Torture and terrorism

One of the strange aspects relating to conspiracy theories concerning 9/11 is that they unwittingly obscure something even worse: that the US government foments terrorism not by design but by neglect; that its policies have had a direct and instrumental role in creating terrorists not simply by providing individuals and groups with an ideological pretext for engaging in terrorism but much more specifically by creating the conditions an individual’s political opposition to America’s actions would shift to unrestrained violent opposition.

The key which often unlocks the terrorist’s capacity for violence is his experience of being subject to violence through torture.

Chris Zambelis writes:

There is ample evidence that a number of prominent militants — including al-Qaeda deputy commander Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri and the late al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi — endured systematic torture at the hands of the Egyptian and Jordanian authorities, respectively. Many observers believe that their turn toward extreme radicalism represented as much an attempt to exact revenge against their tormentors and, by extension, the United States, as it was about fulfilling an ideology. Those who knew Zawahiri and can relate to his experience believe that his behavior today is greatly influenced by his pursuit of personal redemption to compensate for divulging information about his associates after breaking down amid brutal torture sessions during his imprisonment in the early 1980s. For radical Islamists and their sympathizers, U.S. economic, military, and diplomatic support for regimes that engage in this kind of activity against their own citizens vindicates al-Qaeda’s claims of the existence of a U.S.-led plot to attack Muslims and undermine Islam. In al-Qaeda’s view, these circumstances require that Muslims organize and take up arms in self-defense against the United States and its allies in the region.

The latest revelations provided by Wikileaks show how the war in Iraq — the centerpiece of the Bush administration’s war on terrorism — became not simply a terrorist training ground, but a cauldron in which terrorists could be forged.


The Guardian reports:

A grim picture of the US and Britain’s legacy in Iraq has been revealed in a massive leak of American military documents that detail torture, summary executions and war crimes.

Almost 400,000 secret US army field reports have been passed to the Guardian and a number of other international media organisations via the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.

The electronic archive is believed to emanate from the same dissident US army intelligence analyst who earlier this year is alleged to have leaked a smaller tranche of 90,000 logs chronicling bloody encounters and civilian killings in the Afghan war.

The new logs detail how:

• US authorities failed to investigate hundreds of reports of abuse, torture, rape and even murder by Iraqi police and soldiers whose conduct appears to be systematic and normally unpunished.

• A US helicopter gunship involved in a notorious Baghdad incident had previously killed Iraqi insurgents after they tried to surrender.

• More than 15,000 civilians died in previously unknown incidents. US and UK officials have insisted that no official record of civilian casualties exists but the logs record 66,081 non-combatant deaths out of a total of 109,000 fatalities.

The Pentagon might hide behind claims that it neither authorized nor condoned violence used by Iraqi authorities on Iraqi detainees, but the difference between being an innocent bystander and being complicit consists in whether one has the power to intervene. The US military’s hands were not tied. As the occupying power it had both the means, the legal authority and the legal responsibility to stop torture in Iraq. It’s failure to do so was a matter of choice.

Will the latest revelations from Wikileaks be of any political consequence? I seriously doubt it, given that we now have a president dedicated not only to refusing to look back but also to perpetuating most of the policies instituted by his predecessor.

For more information on the documents released by Wikileaks, see The Guardian‘s Iraq war logs page.

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6 thoughts on “Torture and terrorism

  1. Patrick Cummins

    “As the occupying power it had … the legal responsibility to stop torture in Iraq.”

    Yes indeed. Being an occupying power carries great responsibilities under international law. To have issued Frago 242 represents a total abdication of responsbility, and hence a very serious crime.

  2. pabelmont

    UNTIL a few top US generals are arrested, tried, and executed upon allegations of (failure to investigate and prevent) war-crimes and torture, Americans cannot be relieved of responsibility for their (our own) crimes (of neglectful supervision of our employees, namely, those generals). As long as there is immunity and impunity, there will be crime, including this dreadful terrorism-encouraging crime by Americans. If a few generals are sacrificed, perhaps the others will straighten out. It’s possible. Without punishment of someone (even of randomly chosen generals), the torture and murder and other war-crimes will be sure to continue.

  3. Norman

    So, now the public has more to go on. Unfortunately, true justice won’t be done. The military 7 civilians from the U.S.A. & Britain wont be facing the doc @ the Hague, because there is no one to arrest them, bring them to justice that’s befitting the crimes.

  4. vince j

    The US has been involved with torture many decades before the first Iraq war. Its goons came to Latin America to train their military and para-military puppets in techniques of torture.
    Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, Equador, Peru… I’m happy for the wikyleaks, but I find it amuzing to see the outrage now!!?!!!
    I find offensive the fact the War Crminal vomited by the US are still walking free.

  5. opit

    I wonder what the School of Americas is for if not to foment terrorism. I admit supporting right-wing juntas and dictatorships is not what is usually thought of as ‘terrorism’ : but for any sane member of a Police State, the threat is not from foreigners…but uniformed oppression by the state. Looked at in that context – even before considering black ops like the ones mounted openly against Iranian government and military starting in 2006 – ‘terrorism’ is a weapon of choice of the state.

    That is what the Patriot Act and War Measures Acts are there for : to do an end run against the Common Law changes effected in 1215 in England when the Great Charter was enacted because the hereditary executive was revolting against incessant raids,indefinite imprisonment, torture and murder by the state without any semblance of legal process.
    So the Land Slaves ( Serfs ) of 1215 Britain had more legal protections than are afforded today.

    Further : torture was ‘enabled’ by not being prosecuted for years. In my ‘Law Files’ in the Topical Index at Opit’s LinkFest! I have noted 2002 American Service Members Protection Act, 2006 Military Commissions Act and Bilateral Immunity Agreements as methods to frustrate the law.

    The Taqueba Report on Abu Ghraib illuminated another change. Rather than trained professional interrogators from the Military Police being in charge, untrained people were given charge of prisoners and encouraged to be ‘creative’ in their treatment – this while ’24’ was being broadcast to conflate popular understanding of ‘interrogation’ and ‘torture’. Torture in general and water torture in particular are effective in traumatizing to elicit false confessions.

    So this is not a ‘Conspiracy Theory’ : but recorded administrative fact.

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