Put Torture To The Question? Out Of The Question!

We can't handle the truth - because it makes America look good.


When one thinks of torture, one immediately pictures the thumbscrews and the rack; Edgar Allen Poe's "The Pit and the Pendulum;" and any number of horror movies.  Picture the result of torture in your mind, and what comes up is either a desperately disfigured corpse or a disfigured survivor who looks like a corpse.

And then, there's the torture supposedly done to terrorists on the orders of George W. Bush and his appointees.

The funny thing is, if you look at the "survivors," they don't look like someone who has been tortured.  They don't shake uncontrollably or hold their limbs at odd angles.

The Muslims released from Guantanamo Bay to Britain, to all appearances, are hale and hearty; they may not have the dexterity to be concert pianists, but then, they weren't before.  Even the abuses at Abu Ghraib, for which American soldiers were prosecuted and punished, don't appear to have inflicted lasting damage of any serious kind on the survivors.

What exactly is torture?  Is it the infliction of serious bodily harm?  Or is it making you think that will be your fate, while actually doing nothing of the kind?

We are now presented with just this question.  For lo these many years now, the constant drumbeat of the left has been that the Republican administration was torturing innocent Muslims on every side.  First came the rumors; then the reports; then the scandals of Abu Ghraib; eventually leaks of "torture memos" purportedly authorizing abuses; and now we have CIA documents admitting what is said to be torture.

We even have photos of victims being submitted to, let's face it, demeaning indignities.  So where are the twisted victims racked with lifelong agony and debilitation?

The far left has long been calling for Bush and company to be prosecuted for war crimes.  Mr. Obama has repeatedly refused, but as we know, every Obama statement comes with an expiration date.  This one was no different, and the date has now arrived: he has punted the decision to his Attorney General.

It would appear that making up his mind what to do about alleged torture is above his pay grade, but he didn't mind releasing certain memos which, claim the media in horror, not only proves but details that our government agents are the heirs of Torquemada.  Or do they?

The interesting thing about the "torture memos," in which various Bush-era lawyers and officials argued that certain harsh interrogations techniques were legal and devised procedures to keep them that way, is not what the memos say.  The Bush administration always argued that al-Qaeda terrorists were "unlawful combatants," being neither noncombatant civilians (obviously) nor an organized, uniformed military force answerable to a chain of command (equally obviously); thus, they did not properly fall under the rules of the Geneva convention.  The memos confirm that the Bush lawyers thought as Mr. Bush always said they thought; no surprise there.

We have always known that Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, for example, was subjected to pressures that would never be used on an American criminal suspect.  The fact that we now know that KSM was waterboarded 183 times is an increase in detail, not a change of substance, but it returns us to the original question: what kind of torture is it where it's even possible to do it 183 times and yet the victim walks away?

You can't thumbscrew someone 183 times - you'd run out of thumbs before you got into the double digits, even if the guy was all thumbs as so many would-be suicide bombers seem to be.

There's one more little issue: Set aside the nature, severity, and legality of whatever was done to these enemies of humanity for one moment, and consider: did it work?  Did KSM, screaming in agony and/or fear, reveal information that saved the lives of untold thousands of innocent Americans?

There is no shortage of analysts saying that torture never works; then, there's quite a few on the other side stating that harsh interrogation most certainly can produce great intelligence when properly done.  If there's one thing that the newly-released CIA torture memos clearly demonstrates, it's that the job was done with extreme care and careful forethought, but what were the results?  What did we learn?

Up Against The Wall, KSM!

Consider just one approved method, walling.  Quoth the notorious memo:

For walling, a flexible false wall will be constructed. The individual is placed with his heels touching the wall. The interrogator pulls the individual forward and then quickly and formly (sic) pushes the individual into the wall. It is the individual's shoulder blades that hit the wall. During this motion, the head and neck are supported with a rolled hood or towel that provides a c-collar effect to prevent whiplash.  You have orally informed us that the false wall is in part constructed to create a loud sound when the individual hits it, which will further shock and surprise ... the individual.

Think about what this is saying for a moment.  The author of these instructions has carefully and thoroughly constructed a method of making a prisoner believe he is in serious danger while in fact he is not - even to the point of supporting his head and neck to avoid all possibility of whiplash.  Is it truly torture if you are being made to think you're being tortured - but you really aren't?

It's easy to imagine a person screaming in true agony of true torture saying anything to make the pain stop.  Sen. John McCain experienced this, when under Vietnamese torture of the real and painful sort:

When I was first interrogated and really had to give some information because of the physical pressures that were on me, I named the starting lineup -- defensive line -- of the Pittsburgh Steelers as my squadron-mates!

Sen. McCain suffered really-truly-torture and the effects are with him to this day: forty years later, he still cannot raise his hands above his head or type on a computer keyboard because of the grievous bodily harm he sustained.  In such a situation, seconds count, and almost any human being would say or do anything to end it now.  That sort of torture quite likely doesn't really collect much accurate intelligence.

What the CIA did to KSM and other terrorists is a completely different sort - something more like psychological torture, making the victims suffer more from their own fears and imaginations than from any real pain.  Consider what was proposed for Abu Zubaydah, known to have a deep fear of insects:

You would like to place Zubaydah in a cramped confinement box with an insect. You have informed us that he appears to have a fear of insects. In particular, you would like to tell Zubaydah that you intend to place a stinging insect into the box with him. You would, however, place a harmless insect in the box.  [emphasis added]

(The CIA is advised in the memo not to tell Zubaydah that it is a stinging insect).

Here again, nothing was done that would actually cause harm - only make the victim think it was going to.  That sort of thing can indeed be done 183 times, over and over, or even a thousand times if necessary, with new panic each time that this might be the time it's for real.

Eventually, in the wee hours of the morning back in his cell, the prisoner might quite likely decide that 183 rounds is enough and he will tell his captors what they want to know.  Why would he lie?  It's not as if there is an immediate pain that must immediately stop; the CIA could go out, check on whatever KSM or Zubaydah said, and know if he was telling the truth.

They knew it, he knew it, and each knew the other knew - no point in lying.  He must either tell the truth or face further consequences, thus giving our boys the urgently needed skinny on what al-Qaeda was planning next.

What Did We Know and How Did We Know It?

According to Vice President Cheney, that's exactly what happened - only, Mr. Obama isn't releasing those memos.  The BBC reports:

"One of the things that I find a little bit disturbing about this recent disclosure is that they put out the legal memos... but they didn't put out the memos that show the success of the effort," Mr Cheney told Fox News.  "There are reports that show specifically what we gained as a result of this activity. They have not been declassified. I formally ask that they be declassified now."  The American people should have a chance to weigh the intelligence obtained alongside the legal debate, he said.  [emphasis added]

If there's one man alive who knows exactly what good effects (if any) resulted from putting the squeeze on al-Qaeda monsters, it's Dick Cheney.  If he had anything to hide, he would surely be lying low.

Instead, we see him doing the exact opposite, calling as widely as he can for Mr. Obama to put the whole record on the table for the American people to examine.  Could it be that he already knows the American people would approve?

Mr. Obama's own advisers appear to see the light: the New York Times reports that Mr. Obama's National Security Adviser, Admiral Dennis C. Blair, now strongly agrees that

High value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the al Qa'ida organization that was attacking this country.

Yet at his confirmation hearings a few short months ago, he testified to Congress that

I believe strongly that torture is not moral, legal or effective.

What changed his mind?  He wasn't privy to the classified facts then - and now he is.

Should the so-called torturers be tried for what they did?  That's the wrong question.  They are already being tried - they have been on trial in the court of public opinion for years now.

Thanks to media bias, unfortunately, that court is more of a kangaroo court where those accused of crimes against political correctness can call no witnesses, cannot confront their accusers, and cannot defend themselves.

America has enemies who are sworn to kill us.  We have a right to know that we are being defended, how we are being defended, and most important of all, how well those defenses are working.

So, to our surprise, we find ourselves agreeing with the calls of the Daily Kos and Huffington Post for Bush officials, particularly Dick Cheney, to defend themselves in court.  For sure, Cheney would view this in much the same way as Brer Rabbit viewed the briar patch.

Calls for a politicized "truth and reconciliation" commission should be condemned as the witch-hunts they are.  Let's have a proper trial, in a real court, with real rules of evidence and a firm but fair judge.

Let the left breathe threatenings and slaughter!  If Mr. Cheney is right about what's in the secret records - and he should know - the trial will end with the "accused" Bush officials being carried from the courtroom on the shoulders of the jury to shouts of "Huzzah!", having proven in court how spectacularly well they did their sworn duty of protecting the innocent and identifying evildoers.

Mr. Obama's supporters wouldn't like that, which is why the truth will probably never be told.  Fulminate as the Democrats will, Cheney and our defenders will never see the inside of a courtroom - not because they are guilty people who are powerful enough to block attempts to bring them to justice, but rather, because they are neither guilty nor powerful.

In a real courtroom, their innocence and heroic defense of the American people would be obvious.  In the court of innuendo, however, the Obama administration and their allies in the media can smear them to their little hearts' content.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Petrarch or other articles on Foreign Affairs.
Reader Comments
The controversy deepens. The Times is saying that the records are in conflict. They seem to be preparing us for never finding out....

At Core of Detainee Fight: Did Methods Stop Attacks?
Starkly opposing narratives have arisen about what, if anything, was gained by the C.I.A.'s use of physical pressure to intimidate Qaeda operatives.
April 23, 2009 9:02 AM
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The only way for the nation to regain its moral compass is to investigate how the government's interrogation abuses happened, and, if necessary, to prosecute those responsible.


A Dubious C.I.A. Shortcut
The extreme methods of interrogation are more than just a way of debasing an enemy. Their added value is in breaking people quickly, with the downsides including unreliability.

April 24, 2009 10:34 AM
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