BY STEVEN JONAS
UPDATED: OCT 17, 2007 The Political Junkies.net Column No. 167
The US government use of torture is in the news once again, and as long as BushCheney are in power it will be, off and on. For they have made its use into US government policy. Of course, they describe whatever it is that is being done as “not torture.” They then go on to say that a) “we can’t give you any details because: a) it’s classified and b) anyone who spills the beans will be “aiding and abetting terrorism and terrorists” (as if such persons didn’t already know from first-hand experience with Georgite torture at the hands of either US torturers or those of allies such as Egypt). This is done, and was done in a picture-perfect version by the White House Press Secretary in response to the revelations of the current secret program of torture carried out after Bush said “we-don’t-torture,” because that’s what they want to have the discussion on: “what’s torture?”
They won’t reveal those secret Dept. of Justice memos (or at least hadn’t as of this writing) because, again, they’re classified and release would aid and abet and so on and so forth. So since the Regime won’t give us (much less the Congressional Intelligence and Armed Services Committees) the details, let us decide for ourselves and let’s find out what has been going on from a former torturer himself. According to Tim Shipman of the Sydney Morning Herald (that’s Sydney, Australia, folks; you wouldn’t expect to see an article like this one [see the link at the end of this column] in a US newspaper):
“A former US Army torturer has described the traumatic effects of American interrogation techniques in Iraq – on their victims and on the perpetrators themselves. Tony Lagouranis said he conducted mock executions, forced men and boys into agonizing stress positions, kept suspects awake for weeks on end, used dogs to terrify prisoners and subjected others to hypothermia. . . . Between January 2004 and January 2005, first at Abu Ghraib prison and then in Mosul, in northern Babil province, [Mr. Lagouranis] tortured suspects, most of whom he said were innocent. He realized he had entered a moral dungeon when he found himself reading a Holocaust memoir, hoping to pick up torture tips from the Nazis. . . . [He] said he never beat a prisoner. . . . [But, he said] ‘these coercive techniques – isolation, dogs, sleep deprivation, stress positions, hypothermia – crossed a legal line because they violated the Geneva Conventions.’ “He has written a book about his experiences entitled Fear up Harsh.
The quoted article appeared originally in the British right-wing newspaper, The Telegraph. So we know that torture has been systematically carried out by US personnel in and out of the military, and the US has sent prisoners to be tortured in third countries. We know that the Vice-President thinks that water-boarding is just a grand idea, but we also know that his regime denies that that is torture and wants very much to keep the discussion on the question of whether it is or isn’t. And so do most of the stories about torture, a few of which are cited at the end of this column. Actually it doesn’t much matter whether the Regime would ever agree that what they have officially authorized, first through the Yoo memos and more recently through the secret Justice Department legal memoranda recently leaked to the New York Times, is torture or not. Unless I miss my guess, those persons who have been subjected to these techniques would describe it as torture. At least one person who administered the methods of “interrogation” describes it as torture, and he is not likely to be unique among those administrators. Many people in this country other than dyed-in-the-wool Georgites and Islamophobes would describe it as torture and so would, and do, most other people around the world. Thus regardless of what the Georgites say about it, in the public perception they have instituted torture as official US policy, and in this case, perception determines reality.
So the principal question must become “why?” Why does the BushCheney Regime use torture as a primary instrument for dealing with captives? Few observers in this country are asking this question, because most of them have allowed themselves to get caught up in the idiotic, BushCheney-sponsored “debate:” “yes, it is, no it isn’t” and so on and so forth. Even if the Justice Department’s apparently tortured (if I may use that term) legal reasoning were to prove that it somehow isn’t, legalistically, in addition to the fact that most people think it is, it is described by the Regime itself as “enhanced” methods. After all, we are talking about water boarding, extreme isolation, piercing sound, extreme cold, fake suffocations, prolonged confinement in rigid positions, and etc. So even though this Regime would give us an argument, let’s for the sake of argument and brevity call it “torture.”
Before we can answer the question “why?” we can quickly dispose of what torture is not good for, based on the references from The New Yorker below. According to many experts in the field, it is not good for gathering intelligence from military captives. For the most part, tortured subjects just give their torturers what they want to hear. Experts have testified over and over again that sophisticated, non-torture psychological techniques that were developed in the last century by both US and Soviet intelligence agencies are much more effective than torture in gaining useful information from military and paramilitary personnel. It is not useful in the “ticking bomb” scenario either. Any asset highly enough placed in an operation to know the details in enough detail to help any captors stop the operation just before it is about to take place will a) know that they are going to be killed anyway, and b) will be totally dedicated to achieving its desired outcome.
But, as the Gestapo, the Iranian Savak under that great US ally the Shah, the NKVD, the Japanese fascist era Kempeitai, the Argentine Generals, the Pinochet Regime, and the Spanish Francoists have proved over and over again, torture does have its uses and they are manifold.
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 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. Do you think that Argentineans didn’t know that their leftist loved ones were being tortured well before they were dropped out airplanes into the South Atlantic, without a parachute?
Fourth, it is a very useful tool for repression in militarily occupied territories. Just ask the Kempeitai that operated in Korea and Occupied China about that one.
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.
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 which use it but claim they do not, it helps to establish a record of lawlessness, of total disregard for the rule of law, as long as the Regime says things like, “We are doing what we are doing in order to keep our people safe and fight terror,” and so on and so forth. For this one we need look no farther than our own doorstep. The current US regime is obviously out 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 for which they are a part, and etc., just as long as the Regime says “we’re doing to live up to our responsibilities to keep the American people ‘safe from terrorism,” why it’s OK.
But of course to have a useful instrument of national policy, we have to have torturers. Which is 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 being trained, apparently by the carload. And if the Georgites stay in power, they will be needing more of them. Further, BushCheney seem to be converting the CIA from an intelligence gathering agency (after all, it so often produces intelligence that they the Georgites just don’t want to hear) to a torture agency which, given how little attention the Georgites pay to the law, could be useful at home as well as abroad.
Finally, for BushCheney, the whole institution, its use, and the whole “we-don’t-have-to-tell-either-the-Congress-or-the-Courts-or-the-American-people-
any-of-the-details-just-as-long-as-we-say-we-are-using-it-in-the-war-on-flanking-maneuvers-[I mean terrorism]” tactic just strengthens their “Unitary Executive/F__k Congress” (otherwise known as fascist) approach to governance and governing.
So, don’t tell me torture isn’t useful. It’s just not useful for what the torturers tell us it’s useful for. —S.J.
Steven Jonas, MD, MPH, is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, and 631.444.2147. Dr. Jonas is a Contributing Author for the webmagazine The Political Junkies.net (www.thepoliticaljunkies.net); a Columnist for the webmagazine BuzzFlash (http://www.buzzflash.com); a Contributing Editor for the weblog http://www.planetarymovement.org/; a Contributing Columnist for the Project for the Old American Century, POAC (http://www.oldamericancentury.org/); an invited contributor to the weblog Thomas Paine’s Corner, now published on Cyrano’s Journal (http://www.bestcyrano.org/THOMASPAINE/); and an invited contributor to the weblog The Daily Scare (http://www.dailyscare.com/). He also has his own weblog, “Dr. J.’s Short Shots, II”
He is the author of The New Americanism (1992), available at www.amazon.com. In this book, Dr. Jonas presents his proposal for that “new vision and mission” for the Democratic Party that so many, for so many years, have been urging it to find. He finds them, needed with increasing urgency as the Georgites drive our nation towards frank theocratic fascism with increasing speed and determination, in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. He is also the author of The 15% Solution: A Political History of American Fascism, 2001-2022. Under the pseudonym “Jonathan Westminster” this book was originally published in 1996. It was republished with a New Introduction in 2004. Under Georgite rule, the “fictional non-fiction” scenario of this work of “future history” is, most unfortunately, becoming all too real. The 2004 edition is available at www.barnesandnoble.com (search with the book title) and www.xlibris.com (click on “Bookstore,” then “Search” with the title). Both versions are available at www.amazon.com (go to “Books;” search with the title).