Hysteria and Torture
The US has recently turned its back on its own constitution, allowing and legalizing torture. Yes, now this is a legal method of interogation in the US.
Yet the apologists for torture still come out. Gitmo is a 5-star hotel, they say. No torture here. Ok, maybe a little.
Besides, we must use these harsh methods of interrogation in order to make America Safe.
Last night PBS Frontline brought into sharp focus the fallacy of this stance with their program "The Enemy Within". You can watch online as the US government fans the flames of fear and hysteria in order to advance a political agenda. The program concludes that most of the time, reports of 'Al Queda' operating in the US and various 'plots' are overblown, plain wrong or outright fabrications.
But most disturbing in regards to torture, is the Lodi Case in which the FBI investigated an 'Al Queda' cell in Lodi, California. They had a paid informant, wiretaps and even a video taped confession from two of the suspects, Hamid and Umer Hayat. It would seem an open and shut case. But when the tapes were examined by a former 35-year veteran FBI agent and supervisor with an expertise in interogations, James Wedick, it turns out, things were not:
"I spent a weekend looking at the video confessions. I was shocked, … because what I saw was something rather unprofessional, something that suggested that these agents were not really familiar with the two individuals being prosecuted, and they didn't look like they had done their homework relative to Al Qaeda in Pakistan and the Middle East. I began to suspect maybe that the evidence was not there. "
Wedick spent the next months working for the defence. He was convinced that the US Attorney and the FBI had mishandled the case.
But what of the confessions? The Hayats had been interrogated for hours, after coming into the police department on their own. If you watch the tapes, they are clearly being led by the interrogators to the answers the interrogators wanted. According to Wedick, they simply wanted the interrogation to end:
"They were attempting to return home, to go back to their house. … They had repeatedly denied attending any camp, being associated with any terrorist activities, but then finally at some point, if you look at the tape-recorded confessions, you'll see that they more or less answered the way the bureau wanted them to answer. Most of the answers were just short bursts of agreement of whatever was proposed. Other times it doesn't make any sense. What I found shocking was the bureau never tried to mitigate or reconcile the differences between what Hamid said and what Omer said."So convinced is this former senior FBI agent of a miscarriage of justice, that he worked for the defence for free:
"I'm doing it simply because they're not guilty. …"
Hamid Hayat was convicted and faces 39 years in prison for terrorism related charges. Umer was convicted of a minor, unrelated offence and freed.
What makes this case, and other like it, most terrifying is not only they way they were blown out of proportion in order to scare the US public into accepting hitherto unacceptable state powers (itself quite terrifying), but was the fact that two men were made to confess - to tell the FBI interrogators what the interrogators wanted to hear - without the use of torture. Imagine what they might have said in order to stop torture.
From a security perspective, this makes the US, and by extension the rest of North America, less safe. A few points:
- These men were made to give false confessions, either purposefully or accidentally, without torture. Waterboarding or making a person hypothermic will simply ellict false confessions faster.
- The FBI spent millions in taxpayer money and used valuable investigative resources chasing and manufacturing a false conspiracy. That is money and resources not available for other investigations, or more valuable intelligence gathering activities.
- The more cases like this that come to light (like our own "terror cell" from last June or the similarly incompetant Florida cell) two things can happen: either the public is lulled into a false sense of security and real threats are missed or they fall into the "boy who cried wolf" syndrome, where they no longer believe real threats when they appear. Niether is good for real security.
- Adding torture techniques to this already volitile situation will make things worse, not better, mainly because torture does not work. It is ineffective at getting real information. It is a degrading practice with no real benefit.
I will not get into the ethical and moral problems with the use of torture. Those have been raised by others.
I am being pragmatic and practical. In an environment where false confessions can be so easily extracted without torture, where valuable resources can be wasted ensnaring innocent people rather than bing used effectively, torture will make us less safe not more.
Like you need more reasons to think torture is not about getting intelligence or stopping the ticking time bomb? Read...