Torture: Take Two

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Here we go again with the mock outrage on torture.

Various parts of the Federal monster are feigning shock and distress at other parts’ crimes. This time, it’s the CIA’s destroying videotapes of its "harsh interrogations" that has Congress in an uproar — though Our Rulers seem more disturbed at the obstruction of justice, at the trashing of tapes a judge had ordered "preserved," than at the torture those tapes document. A few months ago, the New York Times‘ report of "secret Justice Department legal opinions permitting the harsh interrogation of terrorism suspects" provoked a similar Congressional snit.

But indignation is as far as it goes. We can tell just how much Leviathan’s lackeys abhor torture by the fact that only its victims are in jail. No American politician or bureaucrat has yet stood trial for his atrocities. Indeed, just three weeks after harrumphing over the Justice Department’s memos, Senators confirmed an Attorney General who refused to condemn waterboarding. Perhaps they figured Michael Mukasey’s weaseling didn’t matter given President George Bush’s stout declaration that "This government does not torture people." Next he’ll claim it doesn’t spy on us, either.

Seems no one told ex-CIA goon John Kiriakou that the Feds don’t torture. That oversight had him admitting earlier this week, a scant 2-1/2 months after the president’s categorical denial, that yeah, we do. John "now works in the private sector," but for 14 years, he "interrogated" folks for the CIA. During that time he "participated in the capture and questioning [sic for u2018torturing'] of the first al-Qaeda terrorist suspect to be waterboarded." He’s "now convinced that waterboarding is torture.”

John’s upset at the mud-slinging that’s clinging to his former co-workers just because they scrubbed a few tapes. So he "came forward," no doubt on his own initiative, "to correct what he says are misperceptions about the role played by CIA employees in the early months of the government’s anti-terrorism efforts." It’s probably sheer coincidence that the media ran John’s whitewash "a day before top CIA officials are to appear before a closed congressional hearing to account for the decision to destroy recordings of the interrogations of [suspected al Qaeda lieutenant ]Abu Zubaida and another senior captive, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri."

John seems like a regular guy, earnest, reasonable, ordinary. Indeed, he explicitly links himself with Everyman: "Like a lot of Americans, I’m involved in this internal, intellectual battle with myself weighing the idea that waterboarding may be torture versus the quality of information that we often get after using the waterboarding technique." But John and the agency for which he’s shilling aren’t like us. They personify evil beyond our ken. They rationalize the irrational and justify the unjustifiable. They’re liars trying to save their miserable butts as they drag us into the abyss, as they calmly speak the unthinkable, as they gull cowards with their false dichotomy: either we torture or we die. “What happens," John asks, "if we don’t waterboard a person and we don’t get that nugget of information and there’s an attack[?] I would have trouble forgiving myself." Poor guy.

The same concern inspired George Bush to resurrect torture’s terrors in the first place. Even so, our president is just a big-hearted lug. When he urged the CIA to hurt men, he did it for us, not because he’s one sick puppy pandering to the rest of the litter: "I have put this program in place for a reason, and that is to better protect the American people," he insisted. "And when we find somebody who may have information regarding a potential attack on America, you bet we’re going to detain them, and you bet we’re going to question [sic for u2018torture'] them, because the American people expect us to find out information u2014 actionable intelligence so we can help protect them. That’s our job."

Here’s one American who neither expects nor wants the Feds to "find out information." They’re so incompetent that a simple task like delivering the mail stumps them, let alone the delicate feat of questioning a hostile witness. And even if they did "find out information," they’re so devious they’d lie about it to each other and to us. Besides, they had their shot at protecting us on 9/11, and they blew it, big-time.

Torture really isn’t so bad after all, or so Jabbering John implies. It’s useful and effective. Heck, it’s like "flipping a switch" as far as convincing "hardened terrorists" to talk. All it took was 35 seconds of waterboarding for Abu Zubaida to sing like a canary. "The next day," John claims, "he told his interrogator [sic for u2018torturer'] that Allah had visited him in his cell during the night and told him to cooperate. … From that day on, he answered every question. The threat information he provided disrupted a number of attacks, maybe dozens of attacks.” Thank God the CIA rolled up its sleeves and did the dirty work so we silly, spoiled civilians can sit around worrying over quaint crap like morality. “It’s easy to point to intelligence failures [sic for u2018torture'] and perceived intelligence failures [sic for u2018torture'], but the public has to understand how hard people are working [sic for u2018torturing prisoners'] to make them safe,” John opined. Surely it can’t be wrong to interrogate men, however harshly, who would kill us if they could. Then, too, waterboarding and the CIA’s other tricks "may be" torture — or maybe not. We have Bush’s word on it that America "does not torture," and since he’s the one who formulated the CIA’s "policy…, with concurrence from the National Security Council and Justice Department,” the policy by definition does not authorize torture. Nor is the non-torture "u2018done willy nilly. This isn’t something where an agency officer just wakes up in the morning and decides he’s going to carry out an enhanced technique [sic for torture] on a prisoner,’[John] said…. Each time CIA agents wished to use waterboarding or any other harsh interrogation technique [sic for torture], they had to present a u2018well-laid out, well-thought out reason’ to top government officials" — benevolent guys who’d never dream of bombing villagers in Iraq or torturing anyone. And anyway, the whole topic is moot: "Americans are better than that," John airily announced despite his having graphically proved that they aren’t. "Maybe that’s inconsistent, but that’s how I feel. It was an ugly little episode that was perhaps necessary at that time. But we’ve moved beyond that.’"

Decide for yourself whether waterboarding is just "an ugly little episode" whose perpetrators aren’t accountable now that "we’ve moved beyond that": "waterboarding … consists of immobilizing an individual on his or her back, with the head inclined downward, and pouring water over the face to force the inhalation of water into the lungs. …In contrast to merely submerging the head, waterboarding elicits the gag reflex, and can make the subject believe death is imminent. … [It] cause[s] extreme mental distress …it carries the real risks of extreme pain, damage to the lungs, brain damage caused by oxygen deprivation, injuries as a result of struggling against restraints (including broken bones), and even death." Like all torture, it devastates mind, body, and spirit. "The psychological effect is that the victim is led to believe that he or she is being executed. This reinforces the interrogator’s control and makes the victim experience mortal fear." The fear so overwhelms that "CIA officers who subjected themselves to the water boarding technique lasted an average of 14 seconds before caving in. They said al Qaeda’s toughest prisoner, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, won the admiration of interrogators when he was able to last between two and two-and-a-half minutes before begging to confess."

Ah, but red-blooded Americans can beat that record any day. Christopher "Kit" Bond (R-MO), for instance, has sustained enough paper cuts during 20 years in the United States Senate and 8 as Missouri’s governor to tough it out with pain. This he-man shrugs at waterboarding: "There are different ways of doing it," he proclaimed on PBS’s NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. "It’s like swimming, freestyle, backstroke." Yep — except you’re in the pool with Jaws. "The waterboarding could be used almost to define some of the techniques that our [military] trainees are put through," and geez, if Americans let their government abuse them, those Al Qaeda wusses can, too. "[B]ut that’s beside the point," "Tough-Guy Kit" continued. "[Waterboarding]‘s not being used." Bush lies, and Bond swears to it. I guess all us namby-pambies with our pants in a wad can relax.

Experts with the stomach to study such things agree that tortured confessions aren’t reliable. A minority opinion says they are. OK: imagine strapping a man to a board, having him completely at your mercy, then flooding him with water while he gags and struggles. He strains so violently against his bonds that he snaps an ankle: you hear the bone break. And there goes his wrist. But you’re no wimp, so you let him lie there a while, groaning, shrieking, sobbing, before you free him, though he’s babbling he’ll tell you everything, just please, please let him breathe, please don’t kill him. Before you sullied your soul with such unfathomable wickedness, before you racked up memories that will rack you forever, wouldn’t you want to be absolutely, 100% sure that such brutality worked? Wouldn’t you want to know that your victim spoke accurately each time, every time, he gasped or stuttered? What sort of demonic thugs resort to such evil on the chance that it might yield some truth?

It’s a mighty slim chance, too. "In documents prepared for a military hearing at Guantanamo Bay, where he is still held, Abu Zubaida asserted…that he told his questioners whatever they wanted to hear to make the torture stop." Hmmm. Didn’t Jabbering John tell us that Zubaida’s "threat information … disrupted … maybe dozens of attacks"? There are other discrepancies. Zubaida, whom "President Bush and others have portrayed…as a crucial and highly placed terrorist," one so dangerous he must be waterboarded into telling all he knows, may be a much smaller fish than his torturers admit: "Some intelligence and law enforcement sources have said he did little more than help with logistics for al-Qaeda leaders and their associates." Should we be surprised that men who torture also lie?

Assume for a moment that torture works, that it alone can extract the information needed to thwart attacks with thousands, even millions, of casualties. It’s still wrong. Always, under all circumstances. There can be no debate that waterboarding is torture and torture is immoral. Those who say otherwise leap the gulf between barbarism and civilization, basic decency and utter evil. Yet they are so lost to shame they openly declare their savagery — and a few even fancy themselves friends of freedom.

Currently, the torturers hone their technique on "terrorists," most of whom aren’t citizens. This allows their tormentors to pretend that Constitutional protections and prohibitions don’t apply — and that there is no higher law nor watching Judge. But they’ll turn their skills on us soon enough. No government in history has ever been so busy torturing foreigners it neglected its own people. It’s a short slope, and slippery as a politician’s promise, from waterboarding "terrorists" at Gitmo to torturing drug dealers and users, pedophiles, drunk drivers, tax resisters, political protesters.

No wonder former congressman, CIA officer, and all-around statist Robert Simmons told the New York Sun he wants presidential pardons for torturers. “Who wants to volunteer to do this kind of work [sic for u2018torture'] if you’re going to end up in jail or with all of your life savings taken away? If you don’t build in some protections for people involved in very difficult dangerous work [sic for u2018torture'], you’re not going to get anybody to do the work [sic for u2018torture']…”

Yep. That’s the idea.

Becky Akers [send her mail] writes primarily about the American Revolution.

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