Refuting Torture Memos

Posted on May 28th, 2009 in Culture,War by Robert Miller

A Horror Story Begins: The Washington Spectator, one of my favorite print sources, has several articles in their June issue on torture. The first is a heart-breaking story about a young man from Germany, Murat Kurnaz, who, as a Muslim traveling in Afghanistan to learn more about Muslim prayer, got caught up in the war. Shortly after the war broke out, Kurnaz was riding on a bus to catch a plane back to Germany, but, apparently because of his western dress, he was arrested by the Pakistanis. The Pakistanis accused him of being an Al Qaeda operative and turned him over to the U.S. authorities, who paid them $3,000 for his capture (you may have heard that the U.S. paid hundreds of millions of dollars as bounty for prisoners, for whom there was no evidence of complicity with Al Qaeda: for some Pakistanis and Afghans, it was an opportunity to sell your nasty neighbors off for some cash). Thus began Kurnaz’s long nightmare of torture, first in the U.S. camp in Kandahar, Afghanistan and later in Guantanamo. He was eventually released five years after his capture, but in the meantime his wife had divorced him and his life was in shambles. Yet in many ways, Kurnaz was one of the lucky ones–he survived the torture methods, while others died and he was eventually released and had enough spirit left in him that he was able to write a book on this experience as a torture victim: Five Years of My Life: An innocent Man in Guatanamo. His story indelibly argues that basic human rights should be granted to all detainees.  In the case of Kurnaz, it would have been relatively easy for a lawyer to present his case and secure his release without torture. It is the torture factor that has made America look so bad in the eyes of those that know about these events.

Torture did not produce the information claimed by Cheney: Right now, the U.S. seems to be in a gut-wrenching period of its history over the issue of torture. The Republicans believe they found a way out by blaming torture on Speaker Nancy Pelosi, while many Democrats, including Pelosi, are pushing for a truth commission to bring the whole story into the light of day. I guess to accept  the Republican attack on Pelosi, you have to believe it was Nancy Pelosi that should have stopped the crazy Bush administration folks who favored torture in a sort of “stop me before I torture again” kind of rationale.  I favor the truth commission AND prosecution where laws have been broken or are suspected of being broken. The truth about torture needs to see the light of day. And if done openly, it will put to rest the idea promoted by Cheney and Fox News, that torture really works.

Evidence refuting Cheney’s claims about the value of torture has recently come from former FBI agent Ali Soufan, who infiltrated Al Qaeda and worked on the first interrogation team that questioned Laden lieutenant Abu Zubaydah, after he was captured in Pakistan in 2002. He also interrogated an Al Qaeda operative known as Abu Jandal and served as a witness in the only two trials that have been conducted in the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo. Soufan believes that torture has only a negative effect on detainees and he has strong evidence to support his claim. At a May 13 Judiciary subcommittee hearing, where Soufan testified under oath, behind a screen to protect his identity, he delivered devastating information against the use of torture. Soufan was in on the first round of questioning of Zubaydah in which torture was not used, but conventional interrogation methods were employed (he’s old school on torture).  He reported that during the first round of questioning, Zubaydah gave up Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as the mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Soufan also pointed out that the initial questioning was interrupted by a second team of private contractors, who began using torture techniques and, in respsone, Zubaydah completely shut down and offered no additional information. When Soufan’s team was invited back in, Zubaydah provided the name of Jose Padilla, the so-called “dirty bomber.” The second team returned with their harsh methods and again, Zubayda became close-mouthed. Once Soufan saw the methods that the private contractors were using, he called his supervisors and said that he would either have to make an arrest of the interrogators or leave. Soufan left and FBI director Robert Mueller sent word from Washington that Soufan and his team were off the case. Zubaydah was later waterboarded eighty-three times. But, the Bush administration’s Office of Legal Council created a “torture memo” (one that was released by the Obama administration) based on these interrogations and claimed that the enhanced torture methods used against Zubaydah had produced the intelligence that Soufan claims he obtained using time-honored, non-violent methods. The White House memo said “Interrogations of Zubaydah, again once enhanced techniques were employed, furnished detailed information regarding Al Qaeda’s organizational structure, key operatives, and modus operandi–and identified KSM as the mastermind of the September 11 attacks.” Thus, according to Soufan, the intelligence break-throughs that Cheney now claims for torture, were actually secured by Soufan using  conventional interrogation methods. Based on Soufan’s testimony, it is clear that the White House was fabricating its memos to claim results from torture that were in fact obtained with conventional techniques. When asked specifically if the “torture memo” was untrue, Soufan said “Yes, sir.” The hardened battle lines on torture have been declared and the White House memos on “torture victories” are now suspect. Perhaps a truth commission can learn the details of these memos and create a national consensus on how torture not only destroys the lives of those tortured, the majority of whom are probably innocent, but it destroys the fabric of the culture that carries out the acts of torture. It’s a little harder as an American to hold your head high, unless of course you believe in fabricated memos, like those Cheney seems to endorse.

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