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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Fear, Politics and the War on Terror, Part 1: The Truth of “Torture”

Fear and War will be a three-part series showing how fear and politics, not idealism and morality, are the driving force behind those who oppose the covert operations of the War on Terror. Part I will show that the CIA interrogation program was not torture and describe how it saved lives. Part II will delve into the opposition to covert action by the anti-war crowd, and how their opposition is based on falsities. Part III will explain how and why covert action is needed to fight terrorism and how it is within our ideals to do so.

“Because when America strays from our values, it not only undermines the rule of law, it alienates us from our allies, it energizes our adversaries and it endangers our national security and the lives of our troops. So as Americans, we reject the false choice between our security and our ideals. "
- President Obama

Americans are idealistic people. Our Founders believed in the rule of law, even when it comes to a monarchy, as well as the well-known mantra of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. When it comes to war, we Americans want to believe they are on the good side of history. We hold our soldiers to higher standards than others. We reflect on wars past and try to change the mistakes that brought us to crimes like Mai Lai and Abu Ghraib. We do our best to make sure we don't turn into the monsters that we are fighting. Alas, in the realities of war, we can't always stop bad things from happening. The best we can hope for that when crimes do occur, they are not systemic and are punished accordingly when they happen.

The problem with President Obama's words is that he is speaking about the so-called systemic “torture” done by the CIA terrorist interrogation program, not about the fractional percentage soldiers and contractors that've been convicted of crimes during the War on Terror. This “torture” is an interrogation program that disrupted several plots against the United States and has left its “victims” intact both physically and mentally. Far from the horrors of the Imperial Japanese, Nazis or North Vietnamese, in which those few who survived interrogation had scars, neurosis and missing limbs for proof, the CIA program's detractors only have the words of the terrorist themselves and they are not the most reliable of people. In fact, our “victims” are so undamaged by their ordeals that they are able to fully mount court cases competently with the help of their lawyers. Or, most grievously, in the case of those previously called to be tried by civilian courts (now a defunct venture), they are so damaged that they can threaten to turn the trial into a circus with advanced polemics.

The fact is the CIA terrorist interrogation program has not tortured anyone. In 2009, the International Red Cross leaked a report to the press that accused the CIA of busting the heads of detainees against hard walls with the help of a leash. These accusations came from the detainees themselves, including 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who said, after being asked about future attacks, “Soon, you will know.” Along with the so-called “torture memos” released by the Obama administration, the media ran wild with the story, accusing the CIA of bringing back the Spanish Inquisition and other inane comparisons. With all this negative press, some conservative publications like National Review were shocked at what became known as “walling”[1], asking their counter-terrorism friends if it was really true, and if so, how could we have let it get so bad.

The real story is that the “walling” as described by KSM and his cohorts is only a quarter-truth. “Walling”, as practiced by the CIA, meant that “detainees were placed with their backs to a "flexible false wall," designed to avoid inflicting painful injury. Their shoulder blades -- not head -- were the point of contact, and the "collar" was used not to give additional force to a blow, but further to protect the neck” [2]. The point of walling, just like the point of waterboarding, was to break the resistance of the detainee to interrogation, not to punish him. Once resistance was broken, debriefers, agents totally separate from interrogators, took over. These agents knew their subjects inside and out, terrorist experts called in to ask, analyze and verify what the detainees had to say.

The success of the interrogation program cannot be understated. After being given enhanced interrogation techniques, KSM spilled the beans on more than just attacks he had planned, he and others in the interrogation program “provided our first window into the operations of the terrorist network that had just attacked our country. They explained who al Qaeda's top leaders were, how they interacted, how they made decisions, how they moved money, deployed cells, communicated with their operatives, and planned terrorist attacks” [3]. Critics like Timothy Noah of Salon, who harp on the usefulness of KSM's information with no critical thinking (something I will expand upon in Part II) [4] totally miss the point. Even if there were no plots planned, KSM and his fellow detainees still gave us mountains of information on al Qaeda's command and control, financial network and tactics. Information that has led to countless other captured terrorists as well as the deaths of hundreds of high level al Qaeda members, including Osama bin Laden's son.

These are just few of the plethora of facts available to the public on the CIA interrogation program. President Obama's release of the “torture memos” gave the public a deeper insight into how we humanely treated, interrogated and questioned terror suspects, despite the obvious intention of the release of such sensitive information, which was to demonize those who authorized it: the Bush administration. In the repeatedly claimed false choice between our security and our ideals, President Obama chose a third, highly self-interested and devious option: politics.




3. Thiessen , Marc. Courting Disaster. Hardcover. 2009. p.101


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