Torture Cheerleaders Back In the News Trying to Defend the Indefensible

Posted: April 29th, 2012 by Militant Libertarian

Washington’s Blog

10 Torture Myths Debunked

The so-called “debate” about whether torture helped to keep us safe is reemerging, as the former chief of CIA clandestine operations Jose Rodriguez is about to publish a bookclaiming that the use of “enhanced interrogation” practices including water-boarding saved lives.

“We made some al-Qaeda terrorists with American blood on their hands uncomfortable for a few days,” Rodriguez said in an interview with CBS News’ “60 Minutes” that will air on Sunday, April 29. “I am very secure in what we did and am very confident that what we did saved American lives.”

Torture is also back in the news because Senate Intelligence Committee Democrats areproducing a report stating that torture isn’t effective in producing information.

We will quote the top American military and intelligence interrogation experts to debunk the following 10 common myths about torture:

1. Torture is a partisan issue

2. Waterboarding isn’t torture

3. Torture increases our national security

4. Torture is necessary to break hardened terrorists

5. Torture is necessary in a “ticking time bomb” situation

6. The “enhanced” interrogation techniques were aimed at producing actionable intelligence

7. Torture helped to get Bin Laden

8. Torture provided valuable details regarding 9/11

9. Only bad guys were tortured

10. America doesn’t torture any more

Myth # 1: Torture Is a Partisan Issue

George Washington – the father of our country before there were any parties – wasagainst torture. Torture is not leftwing or rightwing … it is simply un-American.

And both Democrats and Republicans approved torture. As we noted in 2009:

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy told the New York Times:

The temptation to abuse powers in a crisis is bipartisan and the [proposed truth] commission’s review should include the role of Democrats in Congress in approving the Bush policies.

As I have previously written, Nancy Pelosi was secretly briefed on torturemany, many years ago, and yet did nothing to stop those unlawful programs. Indeed, she egged the torturers on. Pelosi was also secretly tipped off about warrantless spying on Americans.

And Pelosi hid from the 9/11 Commission and the American people the fact that the interrogations of 9/11 suspects were videotaped, and that the alleged “confessions” of those held at Gitmo were wholly unreliable. She could have stopped the whole farce cold — but chose to go along with it.

Leading democrats Harman, Rockefeller and others in Congress were also war criminals, accessories after the fact, and co-conspirators.

And as shown below, many conservative military and intelligence officers oppose torture.

Myth # 2: Waterboarding Isn’t Torture

Yes, waterboarding is torture:

  • Everyone claiming waterboarding is not torture has changed their tune as soon as they were exposed to even a small dose of it themselves. See thisthis and this

(In addition, a lot more than waterboarding was used on detainees. See thisthis andthis.)

Myth # 3: Torture Increases Our National Security

Torture apologists say that torture is a necessary evil for protecting our national security. In fact, torturereduces our national security:

  • The head of all U.S. intelligence said:

    “The bottom line is these techniques have hurt our image around the world,” [Director of National Intelligence Dennis] Blair said in the statement. “The damage they have done to our interests far outweighed whatever benefit they gave us and they are not essential to our national security.”

  • A top counter-terrorism expert says torture increases the risk of terrorism (and seethis).
  • One of the top military interrogators said that torture by Americans of innocent Iraqis is the main reason that foreign fighters started fighting against Americans in Iraq in the first place (and see this).
  • Former counter-terrorism czar Richard A. Clarke says that America’s indefinite detention without trial and abuse of prisoners is a leading Al Qaeda recruiting tool
  • A 30-year veteran of CIA’s operations directorate who rose to the most senior managerial ranks,says:

    Torture creates more terrorists and fosters more acts of terror than it could possibly neutralize.

“The administration’s policies concerning [torture] and the resulting controversies … strengthened the hand of our enemies.”

  • General Petraeus said that torture hurts our national security
  • The reporter who broke Iran-Contra and other stories says that torture actually helped Al Qaeda, by giving false leads to the U.S. which diverted its military, intelligence and economic resources into wild goose chases
  • Raw Story says that torture might have resulted in false terror alerts
  • Hundreds of other experts have said the same things

Myth # 4: Torture Is Necessary to Break Hardened Terrorists

We’ve repeatedly noted that virtually all of the top interrogation experts – both conservatives and liberals (except for those trying to escape war crimes prosecution) – say that torture doesn’t work:

  • Army Field Manual 34-52 Chapter 1says:

    “Experience indicates that the use of force is not necessary to gain the cooperation of sources for interrogation. Therefore, the use of force is a poor technique, as it yields unreliable results, may damage subsequent collection efforts, and can induce the source to say whatever he thinks the interrogator wants to hear.”

  • The C.I.A.’s 1963 interrogation manual stated:

Intense pain is quite likely to produce false confessions, concocted as a means of escaping from distress. A time-consuming delay results, while investigation is conducted and the admissions are proven untrue. During this respite the interrogatee can pull himself together. He may even use the time to think up new, more complex ‘admissions’ that take still longer to disprove.

  • According to the Washington Post, the CIA’s top spy – Michael Sulick, head of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service – said that the spy agency has seen no fall-off in intelligence since waterboarding was banned by the Obama administration. “I don’t think we’ve suffered at all from an intelligence standpoint.”
  • A 30-year veteran of CIA’s operations directorate who rose to the most senior managerial ranks (Milton Bearden) says(as quoted by senior CIA agent and Presidential briefer Ray McGovern):

    It is irresponsible for any administration not to tell a credible story that would convince critics at home and abroad that this torture has served some useful purpose. *** The old hands overwhelmingly believe that torture doesn’t work ….

  • A former high-level CIA officer (Philip Giraldi) states:

Many governments that have routinely tortured to obtain information have abandoned the practice when they discovered that other approaches actually worked better for extracting information. Israel prohibited torturing Palestinian terrorist suspects in 1999. Even the German Gestapo stopped torturing French resistance captives when it determined that treating prisoners well actually produced more and better intelligence.

  • Another former high-level CIA official (Bob Baer) says:

    And torture — I just don’t think it really works … you don’t get the truth. What happens when you torture people is, they figure out what you want to hear and they tell you.

  • Michael Scheuer, formerly a senior CIA official in the Counter-Terrorism Center,says:

    “I personally think that any information gotten through extreme methods of torture would probably be pretty useless because it would be someone telling you what you wanted to hear.”

  • A retired C.I.A. officer who oversaw the interrogation of a high-level detainee in 2002 (Glenn L. Carle) says:

    [Coercive techniques] didn’t provide useful, meaningful, trustworthy information…Everyone was deeply concerned and most felt it was un-American and did not work.”

  • A former top Air Force interrogator who led the team that tracked down Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who has conducted hundreds of interrogations of high ranking Al Qaida members and supervising more than one thousand, and wrote a book called How to Break a Terrorist writes:

As the senior interrogator in Iraq for a task force charged with hunting down Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, the former Al Qaida leader and mass murderer, I listened time and time again to captured foreign fighters cite the torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo as their main reason for coming to Iraq to fight. Consider that 90 percent of the suicide bombers in Iraq are these foreign fighters and you can easily conclude that we have lost hundreds, if not thousands, of American lives because of our policy of torture and abuse. But that’s only the past.Somewhere in the world there are other young Muslims who have joined Al Qaida because we tortured and abused prisoners. These men will certainly carry out future attacks against Americans, either in Iraq, Afghanistan, or possibly even here. And that’s not to mention numerous other Muslims who support Al Qaida, either financially or in other ways, because they are outraged that the United States tortured and abused Muslim prisoners. In addition, torture and abuse has made us less safe because detainees are less likely to cooperate during interrogations if they don’t trust us. I know from having conducted hundreds of interrogations of high ranking Al Qaida members and supervising more than one thousand, that when a captured Al Qaida member sees us live up to our stated principles they are more willing to negotiate and cooperate with us. When we torture or abuse them, it hardens their resolve and reaffirms why they picked up arms.

He also says:

[Torture is] extremely ineffective, and it’s counter-productive to what we’re trying to accomplish.When we torture somebody, it hardens their resolve … The information that you get is unreliable. … And even if you do get reliable information, you’re able to stop a terrorist attack, al Qaeda’s then going to use the fact that we torture people to recruit new members.

And he repeats:

I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

He saidlast week:

They don’t want to talk about the long term consequences that cost the lives of Americans…. The way the U.S. treated its prisoners “was al-Qaeda’s number-one recruiting tool and brought in thousands of foreign fighters who killed American soldiers.

  • The FBI interrogators who actually interviewed some of the 9/11 suspects say torture didn’t work
  • Another FBI interrogator of 9/11 suspects said:

I was in the middle of this, and it’s not true that these [aggressive] techniques were effective

  • The FBI warned military interrogators in 2003 that enhanced interrogation techniques are “of questionable effectiveness” and cited a “lack of evidence of [enhanced techniques’] success.
  • The Senate Armed Services Committee unanimously found that torture doesn’t work, stating:

    The administration’s policies concerning [torture] and the resulting controversies damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority.

  • General Petraeus says that torture is unnecessary
  • Retired 4-star General Barry McCaffrey – who Schwarzkopf called he hero of Desert Storm – agrees
  • Former Navy Judge Advocate General Admiral John Hutson says:

    Fundamentally, those kinds of techniques are ineffective. If the goal is to gain actionable intelligence, and it is, and if that’s important, and it is, then we have to use the techniques that are most effective. Torture is the technique of choice of the lazy, stupid and pseudo-tough.

    He also says:

    Another objection is that torture doesn’t work. All the literature and experts say that if we really want usable information, we should go exactly the opposite way and try to gain the trust and confidence of the prisoners.

  • Army Colonel Stuart Herrington – a military intelligence specialist who interrogated generals under the command of Saddam Hussein and evaluated US detention operations at Guantánamo – notesthat the process of obtaining information is hampered, not helped, by practices such as “slapping someone in the face and stripping them naked”. Herrington and other former US military interrogators say:

    We know from experience that it is very difficult to elicit information from a detainee who has been abused. The abuse often only strengthens their resolve and makes it that much harder for an interrogator to find a way to elicit useful information.

  • Major General Thomas Romig, former Army JAG, said:

    If you torture somebody, they’ll tell you anything. I don’t know anybody that is good at interrogation, has done it a lot, that will say that that’s an effective means of getting information. … So I don’t think it’s effective.

  • Former counter-terrorism czar Richard A. Clarke says that America’s indefinite detention without trial and abuse of prisoners is a leading Al Qaeda recruiting tool.
  • The first head of the Department of Homeland Security – Tom Ridge – says we were wrong to torture.The former British intelligence chairman says that waterboarding didn’t stop terror plots.
  • A spokesman for the National Security Council (Tommy Vietor) says:

    The bottom line is this: If we had some kind of smoking-gun intelligence from waterboarding in 2003, we would have taken out Osama bin Laden in 2003.

In researching this article, I spoke to numerous counterterrorist officials from agencies on both sides of the Atlantic. Their conclusion is unanimous: not only have coercive methods failed to generate significant and actionable intelligence, they have also caused the squandering of resources on a massive scale through false leads, chimerical plots, and unnecessary safety alerts…Here, they say, far from exposing a deadly plot, all torture did was lead to more torture of his supposed accomplices while also providing some misleading “information” that boosted the administration’s argument for invading Iraq.

  • Neuroscientists have found that torture physically and chemically interferes with the prisoner’s ability to tell the truth
  • An Army psychologist – Major Paul Burney, Army’s Behavior Science Consulting Team psychologist –said (page 78 & 83):

was stressed to me time and time again that psychological investigations have proven that harsh interrogations do not work. At best it will get you information that a prisoner thinks you want to hear to make the interrogation stop, but that information is strongly likely to be false.*** Interrogation techniques that rely on physical or adverse consequences are likely to garner inaccurate information and create an increased level of resistance…There is no evidence that the level of fear or discomfort evoked by a given technique has any consistent correlation to the volume or quality of information obtained.

  • An expert on resisting torture – Terrence Russell, JPRA’s manager for research and development and a SERE specialist – said (page 209):

History has shown us that physical pressures are not effective for compelling an individual to give information or to do something’ and are not effective for gaining accurate, actionable intelligence.

Indeed, it has been known for hundreds of years that torture doesn’t work:

  • As a former CIA analyst notes:

During the Inquisition there were many confessed witches, and many others were named by those tortured as other witches. Unsurprisingly, when these new claimed witches were tortured, they also confessed. Confirmation of some statement made under torture, when that confirmation is extracted by another case of torture, is invalid information and cannot be trusted.

  • The head of Britain’s wartime interrogation center in London said:

“Violence is taboo. Not only does it produce answers to please, but it lowers the standard of information.”

  • The national security adviser to Vice President George H.W. Bush (Donald P. Gregg)wrote:

During wartime service with the CIA in Vietnam from 1970 to 1972, I was in charge of intelligence operations in the 10 provinces surrounding Saigon. One of my tasks was to prevent rocket attacks on Saigon’s port.Keeping Saigon safe required human intelligence, most often from captured prisoners. I had a running debate about how North Vietnamese prisoners should be treated with the South Vietnamese colonel who conducted interrogations. This colonel routinely tortured prisoners, producing a flood of information, much of it totally false. I argued for better treatment and pressed for key prisoners to be turned over to the CIA, where humane interrogation methods were the rule – and more accurate intelligence was the result. The colonel finally relented and turned over a battered prisoner to me, saying, “This man knows a lot, but he will not talk to me.” We treated the prisoner’s wounds, reunited him with his family, and allowed him to make his first visit to Saigon. Surprised by the city’s affluence, he said he would tell us anything we asked. The result was a flood of actionable intelligence that allowed us to disrupt planned operations, including rocket attacks against Saigon. Admittedly, it would be hard to make a story from nearly 40 years ago into a definitive case study. But there is a useful reminder here. The key to successful interrogation is for the interrogator – even as he controls the situation – to recognize a prisoner’s humanity, to understand his culture, background and language. Torture makes this impossible. There’s a sad twist here. Cheney forgets that the Bush administration followed this approach with some success. A high-value prisoner subjected to patient interrogation by an Arabic-speaking FBI agent yielded highly useful information, including the final word on Iraq’s weapons programs. His name was Saddam Hussein.

  • Top interrogators got information from a high-level Al Qaeda suspects through building rapport, even if they hated the person they were interrogating by treating them as human

Senator John McCain explains, based upon his own years of torture:

I know from personal experience that the abuse of prisoners sometimes produces good intelligence but often produces bad intelligence because under torture a person will say anything he thinks his captors want to hear — true or false — if he believes it will relieve his suffering. Often, information provided to stop the torture is deliberately misleading.

Myth # 5: Torture Is Necessary In a “Ticking Time Bomb” Situation

According to the experts, torture is unnecessary even to prevent “ticking time bombs” from exploding (see thisthis and this).

Indeed, a top expert says that torture would fail in a real ‘ticking time-bomb’ situation

Myth # 6: The “Enhanced” Techniques Were At Least Aimed at Producing Actionable Intelligence

The torture techniques used were Communist techniques specifically designed to producefalseconfessions:

As I notedin 2009:

Senator Levin, in commenting on the Senate Armed Services Committee report on torture declassified today, drops the following bombshell:

With last week’s release of the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) opinions, it is now widely known that Bush administration officials distorted Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape “SERE” training – a legitimate program used by the military to train our troops to resist abusive enemy interrogations – by authorizing abusive techniques from SERE for use in detainee interrogations. Those decisions conveyed the message that abusive treatment was appropriate for detainees in U.S. custody. They were also an affront to the values articulated by General Petraeus. In SERE training, U.S. troops are briefly exposed, in a highly controlled setting, to abusive interrogation techniques used by enemies that refuse to follow the Geneva Conventions. The techniques are based on tactics used by Chinese Communists against American soldiers during the Korean War for the purpose of eliciting false confessions for propaganda purposes. Techniques used in SERE training include stripping trainees of their clothing, placing them in stress positions, putting hoods over their heads, subjecting them to face and body slaps, depriving them of sleep, throwing them up against a wall, confining them in a small box, treating them like animals, subjecting them to loud music and flashing lights, and exposing them to extreme temperatures. Until recently, the Navy SERE school also used waterboarding. The purpose of the SERE program is to provide U.S. troops who might be captured a taste of the treatment they might face so that they might have a better chance of surviving captivity and resisting abusive and coercive interrogations.

Senator Levin then documents that SERE techniques were deployed as part of an official policy on detainees, and that SERE instructors helped to implement the interrogation programs. The senior Army SERE psychologist warned in 2002 against using SERE training techniques during interrogations in an email to personnel at Guantanamo Bay, because:

[T]he use of physical pressures brings with it a large number of potential negative side effects… When individuals are gradually exposed to increasing levels of discomfort, it is more common for them to resist harder… If individuals are put under enough discomfort, i.e. pain, they will eventually do whatever it takes to stop the pain. This will increase the amount of information they tell the interrogator, but it does not mean the information is accurate. In fact, it usually decreases the reliability of the information because the person will say whatever he believes will stop the pain… Bottom line: the likelihood that the use of physical pressures will increase the delivery of accurate information from a detainee is very low. The likelihood that the use of physical pressures will increase the level of resistance in a detainee is very high… (p. 53).

I also pointed out:

McClatchy fills in some of the details:

Former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the interrogation issue said that Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld demanded that the interrogators find evidence of al Qaida-Iraq collaboration… For most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between al Qaida and Iraq that (former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed) Chalabi and others had told them were there.” It was during this period that CIA interrogators waterboarded two alleged top al Qaida detainees repeatedly — Abu Zubaydah at least 83 times in August 2002 and Khalid Sheik Muhammed 183 times in March 2003 — according to a newly released Justice Department document… When people kept coming up empty, they were told by Cheney’s and Rumsfeld’s people to push harder,” he continued.”Cheney’s and Rumsfeld’s people were told repeatedly, by CIA . . . and by others, that there wasn’t any reliable intelligence that pointed to operational ties between bin Laden and Saddam . . . A former U.S. Army psychiatrist, Maj. Charles Burney, told Army investigators in 2006 that interrogators at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility were under “pressure” to produce evidence of ties between al Qaida and Iraq. “While we were there a large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between al Qaida and Iraq and we were not successful in establishing a link between al Qaida and Iraq,” Burney told staff of the Army Inspector General. “The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish that link . . . there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results.” “I think it’s obvious that the administration was scrambling then to try to find a connection, a link (between al Qaida and Iraq),” [Senator] Levin said in a conference call with reporters. “They made out links where they didn’t exist.” Levin recalled Cheney’s assertions that a senior Iraqi intelligence officer had met Mohammad Atta, the leader of the 9/11 hijackers, in the Czech Republic capital of Prague just months before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The FBI and CIA found that no such meeting occurred.

In other words, top Bush administration officials not only knowingly lied about a non-existent connection between Al Qaida and Iraq, but they pushed and insisted that interrogators use special torture methods aimed at extracting false confessions to attempt to create such a false linkage.

Writing about this today, Paul Krugman says:

Let’s say this slowly: the Bush administration wanted to use 9/11 as a pretext to invade Iraq, even though Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. So it tortured people to make them confess to the nonexistent link. There’s a word for this: it’s evil.

The Washington Post reported the same year:

Despite what you’ve seen on TV, torture is really only good at one thing: eliciting false confessions. Indeed, Bush-era torture techniques, we now know, were cold-bloodedly modeled after methods used by Chinese Communists to extract confessions from captured U.S. servicemen that they could then use for propaganda during the Korean War. So as shocking as the latest revelation in a new Senate Armed Services Committee report may be, it actually makes sense — in a nauseating way. The White House started pushing the use of torture not when faced with a “ticking time bomb” scenario from terrorists, but when officials in 2002 were desperately casting about for ways to tie Iraq to the 9/11 attacks — in order to strengthen their public case for invading a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 at all.

***

Gordon Trowbridge writes for the Detroit News: “Senior Bush administration officials pushed for the use of abusive interrogations of terrorism detainees in part to seek evidence to justify the invasion of Iraq, according to newly declassified information discovered in a congressional probe.

wrote last month:

One of the two senior instructors from the Air Force team which taught U.S. servicemen how to resist torture by foreign governments when used to extract false confessions has blown the whistle on the true purpose behind the U.S. torture program.

Truth Out reported yesterday:

Jessen’s notes were provided to Truthout by retired Air Force Capt. Michael Kearns, a “master” SERE instructor anddecorated veteran who has previously held high-ranking positions within the Air Force Headquarters Staff and Department of Defense (DoD). Kearns and his boss, Roger Aldrich, the head of the Air Force Intelligence’s Special Survial Training Program (SSTP), based out of Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane, Washington, hired Jessen in May 1989. Kearns, who was head of operations at SSTP and trained thousands of service members, said Jessen was brought into the program due to an increase in the number of new SERE courses being taught and “the fact that it required psychological expertise on hand in a full-time basis.” Jessen, then the chief of Psychology Service at the US Air Force Survival School, immediately started to work directly with Kearns on “a new course for special mission units (SMUs), which had as its goal individual resistance to terrorist exploitation.” The course, known as SV-91, was developed for the Survival Evasion Resistance Escape (SERE) branch of the US Air Force Intelligence Agency, which acted as the Executive Agent Action Office for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Jessen’s notes formed the basis for one part of SV-91, “Psychological Aspects of Detention.” *** Kearns was one of only two officers within DoD qualified to teach all three SERE-related courses within SSTP on a worldwide basis, according to a copy of a 1989 letter written Aldrich, whonominated himofficer of the year.

***

The Jessen notes clearly state the totality of what was being reverse-engineered – not just ‘enhanced interrogation techniques,’ but an entire program of exploitation of prisoners using torture as a central pillar,” he said. “What I think is important to note, as an ex-SERE Resistance to Interrogation instructor, is the focus of Jessen’s instruction. It is exploitation, not specifically interrogation. And this is not a picayune issue, because if one were to ‘reverse-engineer’ a course on resistance to exploitation then what one would get is a plan to exploit prisoners, not interrogate them. The CIA/DoD torture program appears to have the same goals as the terrorist organizations or enemy governments for which SV-91 and other SERE courses were created to defend against: the full exploitation of the prisoner in his intelligence, propaganda, or other needs held by the detaining power, such as the recruitment of informers and double agents. Those aspects of the US detainee program have not generally been discussed as part of the torture story in the American press.” *** Jessen wrote that cooperation is the “end goal” of the detainer, who wants the detainee “to see that [the detainer] has ‘total’ control of you because you are completely dependent on him, and thus you must comply with his wishes. Therefore, it is absolutely inevitable that you must cooperate with him in some way (propaganda, special favors, confession, etc.).” *** Kearns said, based on what he has read in declassified government documents and news reports about the role SERE played in the Bush administration’s torture program, Jessen clearly “reverse-engineered” his lesson plan and used resistance methods to abuse “war on terror” detainees.

So we have the two main Air Force insiders concerning the genesis of the torture program confirming – with original notes – that the whole purpose of the torture program was to extract false confessions.

Read the rest here.

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