So what’s the argument for torture? What is the temptation?
Dick Cheney, which I feel like I can safely say is the biggest proponent of torture in US history, has argued essentially this: the CIA torture program produced intelligence that saved American lives and directly led to the foiling of terrorist attacks. It was necessary, it worked, and this information could not have been got any other way.
Further, Cheney appeals to our sense of revenge by saying that it is 9/11 which is torture, and that nothing the CIA is doing can compare to what happened to America on that day. He would then point out that the techniques used in the “enhanced interrogation” are drawn from the Air Force’s SERE School, and each technique was carefully vetted to ensure that no actual harm would come to the “detainees”.
As it stands, this is a compelling argument. It works. It’s saved lives. It’s not torture, but a sort of simulated torture that does no real harm. It’s about breaking down a prisoner psychologically to a state of “learned helplessness”. It’s a bit nasty, but this is a nasty war. The terrorists aren’t playing by the rules, so neither should we. What we are doing to them is nothing compared to what they did to us.
But what if every single one of these statements, which by the way the CIA, Cheney et al made over and over again for years, is a lie? And not just a lack of evidence, but a systematic campaign to convince both the American public and Congressional oversight that torture works and is necessary.
The Senate Committee Report on Torture is more than simply a catalogue of the criminal stupidities of the CIA. Even though there are many things this Report does not say, and many issues in which the Report skirts around and avoids quite assiduously, what this report does do is that it 1) refutes the CIA’s torture program’s efficacy, 2) documents and refutes the CIA’s systematic lies to Congress, Media, and Public, and 3) documents the horrors of the program in operation; illustrates that the “enhanced interrogation techniques” are indeed torture.
Literally, this Report enumerates every single instance of the use of the “EITs” as well as every instance of the CIA’s “representations” about torture to other agencies, other governmental departments, and the media. And here is where it is great: it refutes them all. Not only is the argument for torture now officially left in tatters as a proven nonsensical lie, the system of lies around it has been documented and refuted.
First things first. The CIA’s “EITs” are torture. Any attempt to describe them as harmless is wrong, factually and morally. Torture does not need a medieval man wearing a hood with a hot branding iron, nor does it require a totalitarian, communistic terror apparatus intent on weeding out all “saboteurs”.
As a society we need to come to this realisation. The CIA’s “EIT’s” where degrading, inhumane, strange, and unusual. They went beyond the procedures described to the media and say, the Department of Justice. Water boarding quickly turned into a relentless “series of near drownings”. Weeks – months even – of solitary confinement. White noise, total darkness, loud music played twenty-four hours a day. It goes on and on. Some interrogators would play the same song before an “interrogation” session began. Now that’s creepy and Kafkaesqe for you. Worst of all…is the anal incursions the CIA went in for. Things like “rectal feeding” and enemas.
Yes. This is torture. It has every hallmark of torture, down to the weird sense of anger and guilt exhibited by the torturers. It’s strange and unusual. Modern torture has a history and a pattern. A pattern that we can recognise in our own government. I am referring to the legacy of the French in Algeria, the Soviets, especially in the ’30s, and North Korea. The thread that links these together is a government chasing an impossible geo-political goal. Exactly like waging an impossible war like the “War on Terror”. Many of the techniques used by the CIA seem copied right out right of Soviet techniques. Go read Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon if you doubt me.
I get the sense that these governments and spooks and military men are trapped in a philosophical quandary. How can you be sure you have the truth? You never can. There could always be another terrorist plot, or western saboteur, or seemingly westernised Algerian out to plant a bomb in downtown Algiers. Stopping these (largely imaginary) enemies constitutes something new; the enemy is as much in your head as anything else. I am not saying that Islamic terrorism is not real, I am saying that the US response to it, the role range of government activity from the Patriot Act to invading Iraq has been in response to an imaginary enemy that says more about us than the reality of Islamic extremism.
So it’s one part frustration, one part fear, one part revenge, and one part a reflection of the political winds that are blowing (neo-conservativism) that results in these government torture programs, which continue, as ours did, even though it is clear that it does not work. There is something at work beyond mere utilitarian “means justifying ends” rationales. The CIA’s track record, so incompetent and criminally stupid (Bay of Pigs, Iran, the Contras and dealing cocaine, the coup against Salvadore Allende, the coup in Guatemala, consistently being outwitted by the Soviets, and now strait up torture) that I could almost believe the CIA is simply a dummy organization meant to take flak for other screw-ups. 9/11 was another major failure for them, one that they where unprepared to explain or respond to. The CIA went to war and they where out for revenge and the politicians gave them the green light to “take the gloves off” and that is the kindest thing I can think to say about them and their actions.
Torture does not work. First of all you can never be sure. The record shows that people who are tortured just say what ever they think their tortures want to hear. Not only do transcripts of the torture sessions read like scenes strait out of 24, where there is an immune terrorist attack on American soil. The weird thing is that clearly the “detainee” cannot fathom his tortures. The reality is that al-Qaida et al simply lack the capability to mount attacks in the US, or even Europe for that matter. Yes, it could happen, but in terms of plots, they have no real ability to strike anywhere outside of the Middle East. Hence things happened where one detainee made up a plot in Montana. Second there is a huge social cost with torture, one that American society will be paying for for decades. Not to mention loss of prestige internationally.
Lastly there is the torture program as it was “represented” to the public and Congressional oversight. The CIA lied to everyone. A click in “Headquarters” insisted to both the actual interrogators and congress, and maybe even the White House that torture was necessary, was saving lives and was providing intelligence that could not be got anywhere else. Again, ALL this was false as an analysis of the CIA’s own records CLEARLY show. The CIA basically copy and pasted its arguments for torture for years in reports to the media, congress, and even the public. They use the exact same phrasing and words over and over.
And in The Report, over and over, it goes through and systematically and fully disproves the claims of the CIA. They where totally wrong on all their claims. In the odd langue of the Report, the CIA’s statements either “misrepresented” or “left out significant facts”. There are many crimes here: a horrendous failure of our political system.
The big question is: why aren’t we angry about this?
Part III coming soon.