Daily archives: November 28, 2005

Why Torture Doesn’t Work

By Brigader General David R. Irvine writing in AlterNet

Remarkably, of the nation’s major newspapers, only the Wall Street Journal has editorialized in support of torture as a useful tool of American intelligence policy. Regrettably, that position does a huge disservice to the nation and its soldiers. There are really only three issues in this debate, and the Journal carefully turned a blind eye to all three: (1) is torture reliable, (2) is it consistent with America’s values and Constitution, and (3) does it best serve our national interests?

No one has yet offered any validated evidence that torture produces reliable intelligence. While torture apologists frequently make the claim that torture saves lives, that assertion is directly contradicted by many Army, FBI, and CIA professionals who have actually interrogated al Qaeda captives. Exhibit A is the torture-extracted confession of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an al Qaeda captive who told the CIA in 2001, having been “rendered” to the tender mercies of Egypt, that Saddam Hussein had trained al Qaeda to use WMD. It appears that this confession was the only information upon which, in late 2002, the president, the vice president, and the secretary of state repeatedly claimed that “credible evidence” supported that claim, even though a now-declassified Defense Intelligence Agency report from February 2002 questioned the reliability of the confession because it was likely obtained under torture. In January 2004, al-Libi recanted his “confession,” and a month later, the CIA recalled all intelligence reports based on his statements.

Exhibit B is the case of Manadel al-Jamadi, an Iraqi deemed a “high-value” target by the CIA. After being beaten to an extent that he had several broken ribs, he was subjected to a form of crucifixion known as “Palestinian hanging.” Forty-five minutes later, he was dead, never having revealed whatever vital, ticking-bomb information his American interrogator was seeking.

If there is reliable evidence that torture has, in fact, interrupted ticking time bombs and saved lives, the gravity of the crisis created by the administration’s free-wheeling torture policy demands straight answers which can be weighed and evaluated by a bipartisan, blue-ribbon commission whose membership might include interrogators, jurists, theologians, national security specialists, military leaders, and political leaders. The damage to our national interests and the dismal record of war candor by this administration has made “trust us” an insufficient justification for such a profound change in American law and moral values.

The Journal claims that Abu Ghraib was an anomaly — that it has become a “torture narrative” that erroneously blames the CIA for the abuses depicted in the infamous photographs. The Schlesinger report was cited for the conclusion that the perpetrators were merely a group of sadistic, poorly trained Reservists. This argument, however begs the question; the rationale for the McCain amendment rests not upon Abu Ghraib, but upon the cascading stream of documented reports from other places in Afghanistan and Iraq in which brutal torture has been either authorized or winked at by several different military and civilian chains of command.

The Journal further distorts the facts by arguing that techniques such as waterboarding (which induces the sensation of drowning), leaving prisoners outdoors in freezing weather, and stress positions which can cause suffocation and collapse, are not really “torture,” but are just “psychological techniques designed to break a detainee.” There is, certainly, a psychological component to torture, but the real issue is whether what’s done causes severe physical or mental pain or suffering. Of the crucifixion form of “psychological” pressure which the CIA worked upon Jamadi, one of the soldiers who cut him down said he had never seen anyone’s arms positioned like that; “[I] was surprised they didn’t just pop out of their sockets.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has endorsed the McCain amendments, and declared, “In the face of this perilous climate, our nation must not embrace a morality based on an attitude that ‘desperate times call for desperate measures.’ There can be no compromise on the moral imperative to protect the basic human rights of any individual incarcerated for any reason.” Our embrace of torture is completely inconsistent with our commitment to equal justice and the rule of law.

The Journal assumes that only the worst of the worst will be subjected to torture when it comes to ticking time bombs. Not only is that assumption unfounded, based upon the widespread abuses in Iraq, it was tried and abandoned by the Israelis. Because it is impossible to confirm with advance certainty what any suspect actually knows, ticking bomb torture can be justified in virtually every interrogation. When Israel experimented with “torture lite,” supposedly reserved for ticking-bomb circumstances, it was not long before 85 percent of all Palestinian detainees were being given the harshest treatment allowed. The capability to finely calibrate torture has eluded every democratic government which has tried it.

The inescapable fact is that America’s standing in the world, and especially in the Middle East, has never been lower. The price we have paid for our misdirected torture policies has been incalculable. The Arab street may not always grasp the finer points of separation of powers or proportional representation; but everyone, everywhere, comprehends hypocrisy, and judges us for ours. If the torture advocates truly believe that the value of violently coerced information has been worth the plummeting drop in America’s world stature, or that such information is worth the clear and present endangerment of captured Americans, it’s time to justify the claimed value of torture to the nation in whose name it’s being done. Not assumptions, not generalizations, not, “I can’t explain because it’s classified.”

The president and vice president wish to chart a course of heretofore unacceptable savagery toward anyone even suspected of terrorism. If we are to become a nation where a president may torture anyone he wishes, it deserves a broad, sober, fact-based national debate.

Brigadier General David R. Irvine is a retired Army Reserve strategic intelligence officer who taught prisoner interrogation and military law for 18 years with the Sixth Army Intelligence School. He currently practices law in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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More evidence of CIA landings in Malta surfaces

By David Lindsay in the Malta Independent

Following last week’s report that at least two planes, widely suspected of being used by the United States Intelligence Agency in its controversial practice of extraordinary rendition, had made stopovers in Malta, this newspaper can report the presence of yet another, larger, suspected aircraft at Malta International Airport on two occasions just last year.

With more European governments joining the protest over the CIA’s use of their airspace and airports in the controversial practice of extraordinary rendition, and with the Council of Europe also investigating the practice, the government of Malta has so far remained silent on the issue, undoubtedly otherwise absorbed by this week’s CHOGM activities.

The Malta Independent on Sunday last week reported flight records and photographs showed that at least two airplanes used by the CIA for the transport of suspected terrorists for interrogation in countries where the use of torture is condoned, had stopped over in Malta in December 2003 and December 2004.

Ongoing investigations by this newspaper into the use of Malta’s airport and airspace by the CIA have revealed the presence of another suspected plane ‘ a Lockheed L-100 Hercules with tail number N8213G, which stopped over in Malta on 31 March 2004 and again on 25 August of the same year.

The Hercules is the latest plane implicated in extraordinary rendition and has been reported to have made several stops in Scandinavia. The Hercules, the largest of the CIA planes spotted in Malta, has space for cargo and about 100 passengers.

While the Boeing 737 and the Gulfstream are relatively nondescript aircraft, the Hercules carries a large ‘Prescott’ logo on its side. The private planes being used by the CIA are owned by shell companies and the Prescott Support company is widely believed to be one of the several companies serving as covers for the CIA’s clandestine prisoner transports.

Extraordinary rendition refers to the controversial American procedure in which criminal suspects are apprehended, sometimes secretly, and sent for interrogation in countries where torture is used as a routine form of interrogation. Reports cite suspects being arrested, shackled, blindfolded and sedated, after which they are transported, usually by private jet, to countries such as Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Uzbekistan. Although the practice has been in use since the 1990s, its scope has been widened immensely since 11 September 2001.

Last Sunday this newspaper cited a Boeing 737, with tail number N313P, as the first suspected plane to have stopped over in Malta between 6 and 10 December 2003. The plane had arrived from the RAF’s Northolt air base on 6 December 2003 and left four days later on 10 December bound for Tripoli. A year later a second plane, a Gulfstream jet with tail number N227SV, arrived in Malta on 17 December 2004 and left later that day for Iceland, from where it flew to Washington DC.

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