By Eric S. Margolis
27 April 2009
Furious debate is raging in the United States over the Bush administration’s use of torture. So it is well worth repeating some truths I learned over 50 years while covering dirty ‘pacification’ wars, from Algeria to Indochina, Central and South America, southern Africa, the Mideast, Afghanistan, and Kashmir.
Nations that use torture disgrace themselves. Armed forces and police that torture inevitably become brutalised and corrupted. ‘Limited’ use of torture quickly becomes generalised. ‘Information’ obtained by torture is mostly unreliable. In spite of all the historical evidence that torture is counter-productive, the Bush administration encouraged torture of anti-American militants (aka ‘terrorists’) after the 9/11 attacks. The full story has not yet been revealed, but what we know so far is revolting and shameful. Many Americans and human rights groups are now clamouring for the Bush administration officials who employed and sanctioned torture to face justice. President Barack Obama hinted his new attorney general, Eric Holder, might investigate this whole ugly business.
Republicans, who have become America’s champion of war and torture, are fiercely resisting any investigation, and lauding torture’s benefits. So, too, some senior intelligence officials!
Torture is a crime under US law. It is a crime under the Third Geneva Convention, and the UN’s Anti-Torture Convention, both of which the US signed. Kidnapping and moving suspects to be tortured in third countries is a crime. Torture violates core American values.
In 1945, the US hanged Japanese officers for inflicting ‘water-boarding’ (near-drowning) on US prisoners, which were deemed war crimes. Yet this is exactly what the CIA inflicted on its Muslim captives. FBI agents rightly refused to participate in the torture of Al Qaeda suspects, warning that it violated US law and could make them subject to future prosecution.
Republicans and even Obama’s intelligence chief, Admiral Dennis Blair, claim some useful information was obtained by torture. That depends on what you call useful. Al Qaeda is still in business. Osama bin Laden remains at large. Iraq and Afghanistan became monstrous fiascos costing $1 trillion.
Torture did not protect America from a second major attack, as Republicans claim. 9/11 was a one-off event, and Al Qaeda numbered only a handful of extremists, not a worldwide conspiracy. Bush administration claims about threats from dirty bombs and germ weapons were untrue. CIA ‘useful’ torture information came from two suspects: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was tortured by near drowning 183 times-six times daily for a month; and Abu Zubaydah, 83 times in August, 2003.
Give me Dick Cheney, a power drill (a favourite ‘investigative’ tool of America’s Iraqi Shia allies) and thirty minutes, and I’ll have Cheney admit he’s Osama bin Laden.
A US Senate report just revealed that after the Bush administration could not find the links it claimed existed between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, it tried, in best Soviet style, to torture an admission of these non-existent links from its captives. The Senate also reported CIA and Pentagon torture techniques were adopted from torture methods North Korea used in the 1950’s to compel American prisoners to confess to lies about germ warfare.
In fact, North Korea learned its torture techniques from Soviet KGB instructors. KGB’s favourite tortures in the 1930’s and 40’s were merciless beatings, confinement in refrigerated cells, weeklong sleep deprivation, and endless interrogations. The CIA and US military copied these, but added contorted positions, and nakedness and humiliation, techniques learned from Israeli interrogators who used them to blackmail Palestinian prisoners into becoming informers. Hence all the naked photos from Abu Ghraib prison.
Torture was authorised by President George W. Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney, secretaries Don Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice. Four lickspittle lawyers and two bootlicking attorney generals provided sophistic legal briefs sanctioning torture. All should face an independent judicial commission.
Now, Obama claims he does not want to prosecute the torturers because they were following proper legal advice and orders. So did Nazi officials who killed millions. Nazi lawyers legally dismembered Germany’s Weimar democracy and imposed Nazi dictatorship in only two months after the ‘terrorist attack’ on the Reichstag in February 1933.
When I served in the US Army, I was taught that any illegal order, even from the president, must be refused.
It’s time for Obama to show the world that America upholds the law and rejects torture of all kinds.
Eric S Margolis is a veteran US journalist who has reported from the Middle East, Pakistan and Afghanistan for several years
Courtesy: Khaleej Times