that the war against the Islamic fundamentalist insurgency is as easy as riding with John Wayne, slapping the ashamed colored little crooks and thus restoring the holy order broken by those insolent blacks or Mexicans (‘Mexicans’: Any colored person who is not black; also known as Arab. Cf. ‘NumbersUSA’s Dictionary of the Perfect Undercover Racist’). They also believe that Santa Claus came to vote for Mitt Romney in last year Republican primaries. The problem is that this willing ignorance could end up costing real lives in the real world.
This entry is about the myths, stupidities and sad results of the use of torture as a source of information. As always, I try to not repeat what others have already written or said.
This entry is dedicated to Nightprowlkitty.
- First I am not going to engage in the moral discussion of torture because others have made this better than what I could. On this end I am just going to quote Keith Olbermann’s two special comments:
a) In the special comment of November 5 of 2007, Olbermann, while commenting the case of Daniel Levin, the prosecutor fired by the Bush administration who tested waterboarding in himself and then denounced it as torture, said:
"Ultimately, Mr. Bush, the real question isn't who approved the waterboarding of this fiend Khalid Sheik Mohammed and two others.
It is: Why were they waterboarded?
Study after study for generation after generation has confirmed that torture gets people to talk, torture gets people to plead, torture gets people to break, but torture does not get them to tell the truth.
Now if that's what this is all about, you tortured not because you're so stupid you think torture produces confession but you tortured because you're smart enough to know it produces really authentic-sounding fiction — well, then, you're going to need all the lawyers you can find ... because that crime wouldn't just mean impeachment, would it?"
(In http://www.msnbc.msn.com/... and http://www.msnbc.msn.com/...)
b) From Special comment of 04/16/09:
"The end. This must not be. "It is our intention," you said today, "to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution." Mr. President, you are making history's easiest, most often made, most dangerous mistake -- you are accepting the defense that somebody was "just following orders." At the end of his first year in office, Mr. Lincoln tried to contextualize the Civil War for those who still wanted to compromise with evils of secession and slavery. "The struggle of today," Lincoln wrote, "is not altogether for today. It is for a vast future also."
Mr. President, you have now been handed the beginning of that future. Use it to protect our children and our distant descendants from anything like this ever happening again -- by showing them that those who did this, were neither unfairly scapegoated nor absolved. It is good to say "we won't do it again." It is not, however...enough."
- The Birth of a Nation was the infamous movie that pictured the Klan as a group of brave vigilantes that protected white women against the lust and treachery of black soldiers after the Civil War. Even Woodrow Wilson complimented this movie. It was the moment in which the Klan got its biggest membership and its twisted believes were shared by an important part of the mainstream. At the culminant moment of the movie, you see Errol Flynn saving a white woman from the lust of a black soldier, to whom Flynn slaps and humiliates. The black soldier falls ashamed to the floor, as illegal immigrants are supposed to fall ashamed to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s feet (http://www.dailykos.com/...). In this kind of movies, this is the moment when the villain confesses and thus the truth is revealed. Whoever thinks he can apply this same line of reasoning to real terrorists, plays with fire.
You may say "You again with your racism and immigration thing". Ok, tell me how many at the Right would have agreed to apply torture to Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols or any other member of the far Right despite the memo issued by the Department of Homeland Security (http://www.fas.org/...) despite the increasing numbers and the increasing paranoia of these groups? Beyond right and left, the most wanted domestic terrorist nowadays is an animal rights activist. How many at the right has even suggested torturing him "to save lives"? How many at the right have even suggested that physical or psychological could be an acceptable way of saving lives or patrimony in their war against abortion, environmentalists and unions? If they really believe in their apocalyptic tales, how many have demanded the torture of John Walker Lindh, also known as the American Taliban? How many at the right have said that the above mentioned public humiliations and abuses committed by Sheriff Arpaio are unacceptable despite their support for the enforcement-only approach? Not even one. It seems "Arabs" and "Mexicans" are the only tacit fair game when it is about torture. At the end, racism and torture will always find easily grounds for conciliation in those minds. Maybe for that reason many Americans found easy to live with this stain, assuming that torture was something that could not happen to Americans but only to "them."
I have recently heard in The Young Turks (http://www.theyoungturks.com) that photographs depicting the horrid reality of this torture program were going to be released soon. This is definitely good news if we take into account how photographs can make Americans challenge the easy misconceptions used by the Right to tempt them. Photographs of the coffins coming from Iraq made Americans assume responsibility with their support of the war beyond yellow ribbons. Photographs of the drowned and the destruction of Katrina made Americans assume responsibility for the temptation of voting for the person with whom you would like to have a beer. Photographs of the destruction caused by the fall of the bridge of Minneapolis made Americans assume responsibility for their support of irresponsible tax and spending policies. The faces of the children whose parents had been captured in immigration crackdowns in workplaces made many Americans see the human cost of their easy scapegoating of previously stereotyped immigrants. Virginia Tech made for a moment the same for gun control, after Columbine at least let ban assault weapons. Michael Vick’s infamy did his part to awaken the public about animal cruelty. Nevertheless, this time nobody was there after the bridge of Minneapolis and Virginia Tech to extract the good lessons. Photographs make us face the consequences of our decisions, many times made in the easy unreality of tempting stereotypes and abstractions.
- Once we have established what for these people is fair game for torture "if we are before the American-live threatening ticking bomb that probes that ‘24’ is real"... 183 times in a month, let’s see if torture is effective. The interview to former interrogator "Matthew Alexander" of April 23 should be enough to discard this falsehood (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/...). Matthews mentioned in that interview that "enhanced interrogation" broke with everything that had actually worked on interrogation since World War II.
Anyone paying attention to the way we suffocated the insurgency of the Philippines during the McKinley administration would have felt comfortable and confident stating "torture is nasty but sometimes you don’t have another way (of teaching these Arabs/Mexicans their place). Even waterboarding seemed to work at that time, the end of the XIX Century. Bad news: We court-martialed the officers that use torture and indiscriminate targeting of civilians. Some years later the insurgency reorganized and begun to attack again. Realizing that a political solution was needed, Colonel Edward Lansdale created in Ramon Magsaysay a charismatic leader who became President in 1953 and made reforms to the feudal economy of the Philippines. Unfortunately Magsaysay died in 1957, the reforms stopped and the insurgency erupted again. The result of the strongman policy was a corrupted political system that reminds us most South American regimes of the 70s and Central American regimes of the 80s. Torture didn’t create a sustainable environment for Ngo Dinh Diem in Vietnam either and we lost Vietnam. It didn’t create a sustainable environment for the Shah Reza Pahlavi either, especially after we destroyed the possibility of a secular alternative in Mossadeq. It didn’t let the French keep Alger either in the 50s and 60s.
But what about the Library Tower plot, the pizza commandos who wanted to attack a military base or the plot to crash airplanes in the middle of the Atlantic? For those who swallow that kind of whoppers, just two points:
a) Al-Qaeda is a net but it doesn’t own the elements of such net. Some elements, like the Hamburg cell, which perpetrated the attack of 9/11, belong to al-Qaeda and their performance is planned by al-Qaeda. Then you have a myriad of small terrorist groups inspired by al-Qaeda whose members pledge allegiance to al-Qaeda but who are not al-Qaeda and who, due to al-Qaeda’s cellular structure, could give no important information about al-Qaeda if captured. That is why 9/11 was so harmful and the other groups were even laughable.
b) It is not true that the goal of al-Qaeda seeks to "bring the fight here". Not only Bush’s disregard for the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission have given any reasonable trained terrorist cell the opportunity to launch another attack if that was what they wanted but al-Qaeda itself has declared that its main goal is to overthrow pro-Western Muslim countries. This doesn’t mean that the attack on Madrid and the two attacks on London didn’t happen. Al-Qaeda will attack us if they find a way but that is not its priority. You can read a conservative author, Michael Sheuer (Imperial Hubris. Why the West is losing the War on Terror) and reasonably reach this same conclusion.
In short, torture and strong men don’t give good results in the long run but the right says that when torture is supposed to provide results is in the very short-term, when a ticking bomb and so, and so and when ‘24’ is a documentary. Unfortunately for the right, this isn’t true either because:
a) Insurgencies have learnt a lot since the XIX Century. When in 1957 the FLN begun in the Algerian Casbah what later would be better known as the Battle of Algiers, General Jacques Massu used torture to defeat the FLN cell in the capital (Polk, William R., Violent Politics. A history of insurgency, terrorism & guerrilla warfare, from the American Revolution to Iraq. Chapter 8). Unfortunately for Massu, the FLN had already given a directive to its members: to stand torture for 36 hours, after which the FLN left its members in the liberty of not attempting to resist the interrogatories any more. This way the FLN cell in the Casbah gained enough time to spread in the city, capitalize the repression and reorganize in the country. Half a decade later, the French left Alger and the FLN rejected even the proposal of being an state associated to France, something the French right had considered an unforgivable concession in the 50s.
b) Terrorists are not stupid. They would not risk any important plan leaving it in the hands of people whose fanaticism is not strong enough to resist torture. The hijackers of 9/11 didn’t care to die in order to hit their targets and when a member didn’t performed as expected, Zacarias Moussaoui, al-Qaeda left him out of the plan with no useful information to put its plan at risk.
c) What about convictions? As the failed experiences of the FBI during the Cold War and especially during the McCarthyism may probe, they led to evidence unacceptable in Court as the leaking of the so-called Venona files later would show. Alger Hiss, one of the would-be strongest cases of the McCarthyism, was not tried for espionage but for perjury. Unacceptable evidence led to indeterminate imprisonment and to special courts, like in the Italian Red Brigades or the Peruvian Shining Path but with the difference that in those cases the special courts were a desperate attempt to stop an out-of-control terrorist movement.
d) You cannot trust that kind of information and, for the time you could confirm it, it would be already too late to stop your hypothetical ticking bomb. On the contrary, information extracted by torture was used to engage the United States in the Iraq war and guess what: one of the declared goals of al-Qaeda is to wear down America financially overextending its army around the world following the history lessons that made the British leave Kenya to the Mau Mau and Afghanistan to its warlords. The information extracted by torture from the al- Qaeda commander Sheikh al Libi was then used in Powell's speech at the UN to make the case for the link al-Qaeda-Iraq as was later exposed by Michael Isikoff.
- If torture is not effective to extract truthful confessions, especially when we are before situations when time is critical, what torture could be useful for?
Actually torture could be used as a dangerous source of misinformation. Richard Clarke has repeatedly complained about the pressure coming from the Bush and the Cheney-Rumsfeld wing of his administration to link Iraq, the second most important oil reserve, with al-Qaeda and tacitly to 9/11. If you still believe the Iraq war was not motivated by oil and that sinking the oil deals between Saddam and French, Chinese and Russians was just a coincidence, it is very likely that you still believe in unicorns. Thus, the misuse of the Sere program to produce false confessions leading to the same goal seems pretty coherent with the whole picture.
In September 28, 2006, David Corn had already mentioned that the torture program had been designed to extract confessions but not truthful ones and that Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and other top al Qaeda leaders have reportedly been subjected to this technique. (http://www.davidcorn.com/...) You can also see the excellent book Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War (Michael Isikoff and David Corn). Then Olbermann connected the dots between the torture program and the Bush administration’s need for going to war in Iraq at any cost. In the above mentioned interview to "Matthews" of April 23 (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/...), Olbermann asks himself a rhetorical question: if you know that torture does not produce trustable intelligence, why did the Bush administration used it to establish a connection between al-Qaeda and Iraq?
- Torture will be used a recruiting tool
From Mao’s China to Vietnam, and from the FLN’s Algeria, to the Shining Path in Peru, insurgencies have always sought the established regime’s use of torture because torture is an excellent recruiting tool. The images of Abu-Ghraib and then the news from Guantanamo will be the images that will move the next terrorist to take, with his own life, many other innocent lives, American or not.
If you want a human face to link with this conclusion, remember Nick Berg, beheaded in 2004 as retaliation for Abu Ghraib.
- What’s next?
During the Bush administration the question was who to scapegoat. In the Abu Ghraib scandal, Karpinski and a few other soldiers were the fall guys as if it were an isolated incident. Alberto Gonzales was Attorney General then; now, it’s Eric Holder. The question should be Special Prosecutor or Special Investigative Commission. Actually we need both.
The Special Investigative Commission has been criticized because the 9/11 Commission had to commit to not identify individual responsibilities to get the go-ahead of the Bush administration, which originally opposed the Commission, but now we don’t have the Bush administration any more and due to the many threads, it’s important the American public assume responsibility for their ambiguous attitude towards torture and conciliate with its moral future as it did after the end of McCarthyism. The effect of the public opinion on Obama’s backpedaling (or spin, as you prefer) on the prosecution of those responsible of torture shows that the conditions that made of the special prosecution a dubious solution during the Gonzales tenure of the Department of Justice have changed. At least, that’s what I would like to believe.
With respect to the Special Prosecutor option, I must disagree a bit with former Prosecutor Elizabeth de la Vega (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/...), who mentioned the Libby case and the case of the CIA destruction of tapes and the US Attorney firings, cases in which the Bush administration used the figure of the special prosecutor to bury those cases while the Republican Congress used it to silence the debate about those scandals. Nevertheless, in the Jack Abramoff scandals, John McCain kept the Congressional discussion alive and with much more reason this Congress could investigate in parallel and should not use the appointment of a Special Prosecutor as an excuse to silence the debate.
As part of the "What’s next?" question we must answer the question "How far are we willing to go in this debate?"
We have the 2004 report by 60 Minutes II and the article by Seymour Hersh about the Copper Green black op, authorized by Rumsfeld and Deputy Undersecretary Cambone. We have the testimony of Abu Ghraib former commander demoted Brigadier General Janis Karpinski and fall gal who criticized the high percentage of people imprisoned in that prison without reasonable grounds and the role of subcontractors like CACI and Triton Corp., General Geoffrey Miller from Guantanamo and Rumsfeld’s torture memos in the decision making that led to the disgraceful images coming from that prison (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/...). More, three British Muslim detainees released in 2004 claimed that conditions in Guantanamo changed for worse when General Miller was appointed as commander of that prison.
General Ricardo Sanchez, US Commander for Iraq, should be also subpoenaed to answer about this case. In Abu-Ghraib we would have used even used rape to extract confessions [Do you remember that this kind of torture "that Saddam used against his own people" was one of the many mutant reasons given by Republicans to support the war when no WMD or connections to al-Qaeda were found?] according to Sergeant Provance. The Taguba Report found credible other claims of sexual abuse in Abu-Ghraib. It was Sanchez who ordered the inquiry which gave birth to the Taguba Report.
CACI and Triton Corp, of course should also be investigated. Despite the Taguba Report, no CACI employee ever faced prosecution. The investigation made by US District Judge Gerald Bruce in the civil case against CACI for matters related to prisoner abuse could be an important input for this case.
Former Guantanamo detainees should also be able to give testimony in order to see the common pattern in both Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. Of course, this is much more difficult to know in the case of Afghan prisons and prisons abroad where the CIA outsourced interrogation, like Uzbekistan, member of the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ famous for its authoritarian government and its use of torture. Also should be called to testify the Pentagon officials who labeled the suicides and suicide attempts at Guantanamo "manipulative self-injurious behaviors" and even asymmetric warfare tactics.
Let me finish with two examples of pop culture:
a) Limbaugh’s commentary that "This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation and we're going to ruin people's lives over it and we're going to hamper our military effort, and then we are going to really hammer them because they had a good time. You know, these people are being fired at every day. I'm talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard of emotional release? You ever heard of emotional release?"
b) In the final part of the movie "A time to kill", starred by Samuel Jackson and Matthew McConaughey, McConaughey addresses the jury describing all the terrible things they had done to Jackson’s daughter to the jury, which had been assimilating rationally his speech. Then he told the jury: "Now imagine she is white".