NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP & EDITOR’S COMMENT: Torture and terrorism

Is there a nexus between torture and radicalization?

Radical Islamist discourse highlighting the scourge of authoritarianism in the Middle East takes on many forms. One subject in particular, however, receives a great deal of attention in militant literature, communiqués, and discussions on radical Islamist chat room forums: The practice of systematic torture by the ruling regimes, especially that which occurs in prisons. Brutal and humiliating forms of torture are common instruments of control and coercion by the security services in police states intent on rooting out all forms of dissent. Previously the domain of human rights activists, researchers investigating the many pathways toward radicalization in the Middle East are increasingly considering the impact of torture and other abuses at the hands of the state during periods of incarceration in an effort to better understand the psychology of the radicalization process. Many researchers see these kinds of experiences as formative in the path toward violent radicalization.

Believe me, it’s torture

There was a paramedic present who checked my racing pulse and warned me about adrenaline rush. An interval was ordered, and then I felt the mask come down again. Steeling myself to remember what it had been like last time, and to learn from the previous panic attack, I fought down the first, and some of the second, wave of nausea and terror but soon found that I was an abject prisoner of my gag reflex. The interrogators would hardly have had time to ask me any questions, and I knew that I would quite readily have agreed to supply any answer. I still feel ashamed when I think about it. Also, in case it’s of interest, I have since woken up trying to push the bedcovers off my face, and if I do anything that makes me short of breath I find myself clawing at the air with a horrible sensation of smothering and claustrophobia. No doubt this will pass. As if detecting my misery and shame, one of my interrogators comfortingly said, “Any time is a long time when you’re breathing water.” I could have hugged him for saying so, and just then I was hit with a ghastly sense of the sadomasochistic dimension that underlies the relationship between the torturer and the tortured. I apply the Abraham Lincoln test for moral casuistry: “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.” Well, then, if waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture.

China inspired interrogations at Guantánamo

The military trainers who came to Guantánamo Bay in December 2002 based an entire interrogation class on a chart showing the effects of “coercive management techniques” for possible use on prisoners, including “sleep deprivation,” “prolonged constraint,” and “exposure.”

What the trainers did not say, and may not have known, was that their chart had been copied verbatim from a 1957 Air Force study of Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean War to obtain confessions, many of them false, from American prisoners.

The recycled chart is the latest and most vivid evidence of the way Communist interrogation methods that the United States long described as torture became the basis for interrogations both by the military at the base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and by the Central Intelligence Agency.

Editor’s Comment — Back in September 2001, when the popular and simplistic question inside the United States was, “Why do they hate us?”, the sophisticated answer was, “They don’t hate us; they hate our foreign policy.”

Suppose instead the response had been, “They hate us because we support the regimes that tortured them. Instead, we’re now going to torture them ourselves.”

A collective outcry might have welled up: the government has gone insane!

Alas, we were instead treated to sober discussions on whether torture “works”; on whether it’s legal if it can elude the label; and whether it’s morally justifiable if an argument of necessity can be applied.

Perhaps we could have saved ourselves the trouble of needing to press the case that it neither works, nor is legal, nor is morally justifiable, if sufficient evidence had already been on hand that torture promotes terrorism.

My trip to the West Bank

Sa’ad Nimr is a close confidant of Marwan Barghouti, the popular Palestinian leader currently serving 5 life sentences in an Israeli prison. He heads the Ramallah branch of the “Free Marwan Barghouti” campaign, which counts Nelson Mandela on its board. The release of Barghouti is a divisive topic in Israel. Advocates point out that he is the only leader capable of uniting Palestinians. Opponents object for precisely the same reason. Uri Avnery calls him the Palestinian Mandela. (Who’s then the Israeli de Klerk?) While Abbas and Haniyeh would score evenly in a presidential contest, Barghouti would trounce both.

Sa’ad Nimr embraces a binational state, an opinion shared by a quarter of all Palestinians. His view that Oslo was a sham, however, is consensual. Did he feel bitter about prison? “Bernard, hating people is a waste of time. We have to learn to live with the Israelis. We’re not going to push them into the sea […] It was never about Jews, remember this, only about Israeli occupiers.” Sonia added, “We have a saying in Arabic we used to repeat all the time: Will it happen before we die?” Sa’ad was doubtful: “Maybe our children or grandchildren will see peace in Palestine.” Both of them condemned suicide bombings unequivocally: “Devastating to the Palestinian cause!” What about nonviolence? Someone suggested a march of 20,000 unarmed women through Qalandiya: “The Israelis wouldn’t know what to do. They would freak out.” It’s never been tried.

Well, there was the first intifada. Which led to Madrid and Oslo. Some Palestinians will say, “Cool, nonviolence got us a doubling of the settlement population.” Others will point out that it got Israel’s Labor government to warm (ever so slowly and unevenly) to the idea of a two-state solution. Indeed, and then to lose the premiership to rejectionist Bibi Netanyahu, the man who heads the Israeli version of Hamas, also known as Likud.

Iraq hints at delay in U.S. security deal

Declaring that there will not be “another colonization of Iraq,” Iraq’s foreign minister raised the possibility on Wednesday that a full security agreement with the United States might not be reached this year, and that if one was, it would be a short-term pact.

American officials, speaking anonymously because of the delicate state of negotiations, said they were no longer optimistic that a complete security agreement could be reached by the year’s end.

At a news conference in Baghdad, the foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, told reporters that some headway had been made, but that negotiators were deadlocked over issues like the extent of Iraqi control over American military operations and the right of American soldiers to detain suspects without the approval of Iraqi authorities.

The case for talking

There are instances of diplomacy backed by force succeeding. There are far more examples of it failing. Saddam Hussein, after all, could not even be coerced into demonstrating persuasively that he had no WMD.

Taking the military option off the table might come at some cost if there were good reason to believe that Iran could be coerced into giving up its nuclear program.

There is, however, better reason to believe that the threat of attack is a prime motivation for the Iranian program. As long as the United States maintains a military establishment, the military option remains available. Taking this threat off the table, and putting it in a readily available drawer, would improve the prospects for negotiation while avoiding the most likely result of the current approach, which is that in the end America either has its bluff called or finds itself launching a war it cannot win.

Editor’s Comment — From most of the indications I can see, however firmly military options still remain placed on that table, President Bush has reconciled himself to the idea that he is passing on the Iran issue to his successor — whether it’s McCain or Obama. Indeed, I think that Bush and Cheney, as men whose courage has always relied on the protective walls of executive power, both recognize that if this presidency really was to end with a bang, the chances that out of office they would end up incarcerated would be all the more higher.

But let’s suppose — just for the sake of argument — that a zealous obsession with halting Iran’s nuclear program led Bush to order a November attack. Even then, the secretary of defense and/or the JCOS could resign. As for the chances of Israel going it alone, I’d say — as did Iran’s FM — they’re virtually zero. American support of one kind or another would be essential — Israel can’t really go it alone.

Ultimately, the factor that’s likely to carry more influence than anything else is the national rage that would boil up if gas prices jumped from $4 to $6 or $8 a gallon overnight.

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1 thought on “NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP & EDITOR’S COMMENT: Torture and terrorism

  1. mistah charley, ph.d.

    Dobbins states that “Saddam Hussein, after all, could not even be coerced into demonstrating persuasively that he had no WMD.”

    As I recall, Saddam did repeatedly deny having WMD, and the UN inspection process that would have determined the accuracy of these statements was underway, when it was truncated by George Bush’s impatience to use the US’s WMD. Since then, Bush has misremembered Saddam “not letting the inspectors in” so many times that the journalists seem to think it happened that way.

    But it didn’t.

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