Friday, April 17, 2009

But we need to know

A gallant woman by the name of Heather is sharing stories that explain her opposition to torture. Her husband was tortured in Vietnam and she ultimately lost him to the consequences of that. She has emerged with an implacable stance against torture and she wants to do all she can to prevent it happening.

Yesterday she told her husband's story.
My husband, Dan, was a Vietnam Vet who survived torture. He came home with injuries that lasted for the rest of his life. Dan had scars all over his body, where they had cut him, and a trench in the back of his neck, where they had beaten him. His toenails had to be taken off three times when he got back to the US, because the bamboo poisoning was so bad where they had inflicted pain to get him to give them the answers they wanted. Even after the third removal of all of his toenails, the infection was so insidious that it came back and stayed for the rest of his life..

Today she tells the story of a German of Turkish ethnicity who wound up in Guantánamo.Blockquote We owe it to ourselves to know this story.
Mr. Kurnaz was born in Bremen, Germany, had always lived in Germany, and was of Turkish descent. In Germany, those of Turkish descent having a much more difficult time becoming German citizens even those born in Germany. In 2001, he decided to learn more about his religion, Islam, in preparation for his Turkish wife joining him, so he traveled to Pakistan to learn from peaceful Imams. Enroute back to Germany, on December 1, 2001, he was taken off a bus in Pakistan, and taken to a prison in Peshawar, Pakistan, then to Kandahar, Afghanistan, and, finally to Guantanamo Bay, where he remained until August 4th, 2006.

When they hung me up backwards, it felt as though my shoulders were going to break. They bound my hands behind my back and hoisted me up. I could remember seeing something like that in a movie once - only in the film, it was Americans being strung up by the Vietnamese with their hands behind their backs until they died.


I didn't recognize the man. He was hanging as I was from the ceiling. I couldn't tell whether he was dead or alive. His body was mostly swollen and blue, although in some places it was pale and white. I could see a lot of blood in his face, dark streams of it. His head lolled to one side. I couldn't see his eyes.

Anne Applebaum explored the concept that torture can be effective in The Washington Post on January 12, 2005.
By contrast, it is easy to find experienced U.S. officers who argue precisely the opposite. Meet, for example, retired Air Force Col. John Rothrock, who, as a young captain, headed a combat interrogation team in Vietnam. More than once he was faced with a ticking time-bomb scenario: a captured Vietcong guerrilla who knew of plans to kill Americans. What was done in such cases was "not nice," he says. "But we did not physically abuse them." Rothrock used psychology, the shock of capture and of the unexpected. Once, he let a prisoner see a wounded comrade die. Yet -- as he remembers saying to the "desperate and honorable officers" who wanted him to move faster -- "if I take a Bunsen burner to the guy's genitals, he's going to tell you just about anything," which would be pointless. Rothrock, who is no squishy liberal, says that he doesn't know "any professional intelligence officers of my generation who would think this is a good idea."

Or listen to Army Col. Stuart Herrington, a military intelligence specialist who conducted interrogations in Vietnam, Panama and Iraq during Desert Storm, and who was sent by the Pentagon in 2003 -- long before Abu Ghraib -- to assess interrogations in Iraq. Aside from its immorality and its illegality, says Herrington, torture is simply "not a good way to get information." In his experience, nine out of 10 people can be persuaded to talk with no "stress methods" at all, let alone cruel and unusual ones. Asked whether that would be true of religiously motivated fanatics, he says that the "batting average" might be lower: "perhaps six out of ten." And if you beat up the remaining four? "They'll just tell you anything to get you to stop."
Jeannine Bell of the Indiana University-Bloomington, Maurer School of Law, published a scholarly paper on the issue. Here is the abstract:
This Essay attempts to add a bit of realism to the theoretical debate on torture by urging that we take a shrewd look at the quality of information brutal interrogations produce. Looking at popular discourse about torture, this Essay recognizes widespread belief in what it calls the torture myth - the idea that torture is the most effective interrogation practice. In reality, this Essay argues, in addition to moral and legal problems, the use of torture carries with it a host of practical problems which seriously blunt its effectiveness. This Essay maintains that contrary to the myth, torture doesn't always produce the desired information and, in the cases in which it does, it may not produce it in a timely fashion. In the end the Essay concludes, that any marginal benefit of torture is low because traditional techniques of interrogation may be as good, and possibly even better at producing valuable intelligence without torture's tremendous costs.
Let us also recall the article by Peter Finn and Joby Warrick in The WaPo on March 29, 2009:
In the end, though, not a single significant plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaida's tortured confessions, according to former senior government officials who closely followed the interrogations. Nearly all of the leads attained through the harsh measures quickly evaporated, while most of the useful information from Abu Zubaida -- chiefly names of al-Qaeda members and associates -- was obtained before waterboarding was introduced, they said.


Since 2006, Senate intelligence committee members have pressed the CIA, in classified briefings, to provide examples of specific leads that were obtained from Abu Zubaida through the use of waterboarding and other methods, according to officials familiar with the requests.

The agency provided none, the officials said.

If you would like to petition Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a Special Prosecutor, FireDogLake has a place where you can add your name. I did.

I also joined the ACLU today as a way to thank them for getting the memos released.

--the BB


FranIAm said...

As I was driving to work yesterday I heard the report about this on NPR. I began to cry.

One thought I had was about Christianity and torture, with the most recent Good Friday still visible in the rear view mirror of my heart.

Then I heard the words of someone - I can't recall who, who had the viewpoint that torture revelations such as have been reported made our country less safe.

In fact the words went something like - how easy it is to discuss this in the light of a safe and sunny April day and not in the shadow of 9/11.

Oh please, was my first reaction. It is precisely in the midst of the event that we should choose humanity and integrity over fear, despair, anger and hate.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Paul, I signed the petition. Thanks for pointing the way.

One thought: It's quite disappointing that Obama says no prosecutions, but that doesn't mean that they won't happen. That's why it's important to keep up the pressure. It could be that we are on a march toward prosecutions that can't be stopped, no matter what Obama says. I believe that he may realize this.

Paul said...

I think so too, Mimi. I believe Obama knows what is right and ought to happen but it is fraught with political peril, so he it is up to us to pressure him to do what he should.

Jane R said...

I joined the ACLU around the time I got the job and moved here and I am going to scrounge up a little extra donation. They've been hard hit in the combo of the Madoff catastrophe and the economic downturn, so giving to them is good right now. (ACLU itself had no money in the Madoff Ponzi scheme, but some of its donors were foundations hit by the scheme.)

Thanks for this, Paul. I can barely read it, it's so painful.

P.S. Word verification: flucled.