Just Call it “Enhanced Interrogation” and it is OK
In recent days, unknown Senate staffers have attempted to edit the Wikipedia page on the CIA torture report at least two times, trying to edit out the term “torture” so as to replace it with the Orwellian euphemism du jour, “enhanced interrogation”. If a normal interrogation is good, an enhanced one must be even better, right?
The Pew Research Centre has recently lobbed the following questions at American tax cows with surprising results (at least, they were surprising to us):
If you call it an “interrogation method” instead of calling it what it actually is, this is the result you get.
Mish has some more details and color on this particular survey. Certainly the framing of the questions has a strong influence on the replies one gets in such surveys. This has prompted many to try to explain this poll result away, and to some extent their arguments have merit.
However, we actually don’t want to make excuses for the intellectual laziness and moral turpitude of those who are fine with torture. Anyone supporting torture is both woefully uninformed and needs to urgently re-examine his moral compass. It is quite stunning how many people of this sort are apparently running around. We recommend looking at the comment sections of articles on the torture report in a number of mainstream media in this context, which are often quite revealing.
One widely supported view is that since Islamist radicals are merciless and brutal, they don’t deserve any better (never mind that a number of perfectly innocent people were incarcerated without trial and tortured as well, with many of them “rendered” to lawless and tyrannical countries). However, two negatives only cancel each other out in mathematics. In the realm of ethics and morals, you either have ethical and moral principles, or not. It doesn’t matter what your perceived enemies are doing, or as is all too often the case, are allegedly doing.
Steve Bell on “rendering”
It is Not Only Wrong, it Doesn’t Even Work
One argument forwarded by supporters of torture is a utilitarian one. These people seem to believe that the world works precisely as depicted in the television series “24” (we believe there is a bit more to such TV series than entertainment; they are also a form of social conditioning). In reality, the “ticking time bomb” scenarios shown on TV simply don’t exist, and even if they did, torture would not help in thwarting them. Readers may want to review this lengthy article by Washington’s Blog, which thoroughly demolishes the idea that any useful information can be gleaned by means of torture. In fact, practically every expert in the field of interrogation confirms that torture is not only counterproductive in the fight against terrorism, but that the only thing one can obtain by torture are false confessions.
Naturally, this must have been well known to those ordering the policy. Hence, the only conclusion that makes any sense is that false confessions is precisely what they wanted to get – and did in fact get. Why did they want to get false confessions? Consider just a few examples listed by Washington’s Blog, which speak for themselves:
“Under torture, Libyan Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi falsely claimed there was a link between Saddam Hussein, al-Qaida and WMD
President Bush mentioned Abu Zubaydah as a success story, where torture saved lives. Zubaydah was suspected of being a high-ranking al-Qaida leader. Bush administration officials claimed Zubaydah told them that al-Qaida had links with Saddam Hussein. He also claimed there was a plot to attack Washington with a “dirty bomb”. Both claims are now recognized to be false, even by the CIA, which also admits he was never a member of al-Qaida .
One of the Main Sources for the 9/11 Commission Report was Tortured Until He Agreed to Sign a Confession that He Was NOT EVEN ALLOWED TO READ
The so-called 9/11 mastermind said: “During … my interrogation I gave a lot of false information in order to satisfy what I believed the interrogators wished to hear” (the self-confessed 9/11 “mastermind” falsely confessed to crimes he didn’t commit )
Finally, an NBC News report detailing that “much of the 9/11 Commission Report was based upon the testimony of people who were tortured” and that the members of the 9/11 Commission themselves doubted the accuracy of the torture confessions, and yet kept their doubts to themselves.
In short, they needed false confessions to a) sell the disastrous Iraq war to the public and b) to cover up their incompetence in the 9/11 attack (or whatever else needed covering up – we would go with incompetence as the most likely scenario).
In a nation of law, those who ordered torture and those who committed it would face prosecution (“we were just following orders” hasn’t been a valid defense since Nuremberg). Since the possibility of such prosecutions cannot be ruled out completely, the people involved – such as Dick Cheney – have gone on the offensive in the media, and were evidently able to rely on the generous support of same (America is so “awesome” according to this valley girl at Fox News, that a little bit of torture shouldn’t detract from all this awesomeness).
Dick Cheney defends his record …
Cartoon by Horsey
Prosecuting Whistleblowers, but not Murderers
However, one person – the only one – actually has been prosecuted in the torture scandal. This person is the whistle-blower who leaked the fact that the CIA was torturing people at its “black sites” to the public. Color us unsurprised by this. Here is an excerpt of a brief summary of the situation from anti-war.com:
The United States sanctioned acts of torture by the Central Intelligence Agency and others. The acts took place in secret prisons (“black sites”) against persons detained indefinitely without trial. They were described in detail and explicitly authorized in a series of secret torture memos drafted by John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and Steven Bradbury, senior lawyers in the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel. (Office of Legal Counsel attorneys technically answer directly to the DOJ, which is supposed to be independent from the White House, but obviously was not in this case.) Not one of those men, or their Justice Department bosses, has been held accountable for their actions.
Some tortured prisoners were killed by the CIA. Attorney General Eric Holder announced recently that no one would be held accountable for those murders either. “Based on the fully developed factual record concerning the two deaths,” he said, “the Department has declined prosecution because the admissible evidence would not be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Jose Rodriguez, a senior CIA official, admitted destroying videotapes of potentially admissible evidence, showing the torture of captives by operatives of the U.S. government at a secret prison thought to be located at a Vietnam-War-era airbase in Thailand. He was not held accountable for deep-sixing this evidence, nor for his role in the torture of human beings.
The one man in the whole archipelago of America’s secret horrors who went to jail is former CIA officer John Kiriakou. Of the untold numbers of men and women involved in the whole nightmare show of those years, only one. And of course, he didn’t torture anyone.
The charges against Kiriakou alleged that in answering questions from reporters about suspicions that the CIA tortured detainees in its custody, he violated the Espionage Act , once an obscure World War I-era law that aimed at punishing Americans who gave aid to the enemy. It was passed in 1917 and has been the subject of much judicial and Congressional doubt ever since. Kiriakou is one of six government whistleblowers who have been charged under the Act by the Obama administration. From 1917 until Obama came into office, only three people had ever charged in this way.
This is an interesting way of apportioning blame and dispensing justice. Is it fair to call it the “American Way”? We’re just asking, mind. In our opinion the US, for all its faults, has always stood for liberty. Surely the ideals on which the US was founded haven’t completely disappeared just yet, but since the 9-11 attack these ideals have been increasingly undermined by the ruling class to be replaced by a false ideal of “security” (it is false, because security has also been undermined by the actions that have been taken).
Apart from the whistle-blower, there’s also a dog we might consider prosecuting
Cartoon by Steve Bell
Torture is wrong regardless of the guilt or innocence of those on the receiving end, but civilized people no doubt will be all the more appalled upon learning what has happened to some of the innocent people who have been kidnapped and rendered to CIA black sites. How the State has handled these “errors” is extremely revolting.
One glaring example is Khalid al Masri, a mechanic from Germany. By refusing to acknowledge that it had made an error and failing to publicly admit that al Masri was in fact innocent, the CIA (and the Senate) made the man’s life akin to hell on earth. He was not only needlessly tortured for weeks on end (the people who captured him already began to doubt that he had any connections to terrorism during the rendition flight), his entire life was effectively destroyed. We urge you to read the article on this case at McClatchy in toto. Here are is an excerpt:
Khalid al Masri is a broken man today. A decade after the CIA snatched him by mistake, flew him half way around the world in secret, and questioned him as part of its detention and interrogation program, he’s yet to recover.
He’s abandoned his home. He no longer is part of the lives of his wife or children. Friends can’t find him. His attorneys can’t find him. German foreign intelligence will say only that he’s “somewhere in a western-leaning Arab nation.”
When his Ulm attorney and confidant Manfred Gnjidic last saw him, he was broke, unkempt, paranoid and completely alone. He’d been arrested twice and sent once to a psychiatric ward, once to jail. He was in deep need of psychological counseling but with no hope of the extensive help he needed.
“Masri’s case is one of the 26 instances detailed in the Senate Intelligence Committee report where the CIA snared someone in its web of secret dungeons by mistake, realized its error after weeks or months of mistreatment and questioning, then let them go. But the report, made public Tuesday, does not recount what that mistake meant to al Masri’s life.
“I was stunned by the torture report,” Gnjidic said. “They had known and privately admitted for years that they had made a mistake regarding Khalid,” who is a German citizen.
And yet the CIA, which realized its error within weeks of al Masri’s January 2004 detention, remained silent, as did the Senate Intelligence Committee, which learned of the mistake in 2007.
“For a decade, a decade in which his life has been shattered, he’d asked for . . . an apology, an explanation, a chance to go ahead with his life,” Gnjidic said. “They knew this, they admitted this and they didn’t share this with him?
“How cowardly must they be, how weak must they be, to fear apologizing when they knew they were completely in the wrong.”
Masri’s CIA detention, which combined with Macedonian intelligence detention which Gnjidic believes was at the request of the CIA, totaled 35 days by CIA count, but closer to four months by Masri’s.
The Senate report does not discuss his treatment in detention. But al Masri has insisted over the years that he was tortured. He’s described being shackled to the ceiling while naked, unable to sit for days, existing on nothing, in the dark, a scenario that appears to be common in the torture report. A European court ruled in 2012 that he’d been sodomized and drugged.
The shadow cast by that detention saw him labeled by German media as an “Islamist extremist.”
Neighbors shunned him. Potential employers turned him away. In 2010, the German national newspaper Bild ran a story about him under a headline asking “Why do we allow ourselves to be terrorized by such a man?”
The article went on to state that “for months the Islamist who claims to be a victim of CIA torture has terrorized the federal government, parliament and the public.” His terrorism of the federal government apparently was in asking for redress and an explanation for what had happened to him.
As Gnjidic notes, and the Senate report makes clear, those answers were available to Masri years before he finally broke.
To this day, no-one has even apologized to Khalid al Masri. As the article concludes:
“Masri brought his case, he told his story, and they knew it was true,” Dakwar said. “Yet he never received redress. He never received an apology. He never even received acknowledgment. His case gives you an idea of the level of lawlessness, the magnitude of this atrocity. His life was devastated. And the United States didn’t care.”
Evidently, the decision not to acknowledge this mistake was mainly made based on “cover-your-behind” considerations. Had the government not been successful in hiding behind the cover of “national security”, which enabled it to avoid having to present evidence to the court in al-Masri’s case, quite a few rather embarrassing details would presumably have come to light. It was obviously much easier to simply destroy al-Masri’s life. The monstrous calculation being: no-one will care anyway. He’s a swarthy man with a Middle-Eastern sounding name, so who’s going to believe him? It obviously worked.
Cartoon by Steve Bell
All those who have come out in support of torture must ask themselves this: are we, or are we not different from the medieval barbarians we purport to be fighting? Torture is incompatible with civilization and the rule of law – no matter what it is called.
Addendum: Raimondo on the Torture Report
Here are two additional reads we want to recommend. The first is Justin Raimondo’s initial column on the release of the report, which contains this highly pertinent observation:
“The worst of the worst were key to the torture program. Although much is being said about the “incompetence” of the CIA in assigning highly problematic personnel to their deepest darkest covert operation, this assumes it wasn’t intentional – an unwarranted assumption in my view. After all, who would be better qualified to implement Dick Cheney’s sadistic fantasies than “a number of personnel whose backgrounds include notable derogatory information calling into question their eligibility for employment, their access to classified information, and their participation in CIA interrogation activities”? In short, it was a free-for-all at Torture Headquarters, with “untrained CIA officers at the facility” going all Marquis de Sade with their “frequent, unauthorized, and unsupervised interrogations of detainees using harsh physical interrogation techniques that were not—and never became—part of the CIA’s formal ‘enhanced’ interrogation program.”
Here the lesson is basic libertarianism, 101: government attracts the worst of the worst. Yes, there were some at the CIA who disputed the legality and morality of what was being done, and the report makes this clear, but in any statist society these people in government are a distinct – and usually powerless – minority.
And secondly his column on how torture was used to support marketing the Iraq war to the public (we came across it only after writing this article). Raimondo rightly wonders how people would reply to a poll question such as this one:
“Do you approve or disapprove of US government officials using torture on detainees in order to justify a war based on a lie?”