Monday, May 18, 2009

Ticking Time Bombs

The imminent threat of a terrorist attack was Dick Cheney's justification for torture. Terrorists are poised to set off dirty bombs and biological weapons annihilating entire US cities -- according to Cheney and the popular TV show 24. But real experts, like former Army interrogators in the war in Iraq, tell us how unrealistic a torture fantasy show can be:
“These are very determined people, and they won’t turn just because you pull a fingernail out,” he told me. And Finnegan argued that torturing fanatical Islamist terrorists is particularly pointless. “They almost welcome torture,” he said. “They expect it. They want to be martyred.” A ticking time bomb, he pointed out, would make a suspect only more unwilling to talk. “They know if they can simply hold out several hours, all the more glory—the ticking time bomb will go off!”
“In Iraq, I never saw pain produce intelligence,” Lagouranis told me. “I worked with someone who used waterboarding”—an interrogation method involving the repeated near-drowning of a suspect. “I used severe hypothermia, dogs, and sleep deprivation. I saw suspects after soldiers had gone into their homes and broken their bones, or made them sit on a Humvee’s hot exhaust pipes until they got third-degree burns. Nothing happened.” Some people, he said, “gave confessions. But they just told us what we already knew. It never opened up a stream of new information.” If anything, he said, “physical pain can strengthen the resolve to clam up.”
But now, after all these years of FOX propaganda, evidence is gathering that Cheney's authorization of torture wasn't really about the theoretical ticking time bombs anyway. The Bush administration tortured for political gain:
Perhaps the sharpest rebuke to Cheney's assertions has come from Lawrence Wilkerson, the retired Army colonel and former senior State Department aide to Colin Powell, who says bluntly that when the administration first authorized "harsh interrogation" during the spring of 2002, "its principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qaida."
I don't know if these revelations will change public opinion, but most certainly we need to rephrase our dialog about these issues: "Pollsters should be asking if Americans support using torture to extract false confessions for political purposes, because that's what happened."

Also, somebody needs to present Cheney with this bit of logic: if torturing people led to false justifications for war, and if thousands of Americans died in that war, then didn't torture cost American lives?

Nothing looks the same in the light.

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