NEWS & EDITOR’S COMMENTS: Using torture to force “confessions”

Report: Abusive tactics were used to find Iraq-al Qaida link

The Bush administration put relentless pressure on interrogators to use harsh methods on detainees in part to find evidence of cooperation between al Qaida and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime, according to a former senior U.S. intelligence official and a former Army psychiatrist.

Such information would’ve provided a foundation for one of former President George W. Bush’s main arguments for invading Iraq in 2003. No evidence has ever been found of operational ties between Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network and Saddam’s regime.

The use of abusive interrogation — widely considered torture — as part of Bush’s quest for a rationale to invade Iraq came to light as the Senate issued a major report tracing the origin of the abuses and President Barack Obama opened the door to prosecuting former U.S. officials for approving them. [continued…]

Editor’s CommentInterrogation is used for extracting information. Torture is used to force confessions.

It’s not about getting the victim to tell you something you don’t yet know; it’s about getting the victim to say what you want to hear.

The New York Times refers to Dr James E. Mitchell as a mastermind of the torture program. In a telling quote that sounds like an account straight from the Spanish Inquisition — who’s purpose was to force confessions — we learn:

    “Jim believed that people of this ilk would confess for only one reason: sheer terror,” said one CIA official who had discussed the matter with Dr. Mitchell.

There you have it: this was about forcing confessions.

Waterboarding someone dozens of times in order to gain new information makes no sense. Repeated application in order to force a confession makes perfect sense.

In adopting harsh tactics, no inquiry into their past use

The program began with Central Intelligence Agency leaders in the grip of an alluring idea: They could get tough in terrorist interrogations without risking legal trouble by adopting a set of methods used on Americans during military training. How could that be torture?

In a series of high-level meetings in 2002, without a single dissent from cabinet members or lawmakers, the United States for the first time officially embraced the brutal methods of interrogation it had always condemned.

This extraordinary consensus was possible, an examination by The New York Times shows, largely because no one involved — not the top two C.I.A. officials who were pushing the program, not the senior aides to President George W. Bush, not the leaders of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees — investigated the gruesome origins of the techniques they were approving with little debate. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — To hear this story the way the New York Times tells it, then-CIA director George Tenet and his sidekick John McLaughlin added up to a stellar torture sales team. The leaders of the Bush administration passively swallowed the pitch. Good faith was flowing from every direction. It’s yet another ripping yarn in the never ending tale of American innocence. How dreadful that so many eager patriots could have unwittingly become party to the very un-American practice of torture. It’s a great narrative, but somehow it doesn’t quite ring true.

The part that’s missing here is the context — not the context of the United States in a condition of high alert, but the context of an administration that months before had declared its willingness to take the gloves off and operate in the dark side.

The core premise at work here — one that flowed directly from Cheney and Bush — was that the effectiveness of counterterrorism necessarily corresponds with freedom from constraints. From that assumption it naturally follows that the closer one can operate to the boundaries imposed by law, the more effective will be the operation. The perspective on legality is that it is an operational constraint.

Which brings us to the article’s opening words: “The program began…” It began with the assumption that a SERE based interrogation program could not be called torture. Really? Or did it begin with an assignment: find a way to use the most brutal techniques you can devise without any of us running foul of the law.

The idea that brutality and effectiveness might not perfectly coincide never entered the vice president’s mind.

Banned techniques yielded ‘high value information,’ memo says

President Obama’s national intelligence director told colleagues in a private memo last week that the harsh interrogation techniques banned by the White House did produce significant information that helped the nation in its struggle with terrorists.

“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,” Adm. Dennis C. Blair, the intelligence director, wrote in a memo to his staff last Thursday. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — Some precision is called for here. Information comes from the suspect, not the technique. To say that the interrogation technique had an instrumental and indispensable role in soliciting the information depends on knowing that the information could not have been gained in any other way and that the information was reliable. As Blair acknowledged: “The information gained from these techniques was valuable in some instances, but there is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means.”

But as I said yesterday, the fundamental problem with the argument of expediency is that this provides a justification for torture. If you think that whatever works is justifiable and you think torture works then you have to condone torture. If you can’t condone torture then pointing to “success” stories is simply a way of deflecting attention away from the central issue: the use of torture.

Report gives new detail on approval of brutal techniques

A newly declassified Congressional report released Tuesday outlined the most detailed evidence yet that the military’s use of harsh interrogation methods on terrorism suspects was approved at high levels of the Bush administration.

The report focused solely on interrogations carried out by the military, not those conducted by the Central Intelligence Agency at its secret prisons overseas. It rejected claims by former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and others that Pentagon policies played no role in harsh treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq or other military facilities.

The 232-page report, the product of an 18-month inquiry, was approved on Nov. 20 by the Senate Armed Services Committee, but has since been under Pentagon review for declassification. Some of the findings were made public in a Dec. 12 article in The New York Times; a spokesman for Mr. Rumsfeld dismissed the report at the time as “unfounded allegations against those who have served our nation.” [continued…]

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2 thoughts on “NEWS & EDITOR’S COMMENTS: Using torture to force “confessions”

  1. geoff

    I hope your DOJ appoints a special prosecutor to at least run through the motions of a criminal investigation of this complete mess. The fact that the Bush regime wouldn’t actually seek to consider any past experience with torture seems to be par for the course for a group of officials generally happy with inventing their own reality – after all they had that TV show with Kiefer in it as a benchmark. Darius Rejali would say there are 3 reasons governments torture: “to intimidate, to coerce false information, and to gather accurate security information”. The first 2 reasons are quite effective. Regarding the 3rd it would seem that the Bush regime believed and believes it is also and the Blair revelation will be interpreted as agreeing with them which will muddy the waters and confuse your corporate media in, I suspect, a hilarious fashion.

    Large sections of Rejali’s book are available on Google books and, I think, it is useful to at least browse the table of content and maybe read Chapters 23 and 24. The Tinyurl link to the TOC is here:

  2. DE Tedooru

    Rumsfeld sent US troops into Iraq intel blind, language deaf and culture dumb. Spread thin, US forces concentrated on, according to an NSC report, showing “presence” through “shock & awe.” Victory came quick so US troops abused Iraqis because they could. Later, as Iraqis sought revenge, US troops abused Iraqis out of fear. Our soldiers learned what Israelis learned: Arabs are passive but when you insult them they will die to kill you in revenge. We are casulaties sensitive– ours– and we resorted to mechanized killing through indirect fire, feeding hate, feeding resistance. We became killers because we were scared and we were overhwelmed bythe Jihad that cames like a desert sandstorm.

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