Friday, May 15, 2009

Torture: Just for the Fun of it

Part of me is unclear on what we're actually talking about in the "torture debate." But I'm becoming convinced that we actually DO know—and the position taken by many Americans is chilling.

As if we didn't know this, the latest declassified information reveals that torture orders came directly from the office of former Vice President Dick Cheney. These orders came despite the fact that Cheney and the rest of the sadistic Bush administration had been warned such tactics were ineffective. These orders came despite the fact that not one Neocon believed there was truly a link between Sadaam Hussein and Al-Qaeda. (Well, maybe W. thought so, bless his heart.) These orders came precisely because Cheney knew that he needed an excuse for an illegal invasion of a sovereign nation. So that waterboarding thing, eh? That's known for getting people to say anything. Let's try that, say, 183 times this month and see what happens.

But nothing happened—no information that was helpful came out of those simulated drownings. Not one shred of useable intelligence was produced after six of these sessions a day for what must have been a very long month—in United States custody. We knew this would happen. We knew this because Cheney's torture script was based on the military training program Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE), which was designed to help downed American pilots resist torture. SERE came out interrogation methods used by the Chinese during the Korean War to elicit false confessions from American prisoners for propaganda purposes. For essentially the same sinister purposes, the Bush administration ordered the SERE program reverse-engineered by psychologists working within a joint Army and CIA command and renamed "enhanced interrogation methods."

Military and law enforcement professionals repeatedly warned against the application of SERE tactics, but Senate reports confirm that their use was urged by top Bush administration figures desperate to link Al Qaeda and Iraq. The Senate report notes that SERE-based interrogation techniques were presented to Guantanamo personnel in September of 2002, despite the objections of instructors from Fort Bragg. In an interview with the Army’s Inspector General, Army psychiatrist Major Charles Burney said "interrogation tactics that rely on physical pressures or torture…do not tend to get you accurate information or reliable information." According to Burney, instructors repeatedly stressed that harsh interrogations don’t work and that the information gleaned "is strongly likely to be false."

So what in the hell could have led Senator Kit Bond of Missouri, vice chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, to praise the henchmen who used these techniques? Manically relieved that Democrat Nancy Pelosi has been charged with knowing that torture was being used on detainees as early as 2003, Bond nearly tripped over a flag in his rush to condemn the Hose Speaker. In response to Pelosi's bold-faced claim that the CIA lied to Congress, Bond said: "It’s outrageous that a member of Congress would call our terror-fighters liars. Instead of prosecuting or persecuting, our country should be supporting our intelligence professionals who work to keep us safe.”

I don't doubt that Pelosi is lying. I don't doubt that important documents remain classified today because they reveal the extent of many Democrats' knowledge and endorsement of torture. This is the sort of deplorable response that a child would know better than to try and pull. You don't cover up injustice. And when the rest of the world is watching, you really can't.

Just what is at stake here? Well, not valuable intelligence that will keep Americans safe. We know that sort of thing isn't a byproduct of torture. What we are seeing is a segment of the US population articulate a preference for violence and state-sponsored persecution. Forty two percent of Americans think that there are cases in which the U.S. should consider using torture against terrorism suspects. Almost half of my neighbors have the will to use pain, fear, and overpowering brutality to get what they want. Oh, wait—given what we know about the SERE program's ineffectiveness, those who still support decisions to use torture prefer to inflict pain and suffering EVEN IF it fails to get them a damned thing. They'd do it just for fun.

We will regret it if we don't deal with the perpetrators of US-backed torture techniques. No domestic issue is worth turning our backs on gross injustices committed by Americans. Hoarding "political capital" cannot dissuade the Obama administration from seeking the swiftest, harshest punishment for those who want to bully the rest of the world. If we don't police our own, it will be done in ways even less to our liking.

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