Over the weekend, I watched the extremely engaging Bill Moyers Show on “Reckoning with Torture“. While the issue of the use of “Torture” by the U.S. government post-9/11 has been controversial and one could accuse Bill Moyers and his two guests as having a “liberal” bias, the interview and what it exposes are nonetheless compelling. And while torture-deniers/apologists will argue that there is “nothing new” to learn about what the government did in fact do, I believe the video very much highlights the undeniable facts of what did occur, facts that are not fully understood by the general public at large and which, once omitted, watered-downed, or spun, aid in the public’s misconception that what was done was done as an absolutely necessary defensive action in the face an extreme and imminent threat:
- Worst of the worst: As early as by the end of 2002, the U.S. government was fully aware and apprised of the fact that the vast majority of the Guantanamo detainees (some 80%) were not — let me repeat that, were NOT — guilty of the alleged crimes for which they were being detained. The U.S. government continued (and in some cases continues) to hold these detainees in cages, with no rights or recourse of any kind, for over a half a decade even after knowing they were not guilty.
- A few bad apples: When we think of the most extreme cases of torture, we think of it as having been perpetrated by a few bad apples. Nevertheless, all of the documentation — both the internal memos down the “chain of command” and the evidence from interviews by the Red Cross with the detainees — reveal perfectly well that all actions taken towards the detainees were perfectly scripted and followed very clear guidelines. Torture was not a result of “bad apples” but of clear policy coming from the highest echelons of power.
- Science: There was no science behind the enhanced interrogation techniques. The techniques were designed to follow the torture methods used by America’s former Cold War enemies. The FBI vehemently contested the use of these techniques as not only illegal, but also as counter-productive and useless.
- Consensus: Not only was there no consensus within the government or within the various different government agencies involved in the interrogation and detention of these detainees, there were strong voices from each agency that spoke out against these techniques every step of the way, including professional and seasoned interrogators, the FBI, and other White House lawyers. The White House had to go out of its way to find and promote individuals who were willing to re-interpret the rules of the game in order to fit the White House’s agenda. Note that many of the detractors argued that using these enhanced techniques would not only subject them to criminal prosecution but would also clearly put them on the wrong side of history.
- The ends justify the means: Not only is there no evidence that the torture produced valuable information, the evidence proves the contrary. Information obtained from torture was simply unusable. For one reason, as is the case with water boarding, the procedure itself is designed to coerce a confession. Someone who is water boarded will confess to just about anything. Furthermore, coerced testimony is simply not admissible in court. Once the U.S. government realized that it had a trove of unusable false testimony and innocent detainees (ie, the detainees were confessing to anything just to get the torture to stop), the interrogators then needed further coerced testimony and confessions in order to cover up their prior follies.
- Ticking Time Bomb: Most of the torture techniques were designed to produce evidence in the middle term by slowly breaking down the detainees psychologically without causing any noticeable or traceable physical scarring. So the pro-torture propaganda that the torture was necessary a la 24 to protect the nation against an imminent threat is plainly false. It is just not how the torture was intended to work; rather it was designed for gains in the middle to long term, not for gathering immediate intelligence.
- No Justice: President Obama has gone out of his way to shield the officials of the previous administration from any and all possible prosecution from what is — no matter how you look at it — clearly illegal activity. No matter how brave President Bush or Vice President Cheney are with their I’d do it again book tours — easy to say when you pay zero consequences for your actions — or Jose Rodriguez who brags of ignoring a court order by destroying evidence, President Obama has foregone the rule of law in favor of political expediency. Worse yet, though, is that President Obama has argued in every case brought by a War on Terror detainee for their unlawful detention and torture (in some cases where a detainee has wrongly spent close to a decade held in cages without access to the most basic human rights) that the cases must be dismissed because any evidence that proves the government acted wrongly may compromise national security. No recourse, no day in court, no justice for those who were innocent from the beginning and their lives were ruined . . . all because any evidence of government wrongdoing is by nature secret.