Over the weekend, new allegations have surfaced in connection with the treatment (or mistreatment) of terror “suspects”. Among them, the treatment of Abu Zubaydah, presumed Al-Qaeda operative, who was subjected to this treatment a shocking 83 times, and Khalid Sheikh Mohamed, confessed planner of the September 11th attacks, who was waterboarded a stunning 183 times ((Read the New York Times report, dated April 20, 2009.)).
One hundred eighty-three times he was subjected to the horror of simulated drowning. Fox’s Steve Harrigan submitted to a controlled demonstration a few years ago when the first allegations of torture came out, and reported on it in a video that has since been re-used by all the news stations. I make it available here, but I warn you, it might make you squirm.
Of the many ways to die, it might not be the worst (I can think of much worse), but breath is such a fundamental element of life that it’s loss triggers all kinds of automatic reactions in the human body. This is especially true with drowning, a particular form of asphyxiation that the body instinctively rejects: you choke, you splutter, you gag ((See this article for more information on the body’s reaction to the various stages of drowning.)).
Because of this, “waterboarding” was designed as a method to “make people talk”. Translation: TORTURE.
Pure and simple.
Surprisingly, it seems the technique wasn’t effective: after all, if it were so terrifying, so horrible and frightening, wouldn’t they want to confess to anything, as fast as possible, so that they don’t have to go through that again?
A report by Rachel Maddow ((Full transcript of that show))last night brings to light what C.I.A. interrogators were really looking for. In an interview with Ron Suskind, author of the book “The Way of the World”, Mr. Suskind puts it all in clear terms:
[…]if you run the timeline side by side, you see, really, for the first time from that report that the key thing being sent down in terms of the request by the policymakers, by the White House, is find a link between Saddam and al Qaeda so that we essentially can link Saddam to the 9/11 attacks and then march into Iraq with the anger of 9/11 behind us. That was the goal and that was being passed down as the directive.
[…]The impetus here is largely political diplomatic. The White House had a political diplomatic problem. It wanted it solved in the run-up to the war.
[…]after the invasion, when it becomes clear in the summer, just a few months after in 2003, that there are no WMD in Iraq. […] Now, the White House is being hit with a charge that they took us to war under false pretenses. That‘s when the frustration is acute.
My question, the question for investigators now: Is how many of these interrogations were driven specifically by a desire to come up with the Saddam/al Qaeda link? It‘s essentially rivers coming together.
And there you have it. Torture for the sake of getting false information. No wonder the C.I.A. felt it had to torture, and do so repeatedly.
What is so stunning to me is that in this era, there are still people who believe torture is useful for obtaining good, actionable data. Ask John McCain, he’ll tell you: torture yields more lies than truth, every time. This is especially true with a well-organized cell network: only the people at the very top have any useful knowledge at all. Most of the others are pawns awaiting instructions that they receive at the very last minute possible.
Worse, it seems clear to me that the C.I.A. was attempting to get people to issues false confessions so that the government could say “See? We told you so!”. The trouble with that is, these men refused to play along.
Not that it matters. What good is such a false bit of information if you can’t prove it?
At the time of the invasion of Iraq, when it became obvious there were no WMD’s, I remember thinking our spy network must have operatives in place, planting said weapons in the country.
Evidently, that turned out not to be the case. So we tortured supposed “enemy combatants” over and over and over again, hoping to break them down so much that they would give up their own sense of honesty and “confess” to things they had no knowledge of. Can you imagine the arrogance it takes to do this? No wonder President Obama has been apologizing to the world.
Torture is reprehensible enough, in my book. Torture with the express intention of eliciting a false confession is a morally bankrupt act. I don’t care that these people are presumably the enemy. I don’t care that they would gladly blow themselves up and take the entire American continent with them, given the chance. We have now made them victims, as well as enemies, thereby skewing the possibility for any justice in their favor.
We are better than that. We should have done what we set out to do in the first place, which was to capture Osama bin Laden and dismantle the Al-Qaeda network. Every other distraction has not only set back any progress the West might have made with the Middle-East, but has fractured the western world more effectively than any bombs could have done. The size of that faux pas will be measured in decades, at least, despite the continued shrinking of the global family brought on by better and better communication methods.
At the very least, we could have maintained our moral high ground.