February 5, 2008

Torture is Not About Interrogation

Some proponents of torture prefer to call it harsh or enhanced interrogation. Some of these proponents actually believe that torture is inextricably linked to getting information. They're either not insiders or are hiding the truth about torture.

Proponents of torture who are insiders know that torture is not necessarily about extracting "actionable intelligence." Torture is part of psychological warfare.

This becomes evident when we hear people say, "we shouldn't let our enemies know what we define to be torture." Assume, for the sake of argument, that "our enemies" don't know far more about what "our government" is thinking and doing than most Americans know. Then, this "keep them guessing" argument falls squarely in the realm of psychological warefare. The "secret" bombings of Cambodia were not a secret to the North Vietnamese; the secret was foisted on the American public by the government. Similarly, the torture used by the US during Reagan's dirty wars in Central America was not a secret to the people resisting US-supported oligarchies. Furthermore, the torture wasn't about "getting information." It was about a small wealthy minority suppressing the desires of a majority of the people (that is, suppressing 'democracy').

Tens of thousands of people were "tortured and killed" in Central America by US trained death squads often acting on US intelligence (the method was openly used in Iraq: See the Salvadoran Option). Why "tortured and killed"? Because, we all know it's bad enough to die for a cause, but if you want to suppress dissent, let it be known that there is something worse than death... to be raped, to have acid poured on you, to be forced to watch this done to a friend, your wife, your child. Fear of being tortured will make you think three times before getting involved in a social cause, no matter how just.

Torture isn't about a few errant sickos. US use of torture to suppress popular opinion operates at the highest levels.
In January 2006, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld our $54.6 million jury verdict against Generals Jose Guillermo Garcia and Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, two former Ministers of Defense who oversaw the worst period of human rights abuses in El Salvador's history. [and with whom the US worked closely][1]

Two architects of the torture/death squads in Central America, John Negroponte and James Steele, were both sent to Iraq. Soon thereafter we begin hearing stories of death squads and the Salvadoran Option being used in Iraq. Coincidence?

In a second case, a brigadier-general in the Iraqi interior ministry related that his brother had been detained during a raid on May 14 [2005], in a working class Sunni suburb in Baghdad’s west. His body was found the next day bearing signs of torture. Witnesses told the general that the abductors “came in white police Toyota Land Cruisers, wore police commando uniforms, flak vests and helmets” and were armed with 9mm Glock pistols.

Glock sidearms are used by many US law enforcement agencies and have been supplied to Iraqi security forces by the US military. [2]

The same stories were told countless times during Ronald Reagan's dirty war in El Slavador. (See video of one example below).

That's the dirty secret. Torture is about sending a message to anyone who seeks to challenge US imperial rule, "Step out of line and you might be tortured." Interrogation is just a cover that the establishment media helps disseminate.

So, the debate on torture shouldn't be about whether torture produces good information or not. It shouldn't be about the ticking time bomb scenario. The debate shouldn't be about whether the use of harsh interrogation (torture) by the US will justify our "enemy's" use of torture US soldiers (though it's a logical argument). The debate needs to center on the US use of torture to suppress legitimate popular movements that challenge US foreign expansion (like the use of US military force to secure America's "vital oil interests" despite the inconvenient fact that the oil does not belong to the US). I like cheap gasoline, but torturing people for it just ain't right.

Testimony of El Salvadoran Torture Victim who Survived


1. Center for Justice and Accountability.

2. Journalist killed after investigating US-backed death squads in Iraq, James Cogan, July 1, 2005.

Photo: El Salvador death squad victims, tortured and killed.

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