Wednesday, October 11, 2006

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...


At 12:57 PM, Blogger Jay said...

So do you think it's too late to start building a wall?

At 1:52 PM, Blogger Mike said...


I think we ought to get rid of our own Republican fan-boys or building a wall won;t matter much.

At 7:45 PM, Blogger DazzlinDino said...

Well stated, once again. My posts lately have been about as objective as a train wreck...

I was going to come up with a couple of "what ifs", but I know you hate those as much as I do.

I do share your feelings towards the issue, but also in a "heat of battle" situation with an enemy, which is where the majority of this would occur, I would think that a certain state of mind would have to be involved in deciding someone guilty of torture. I'm not talking about chopping limbs off one by one here, more of a roughing up situation.

Tough topic.

At 8:02 PM, Blogger Mike said...

He he, Dazz you know I hate hat ifs...

"The heat of battle" is one thing. Though I still would not condone it, it could be understandable. But Gitmo and even Abu Ghaib are not the heat of battle. A small room someone is taken to after they are captured and disarmed is not the heat of battle. The heat of battle would not require an extraordinary reinterpretation of the Geneva Convention or the legalization fo such things as waterboarding.

It is tough but we need to debate and confront it, not simply let it happen.

The US is better than this.

At 12:10 AM, Blogger Nastyboy said...

What part of the Geneva Convention covers beheadings on video? This is an entirely different kind of conflict. The G.C.'s were meant to protect SOLDIERS. Terrorists aren't soldiers.

That being said, I'm glad the clip you linked to had Alan Dershowitz explain his position on the issue, because it's one I have agreed with for some time. Any type of torture should be used only in the most extreme and urgent situations and someone needs to be held accountable for giving the order. It should never be routine as it appears to be in Gitmo.

At 8:36 AM, Blogger Mike said...


"What part of the Geneva Convention covers beheadings on video?

None. That would clearly constitute a war crime. Those that do this - soldiers or terrorists - should be brought to justice, either on the field of battle or by charging them and procecuting them as you would any other criminal. Just because "they" do nasty things, including torture and murder, doesn't mean "we" need to sink to their level. I thought we were supposed to be better than them, the representatives of liberty and freedom, not merely torturers who think they can do it be cause they are "right". Everyone thinks they are "right".

"Terrorists aren't soldiers."

Despite the rhetoric, they are still human beings and deserve the respect that humans deserve, even if they do not hold that same sentiment.

Torture should NEVER be used for the reasons I cited. Dershowitz is a fool. He merely wants to institutionalize this inhuman behaviour. It was intitutionalized, with chains of command and records in places like the USSR and Cambodia (among others) as well. That didn't make it right.

Torture doesn't work at getting useful information or at getting information quickly. It merely dehumanizes the victim, getting them to say anything to make the torture stop. It servers no purpose from an intelligence perspective. It cannot determine the guilt or innocence of the the person being tortured. Just ask Mahar Arar.

Liberty and freedom are not defended if we act just like the supposed "animals" or "terrorists" we are fighting who wish to destroy them. We are then no better then them, so what exactly, is there to defend?

At 11:30 PM, Blogger Nastyboy said...

Torture should NEVER be used for the reasons I cited. Dershowitz is a fool. He merely wants to institutionalize this inhuman behaviour. It was intitutionalized, with chains of command and records in places like the USSR and Cambodia (among others) as well. That didn't make it right.

Dershowitz is neither a fool or raving lunatic neo-con and neither am I. I don't even support capital punishment. He has said, and I agree, that torture should only be used in the most extreme and imminent threat type situations. It should never be done as a matter of course.

I'm like you and Dazz, I hate dealing with hypothetical scenarios so I'm not going to rattle off a bunch of what ifs.

You want to think that there is absolutely no time or place for torture. I disagree. If there are extreme situations where innocent lives are in jeopardy, so be it.

And there is a difference between cruel dictatorships like the former U.S.S.R. and Cambodia using torture as a tool to stop dissent, and oppress it's people, and other governments using it as a means of protecting the lives of its citizens in extreme situations. There is no moral equivilency between the two and comparing them is moot.

Liberty and freedom are not defended if we act just like the supposed "animals" or "terrorists" we are fighting who wish to destroy them. We are then no better then them, so what exactly, is there to defend?

Taking the moral high ground is meaningless if your standing over the dead bodies of innocent civilians knowing that you could have prevented it if you laid a beating on some shitheel who wouldn't think twice about doing the same, or worse, to you if the situation was reversed. (punctuation is for wussies)

The gloves are off when the stakes are that high.


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