Of Torture And Tortured Logic

This piece appeared in The Ottawa Citizen on December 18, 2014 

The executive summary of a nearly 7,000 page report into the C.I.A.’s Detention and Interrogation program under the Bush administration confirmed not only what has long been public knowledge – that America did, in fact, engage in torture – but also revealed that, despite an aggressive PR blitz extolling the virtues of its interrogation program, the C.I.A. knew full well the “enhanced” techniques had failed.

Not only was it ineffective; it was counter-productive, just as it had proven to be in the late 1950s, early 1960s and again in the 1980s, as Richard Stolz, chief of the clandestine service under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, testified to Congress: “Physical abuse or other degrading treatment was rejected not only because it is wrong, but because it has historically proven to be ineffective.”

Yet, as the Senate’s report reveals, just weeks after 9/11, C.I.A. lawyers prepared a draft memorandum regarding hostile interrogations, noting “a policy decision must be made with regard to U.S. use of torture.”

“States may be unwilling to call the U.S. to task for torture when it resulted in saving thousands of lives … C.I.A. could argue torture was necessary to prevent imminent, significant, physical harm to persons, where there is no other available means to prevent the harm.”

The resulting torture program – not my definition, mind you; despite officials’ attempts to sanitize the term, first referring to “enhanced interrogation techniques”, now further reduced to the innocuous “EIT” acronym, torture is the C.I.A.’s own definition – as described in the report, wasn’t devised out of necessity, it was borne out revenge, modelled after methods intended to yield false confessions, and developed by a pair of retired Air Force psychologists, neither of whom “had any experience as an interrogator, nor did either have specialized knowledge of Al Qaeda, a background in counterterrorism, or any relevant cultural or linguistic expertise.”

One of the two psychologists, in an interview with Vice News following the report’s release, conceded the committee’s conclusion that torture failed to result in actionable intelligence. According to Dr. James Mitchell, his methods were only meant “to facilitate getting actionable intelligence by making a bad cop that was bad enough that the person would engage with the good cop.”

“I would be stunned,” said Mitchell, “if they found any kind of evidence that EITs, as they were being applied, yielded actionable intelligence.”

The extent of the torture, the full scope of the program’s depravity went far beyond what had been previously known, as the report painstakingly documents: Waterboarding so frequent, a detainee so broken, that “when the interrogator ‘raised his eyebrow,’ without instructions, ‘(detainee) slowly walked on his own to the water table and sat down … when the interrogator snapped his fingers twice, (detainee) would lie flat on the waterboard,” prepared for torture.

Sexual assault under the guise of “reverse sustenance” as a means of exerting “total control over the detainee”; sodomy so frequent and/or forceful it resulted in a torn anus and dislodged intestine.

Mock burials and executions, games of Russian Roulette; Threats to rape or murder family members; Torture even if a detainee agreed to fully cooperate.

Wrongful detention and torture of innocents — some of whom were the C.I.A.’s own informants, another whom was tortured to death.

The torture proved so extreme some C.I.A. personnel attempted to halt the techniques; others reached “the point of tears.” When officers questioned the program, they were “strongly (urged)” by then-head of the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorism Centre Jose Rodriguez, “that any speculative language as to the legality of given activities or, more precisely, judgment calls as to their legality vis-à-vis operational guidelines for this activity agreed upon and vetted at the most senior levels of the agency, be refrained from,” as “such language is not helpful.”

As for the C.I.A.’s “most frequent and prominent examples of purported counterterrorism successes” attributed to torture, the report dismantles them all. From the identification and capture of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to the tracking down and killing of Osama Bin Laden, all quality, actionable information was gathered through conventional means prior to the ‘enhanced’ methods.

One instance where torture did produce ‘actionable’, though entirely fabricated, information: Establishing a link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, including those notorious WMDs.

This bogus admission was later recanted after the detainee admitted he’d only told the interrogators what he “assessed they wanted to hear” to end the torture. But that false intelligence nevertheless made its way to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell – who, the report notes, was kept in the dark about the C.I.A.’s program over fears he’d “blow his stack” – and was cited in Powell’s U.N. speech to justify the invasion of Iraq.

Perhaps that’s why former Vice President Dick Cheney insists – facts be damned – that torture worked; why he shrugs at the notion of an innocent man tortured to death; why rape is no longer an abhorrent weapon of war when given a euphemism and committed by Americans.

Why he – a man who sought and received five draft deferments, thus successfully avoiding military service – feels he is more knowledgable on the matter than fellow Republican John McCain, a man who served his country honourably and, as a prisoner of war, endured the brutality of his captors.

A man who, in response to the torture report, delivered a remarkable address:

“In the end,” McCain argued, “torture’s failure to serve its intended purpose isn’t the main reason to oppose its use. I have often said, and will always maintain, that this question isn’t about our enemies; it’s about us. It’s about who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be. It’s about how we represent ourselves to the world.”

In the aftermath of 9/11, rather than seeking justice, those in power sought revenge, and in doing so found themselves both financially and morally bankrupt. The wounds terrorism inflicted on America were deep, but it’s those which were self-inflicted that continue to do damage.

Until Republicans choose to be the party of McCain rather than the party of Cheney, those wounds will never heal.

9/11 – A Decade Later

Take this opportunity to educate yourself of the facts surrounding the rise of Radical Islam, Neo-Conservatism, and the Politics of Fear. It may change the way you view the attacks of September 11, the subsequent “war on terror,” and the never-ending wars in the Middle East.

For those largely unfamiliar American Politics, you’ll be surprised to learn how long notorious figures of the George W.Bush administration, namely Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, have been on the political scene.

The BBC Documentary Series: The Power Of Nightmares 

Part 1 –  “Baby it’s Cold Outside“

Part 2 –  “The Phantom Victory”

Part 3 – “The Shadows in the Cave”

Summary/explainer courtesy of CBC’s The Passionate Eye:

Part 1 – Baby It’s Cold Outside

Sayyed Qutb: Father of Radical Islam
In the 1950s Sayyed Qutb, an Egyptian civil servant was sent to the U.S. to learn about its public education system. As he traveled around the county, Qutb became increasingly disgusted by what he felt was the selfish and materialistic nature of American life.

When he returned to Egypt, Qutb turned into a revolutionary. Determined to find some way to control the forces of selfish individualism that he saw in America, he envisioned an Arab society where Islam would play a more central role. He became an influential spokesperson in the Muslim Brotherhood but was jailed after some of its members attempted to assassinate Egyptian President Nasser.

In prison a more radical Qutb wrote several books which argued that extreme measures, including deception and even violence, could be justified in an effort to restore shared moral values to society. He was executed in 1966 for treason in Egypt. But his ideas lived on and formed the basis of the radical Islamist movement.

Leo Strauss: A Neo-Conservative
At the same time Leo Strauss, an American professor of political philosophy, also came to see western liberalism as corrosive to morality and to society. Like Qutb, Strauss believed that individual freedoms threatened to tear apart the values which held society together. He taught his students that politicians should assert powerful and inspiring myths – like religion or the myth of the nation – that everyone could believe in.

A group of young students, including Paul Wolfowitz, Francis Fukuyama and William Kristol studied Strauss’ ideas and formed a loose group in Washington which became known as the neo-conservatives. They set out to create a myth of America as a unique nation whose destiny was to battle against evil in the world.

Both Qutb and Strauss were idealists whose ideas were born out of the failure of the liberal dream to build a better world. The two movements they inspired set out, in their different ways, to rescue their societies from this decay.

Two Movements
By creating an alliance with the growing Christian fundamentalist movement in America the neo-conservatives rose to power during the Reagan administration. Senior American civil servants and politicians came to believe their view that the Soviet Union was an evil force against which the U.S. should be presented as a force for good.

The neo-conservatives turned to fear in order to pursue their vision and created a hidden network of evil run by the Soviet Union that only they could see. They used anti-communist propaganda which included Donald Rumsfeld’s over-estimation of Soviet military technology and the William Casey led CIA assertion that various terrorist organizations were backed by the Soviet Union to further their cause.

At the same time, the Islamists faced a refusal of the masses to follow their dream and began to turn to terror to force the people to “see the truth”. Underground Islamic leaders like Ayman Zawahiri, who would become a mentor to Osama bin Laden, ordered the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in an attempt to shock the masses into seeing their version of reality.

Afghanistan: A Battleground 

In 1979, Soviet forces invaded Afghanistan. War in this remote country marked the beginning of key battleground in the Cold War and an extraordinary alliance between radical Islamists in Afghanistan and around the world and the neo-conservatives in the U.S.

Washington provided money and arms including Stinger missiles capable of shooting down Soviet helicopters. But it was Islamic Mujahideen fighters who would fire them. Among the many radical Islamists drawn to Afghanistan was a young, wealthy Saudi called Osama Bin Laden. Long before 9/11, he was seen by neo-conservatives in Washington as one of their foot soldiers, helping fight America’s cause.

After nearly 10 years of fighting, Soviet troops pulled out of Afghanistan and shortly afterwards, their own government collapsed.

Both the neo-conservatives and the Islamists believed that it is they who defeated the “evil empire” and now had the power to transform the world.

Part 2 –  The Phantom Victory

The neo-conservatives – determined to push on with their agenda – were convinced that there were other evil regimes that needed to be conquered in order to spread democracy. So they turned their focus to Saddam Hussein, who had just invaded Kuwait. But at the end of the first Gulf War, President Reagan was not in power and the neo-conservatives no longer had a leader that shared their vision. Once Kuwait was secured, President George HW Bush called a halt to the fighting.

The neo-conservatives turned to the religious right and began a campaign to bring moral and religious issues back into the center of conservative politics. And they invented a new enemy, Bill Clinton, focusing on the scandal surrounding him and Monica Lewinsky.

Meanwhile, the Islamists descended into a cycle of violence and terror to persuade people to follow them. They launched attacks against the leaders of the Arab world – in Egypt and Algeria – to overthrow what they believed were corrupt regimes. Then they began using bloody terrorist attacks to shock ordinary people into rising up.

But both groups failed in their revolutions. The neo-conservatives did not succeed in their attempt to impeach Bill Clinton because polls showed that Americans simply didn’t care about the moral issues involved. And the Islamists – lacking the popular support to topple regimes across the Arab world – returned to Afghanistan.

Defeated, the Islamists formed a new strategy. In the late 1990s Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad and a follower of Sayyid Qutb, paid the Taliban to allow them to recruit and train Islamist fighters for attacks on a new enemy – the U.S. The new jihad would be against the source of corruption itself.

Zawahiri and bin Laden began to implement their new strategy in the late 90’s. Suicide bombings outside American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania attracted the attention of the West. And the neo-conservatives now had a new phantom enemy.

Then bin Laden funded a plan first proposed by an Islamic militant, Khalid Sheik Mohammed. On September 11th, 2001 19 hijackers brought down the World Trade Center, killed thousands of Americans and shocked the world.

But the attacks had another dramatic effect: they brought the neo-conservative agenda back into the forefront.

Part 3 – The Shadows in the Cave

In the wake of the shock and panic created by the devastating attack on the World Trade Center, the neo-conservatives reconstructed the radical Islamists in the image of their last evil enemy, the Soviet Union.

They created a sinister web of terror run by Osama bin Laden from his lair in Afghanistan. And they were able to convince George W. Bush to begin a “War on Terror”.

The war in Afghanistan removed bin Laden’s main source of recruits, but the U.S. military and the Northern Alliance also captured and killed many people in the Taliban camps that had nothing to do with bin Laden’s goal.

The story circulated that bin Laden and the core of al-Qaeda had retreated to a complex in Tora Bora, but an exhaustive search revealed no sign of an underground fortress.

The arrests of various groups of suspected terrorists in the U.S. following the September 11 attacks failed to find any substantial evidence of terrorist sleeper cells. Similarly, in the UK, arrests under new terrorism laws have resulted in only three convictions of Islamists, all for fundraising or possessing Islamist literature.

Much of the media coverage of potential terrorist attacks also became highly speculative and sensational. There were reports that al-Qaeda was poised to use a radiological weapon, referred to as a “dirty bomb”, which would kill thousands of people. But nuclear scientists argued that this was a false threat. They said that a “dirty bomb” wouldn’t kill many people from fallout because the radioactive material would be spread thinly by any explosion.

Still, the neo-conservatives had found they could use the threat of Islamist terrorism and claimed that they had found hidden links between al-Qaeda and their old enemy, Saddam Hussein. Iraq became an important enemy against which to unite the U.S., and other politicians such as Tony Blair who wanted to play an important role in protecting their countries from attack.

Politicians and counter-terrorist agents have decided that they must be pro-active in imagining the worst possible attacks and in stopping those who seem likely to carry out attacks. They are convinced that it’s the only way to save the world from a looming catastrophe.

Further viewing: 2011 Maddow/Engel Documentary – Day Of Destruction, Decade of War 

Great reads:

This Is What War Looks Like – The aftermath of the 9/11 attacks took photojournalist Kate Brooks to Afghanistan and Pakistan to cover the fall of the Taliban.

Those Who Face Death  – Photojournalist Kate Brooks spent the decade after 9/11 photographing the U.S. military struggles and political upheaval in the Greater Middle East. The following collection is from her time in Iraq in 2003-2004.

Fareed Zakaria –  Reflections on 9/11 and its aftermath
Juan Cole – A tale of two Afghan Leaders, before and after 9/11
Noam Chomsky The Imperial Mentality and 9/11
Foreign Policy Mag The Black Hole of 9/11
A Television News Archive – Understanding 9/11
Foreign Policy MagThe 9/11 Anniversary Reader: FAIL edition
Foreign Policy Mag9/11 from Arab Shores
Globe & Mail – The Muslim world’s 9/11 generation emerges from a long shadow 
Al Jazeera – The Decade of 9/11: war without end
SlateTrutherism 2011: The Rise and Fall of the 9/11 Conspiracy Theory
Doug Saunders – Al-Qaeda’s zealots of yesteryear turning to politics, democracy
The Nation – The Years Since 9/11: A Lost Decade
Mother Jones – Patriot Acts
Paul KrugmanThe Years of Shame 
The AtlanticThe Soldier and the Rap Star: A Tale of Two Post-9/11 Students 
Michael Ignatieff9/11 and the age of sovereign failure 
Daily Mail UKThe 9/11 victims America Wants To Forget – the 200 jumpers who’ve been ‘airbrushed from history’
Alternet“I Stayed to Fight” — Being a Muslim Immigrant in Post 9/11 America 
ReutersDecade after 9/11, Afghans languish in Pakistan 
The Independent9/11 lost decade: The American dream, and the missing years 
Reuters – Iraq: Victim or beneficiary of September 11 attacks?
Washington PostPublic sees wars in Iraq, Afghanistan as least effective means of reducing terrorism 
New York TimesOne 9/11 tally – 3.3 Trillion 

On TV:

National Geographic Channel – 9/11 and the American Dream  (Phenominal footage of the day’s events)
Raw Story – Paul Simon performs ‘The Sound of Silence’ at Ground Zero


Eminem – Mosh