Sunday, March 15, 2009


A stunning article in the NYTimes by Mark Danner (itself a condensation of a longer article he wrote for the New York Review of Books) details the best record yet about the torture conducted on suspected terrorists in the "Black" Prison programme. The article is based primarily on the classified report written by the Red Cross based on their extensive interviews with prisoners who had been transfered from the "black" prisons to Gitmo. It's chilling reading, and has the ring of authenticity.

One of the things that is striking to me about all this is that two former CIA Operatives that I have known were both highly critical of the use of torture. One told me that he had conducted or supervised many interrogations, including some were local officials used torture, and his cold-blooded experience was that torture was simply not as affective as other means. "There is no magic to it," he told me, "you simply keep asking the same question over and over again. It just takes time, that's all." Further he told me of disgust for what he was hearing about in the "war on terror": "I find it professionally insulting."

A third source, whom I haven't met, is Slow Burn, a book by former CIA operative named Orrin DeForrest about his experiences as an interrogator in Vietnam. Essentially, DeForrest replaced crude, cruel, and ineffective methods with a system of interrogation that (according to his account) was successful but too late to effect the war's outcome. Again, this is the voice of an experienced interrogator who found that torture was not the best way to get valuable intelligence from people.

But even if torture were effective in getting information, there are still powerful moral and even purely utilitarian arguments against employing it. Danner summs it up:
As I write, it is impossible to know definitively what benefits — in intelligence, in national security, in disrupting Al Qaeda — the president’s approval of use of an “alternative set of procedures” might have brought to the United States. Only a thorough investigation, which we are now promised, much belatedly, by the Senate Intelligence Committee, can determine that.

What we can say with certainty, in the wake of the Red Cross report, is that the United States tortured prisoners and that the Bush administration, including the president himself, explicitly and aggressively denied that fact. We can also say that the decision to torture, in a political war with militant Islam, harmed American interests by destroying the democratic and Constitutional reputation of the United States, undermining its liberal sympathizers in the Muslim world and helping materially in the recruitment of young Muslims to the extremist cause. By deciding to torture, we freely chose to embrace the caricature they had made of us. The consequences of this choice, legal, political and moral, now confront us. Time and elections are not enough to make them go away. (source)

There is talk of some kind of Truth Commission. I sure hope that happens for the sake of our national conscience.


1 comment:

natathonanon said...

commissions... eh?
watching the election results in el salvador today makes me think of other commissions...

coming clean would definitely help us at this point. R-E-S-P-E-C-T