Tortured Reasoning and Tortured Results

by William Loren Katz on June 18, 2009

Almost every day new evidence emerges showing that torture was authorized at the highest levels of the Bush administration. Dick Chaney’s flurry of admissions and denials captured media attention, but in ways that only drew more attention to a host of grim crimes carried out in secret and distant places.

The evidence is overwhelming. Lawrence Wilkerson, former Chief of Staff to Colin Powell, said, “the administration authorized harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002—well before the Justice Department had rendered any legal opinion—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-Qa’ida.” [Washington Note, May 13, 2009] Journalist Paul Krugman wrote, “Let’s say this slowly: the Bush administration wanted to use 9/11 as a pretext to invade Iraq, even though Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. So it tortured people to make them confess to the nonexistent link.

“There’s a word for this: it’s evil.” [Paul Krugman Blog, May 14, 2009]

Is there something more painful for Americans than hearing that illegal CIA methods caused the deaths of dozens upon dozens of detainees, inflicted pain on hundreds of others, and that this brutality that had nothing to do with national security? Yes—learning it was done to validate one of the leading lies that sent us to war. First British Intelligence’s “Downing Street Memo” to Tony Blair revealed, “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the [Bush] policy.” Now Senator Carl Levin’s 263 page Armed Services Committee report (unanimously approved by Senators McCain, Graham and Lieberman) fills in more blanks. Levin says our top political officials were “driven” to install this torture program. “They’d say it was to get more information. But they were desperate to find a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq,” Levin told columnist Frank Rich. [New York Times, April 26, 2009]

Sure, al-Qa’ida glorifies martyrdom and plays by no known rules. But our authorizing torture and accepting its reasoning is about us. Its about Americans who went along with “kick some ass,” “bring ’em on,” and “enhanced interrogation techniques.” It’s about believing that torture produces truth and prevents disasters, when all the evidence points to the opposite, that it produces lies and false leads and victime who will say anything to stop the pain. Under orders from top officials our CIA water boarded one man 183 times and another 83 [hardly proof that it works!]. It sent mentally ill Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi to a Lybian prison where he was tortured and locked in a small box for 17 hours until he agreed to say there was a link between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. The CIA discredited and he withdrew his confession. But not before Secretary of State Colin Powell in February 2003 used his words—“a senior terrorist operative” divulged “how Iraq provided training in these [chemical and biological] weapons to al-Qaeda”—to sell the Iraq invasion to the UN Security Council and the world. The four recently released Torture Memos providing legal cover for “harsh interrogations” were written during his ordeal. [This May Lybian prison officials announced, according to Human Rights Watch, that Libi had died suddenly, “an apparent suicide.”]

First, we have to admit that torture did work. It produced a narrative used to frighten Americans and justify a war of aggression. It also worked in other ways. It recruited untold numbers into the ranks of al-Qaeda, made a mockery of U.S. claims to moral leadership, and now places U.S. soldiers and civilians in danger.

The program’s bad apples were not the few U.S. jailers now serving time, but our top leaders. They discussed, issued or signed off on illegal orders and ignored dissenting lawyers. Water boarding is torture, a crime that violates international and U.S. laws. Crimes are more than mistakes. Americans who violate traffic laws face the wheels of justice. What about those who violate human rights?


Photo of Abu Ghraib detainee and soldier made available by Salon.com. The site features 279 photographs and 19 videos of harrowing detainee abuse inside the notorious prison from the Army’s internal investigation.

  • Is it any wonder though that these people don’t feel that they have done anything wrong? They haven’t been held accountable for pursuing unlawful wars and occupations. So why would they feel anything other than that the torture is one minor aspect of everything that they did and felt justified to do?

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