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Thursday, 26 May 2011 11:41

The Last Word On Torture: It Starts With "Enemies," But Ends up Being Used Domestically

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I have dealt with the subject of the use of torture by US "intelligence/military/security" forces on three occasions in the past (http://www.buzzflash.com/articles/jonas/081, http://www.buzzflash.com/articles/jonas/082, http://blog.buzzflash.com/jonas/156), most recently a little more than two years ago.  Since President G.W. Bush officially (at least) banned the use of torture, however one might define it, in 2005, the subject seemed to have disappeared from the political agenda after the time of that most recent Commentary (2009).  But then comes the bin Laden killing (or whatever it was that happened in that compound in Abbotabad, Pakistan, http://www.infowars.com/top-us-government-insider-bin-laden-died-in-2001-911-a-false-flag/, http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article28029.htm, http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article28109.htm).  The US Right can hardly give Obama credit for whatever it was that happened there.

Bush had had eight years to find bin Laden and deal with him in one way or another.  In that very first National Security Council briefing on Jan. 21, 2001, Richard Clarke tried to tell Bush that bin Laden was the US' no. 1 foreign enemy.  Clarke was thrust to the side by Bush and Condoleezza Rice.  Then there was the famous August 6, 2001 CIA memo about "bin Laden determined to strike in the US," delivered at the Crawford "Ranch," and totally ignored.  And then there was the use of torture (as defined by the UN Convention Against Torture, to which the US is a signatory) torturously redefined by the infamous Yoo and Bybee as "enhanced interrogation techniques" (and most of the media, pro- and anti-, persists in using that term). In the meantime Bush launched those two well-known wars and perhaps a bunch of not-so-well-known others.  No bin Laden.  The "I'm not interested in him" clip has been run countless times on television since the raid.

Eight years.  Nothing.  Now I have stated in my commentaries on more than one occasion that I thought that bin Laden, once trained by the CIA and definitely a CIA asset in the 1980s Afghanistan War, the last stage of the 75 Years War to Destroy the Soviet Union, 1917-92, might still have been a CIA asset at one level or another.  I have also surmised that he might have been a Bush Family asset, given the decades-long business association between the latter and the bin Laden family, one of the wealthiest in Saudi Arabia outside of the Royals.  So there might have been reasons why Bush did not catch him, apparently let him go at Tora Bora, and said that he "wasn't interested in bin Laden" (to possibly throw interested parties in this country and our allies off the scent for who knows what reason[s]).  Yet here they are, from Beckoning Savagely Levin-itating O'RHannibaugh on up stating categorically that it was Bush policy, including, actually featuring, torture, that lead directly to locating bin Laden, with the subsequent events, whatever they were, occurring.  Yes, torture is "good," "torture works," donchaknow?

And then our side, the US "left," gets sucked into that "does torture work?" argument.  All the intelligence experts, both those who have actually done interrogations and those who have seriously studied it, are lined up and say, to a man and woman, "no it doesn't."  The conclusion of course is that its use didn't help find bin Laden and therefore, the implication is that that is the reason it shouldn't be used: it doesn't work.  Then on the other side, are a whole bunch of "experts" who just happen not to have direct experience in interrogation of trained hostiles but who "know," "have been told," that it does work.  "Well," the response from our side to that goes, "Bush himself stopped its use in 2005.  Obama got him in 2011."  "Torture, thus, is obviously not needed."  And aye, ladies and gentlemen, as I have said before (see the references at the beginning of this Commentary), there's the rub.

The real argument is not over whether "it works" or not.  Our side says it doesn't and has all kinds of experts to back up that claim.  But suppose it did work (and it actually does, for a whole bunch of purposes other than intelligence gathering; see the last paragraph of this commentary).  Would that make it OK, justifiable, legal?  Well, no.  And that's my argument.  To summarize, the United States is a party to both the Geneva Conventions and the UN Convention Against Torture, both signed and ratified international treaties.  The authors of the Geneva Conventions just assumed that everyone "knows" what torture is so they didn't bother to define it any detail.  The UN Convention defines it in general terms as "Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession . . ."  Bybee/Yoo tried to define their way out of the quagmire, but no one outside of themselves and the US Right would agree that what was done to numbers of prisoners of the US was not torture.

Then comes the truly inconvenient truth that the use of torture by US authorities is actually unconstitutional. Under article VI of the U.S. Constitution, as treaties signed and ratified by the U.S. government, both Conventions are part of "the supreme law of the land and [further] the judges of every state shall be bound by them." Unfortunately, instead of focusing on the Constitution and what it says about the use of torture, our side for the most part has gotten caught up in the "it doesn't work" argument.  But that torture is illegal under the Constitution is the primary point.  Bush, Cheney, Bybee, Yoo, Mukasey, et al, violated the Constitution.  This is the point.  The U.S. is either a country that is under the Rule of Law or it isn't.  That's what our side should be hammering away on, not whether "torture works" or not.  And oh by the way, it does, in a whole bunch of ways other than intelligence gathering from captured combatants.  Just consider them.

First and foremost, it is a major instrument of terror against one's own population: it is a really good repressor of dissent. A principal tool of Gestapo control in Nazi Germany was to pick up someone who had been making mildly anti-Hitler remarks, give them a good session or two of torture downtown, and then send them back to the neighborhood. You can bet the neighbors got the message.  Second, it is indeed very useful in extracting information from politically active civilian regime opponents who have no military training or training in resisting torture, such as the civilian opponents of the Pinochet Regime and the civilian targets of the Argentine "Dirty War."  Third, it is a very good tool for extra-judicial punishment, just as long as the regime using it makes sure that its details leak out, in a totally deniable way of course, to its own citizens. Fourth, it is a very useful tool for civilian repression in military-occupied territories. Just ask the Japanese Kempeitai that operated in Korea and Occupied China. Fifth, it is very helpful when a regime is out to change the culture of its country, and to wipe out historical memory of anything that went before it came to power. Doing so was perhaps the principal long-term goal of the Spanish Francoists, once they had restored corporate-clerical control of the country. Torture was one of their stocks-in-trade to achieve that goal. Sixth, it is really good at extracting false confessions, then to be used in show trials, such as those of the Soviet Union of the late 1930s that killed off so many of the good Communists who were already challenging Stalinism as the way not to try to build socialism.

Seventh, in countries that use it but try to re-define their way out of it convincing no-one but themselves (guess who?), it helps to establish a record of lawlessness, of total disregard for the rule of law, as long as the government says things like, "We are doing what we are doing to keep our people safe and fight terror." This was likely a major objective of BushCheney, et al: to change the culture here. "Torture [except of course we don't call it torture, just 'enhanced interrogation'] is OK, that is as long as we are doing the Deciding as to who gets it." No rule of law, no adherence to international treaties or our Constitution of which they are a part, just as long as they say there's a good reason for it.  Finally, to have torture as a useful instrument of national policy, there has to be a cadre of torturers, another reason for the BushCheney torture program. Until they came to power, Americans didn't do such things, officially at least. So there weren't very many, if any, trained torturers amongst our armed and intelligence forces. But now they are, or at least were.  And you can bet your sweet pitootie, once you learn how to be a torturer, you don't forget what you learned.   So, don't tell me torture isn't useful. It's just not useful for what the torturers tell us it's useful for. And whatever it is, in the US its use is unconstitutional.

This is Dr. Jonas' Commentary No. 175 for BuzzFlash, now at Truthout.