The high price and the deep hole of torture

Posted on October 25th, 2009 in Culture,Politics,War by Robert Miller

When George W. Bush and Tony Blair declared the “war on terror,” it gave the green light to all despotic regimes to increase the level of torture they applied to their own citizens and encouraged all other nations to adopt torture techniques as proven methods for increasing the security of their own country. As we started using torture on a grand scale, we provided the permissive cover for every other country to look at torture quite differently. Those that were already well versed in torture techniques had the green light to do more of the same and the countries that did so, were rewarded as recipients of our “rendered captives.” In the process of developing our own torture methods, we have encouraged the rest of the world to join us in sliding down the slippery slope of torture techniques, often applied indiscriminately to people whose only crime was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But, more importantly, torture has now become an approved method for going after your political opponents and that is what happened in many countries, including Uzbekistan. This deep look into the abyss of torture continues, as our own ex-Vice-President Cheney still extols the virtues of torture as a productive technique that has saved American lives, despite the complete lack of evidence that favors such an interpretation and despite the fact that experts in this field claim that torture merely brings out answers from those tortured that have no value, except for that of stopping the torture.
Once the “war on terror” began, whenever citizens have spoken out against the use of torture, they were accused  of being un-American, or their careers could be shortened if they were officials in the government. Such is the sad story of Craig Murray, a 20 year veteran of the British Foreign Service and one of its rising stars. His story is told in Consortium News and you can read a more direct quote of his report to the PARLIAMENTARY JOINT COMMITTEE ON HUMAN RIGHTS. In 2002, just as the “war on terror” was getting underway, Murray was assigned to Uzbekistan as Ambassador: Uzbekistan was a key ally for the Bush “war on terror.” Murray soon became aware of the extensive use of torture in Uzbekistan, which he described as “widespread and systemic.” From his own testimony before the joint committee:  “They sought confessions which linked domestic opposition to President Karimov with Al-Qaida and Osama Bin Laden; they sought to exaggerate the strength of the terrorist threat in Central Asia. People arrested on all sorts of pretexts – (I recall one involved in a dispute over ownership of a garage plot) suddenly found themselves tortured into confessing to membership of both the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and Al-Qaida. They were also made to confess to attending Al-Qaida training camps in Tajikistan and Afghanistan. In an echo of Stalin’s security services from which the Uzbek SNB had an unbroken institutional descent, they were given long lists of names of people they had to confess were also in IMU and Al-Qaida.”
Concerned that the CIA was using information derived from torture and therefore illegal under all international standards, his first instinct was to notify the U.S. government that they were receiving information under the illegal conditions of torture. He sent a top secret note in 2002 to the attention of our Secretary of State, which read: “I argued that to receive this material from torture was:
• Illegal – Plainly it was a breach of UNCAT
• Immoral – To support such despicable practices undermined our claims to civilisation
• Impractical – The material was designed to paint a false picture
I received no reply, so in January or February of 2003 I sent a further telegram repeating the same points.”
Murray was called back to a meeting in London and admonished for sending such notes. He was told that it was not illegal to use torture as long as someone else did the torturing. That’s the grand escape clause that we use today. Rendition and torture are OK, if someone else does it: we approve of proxy torture. Murray was told that he was viewed as “unpatriotic.” In August 2003 he was accused of misconduct, but acquitted on the charges. Nevertheless, the writing was on the wall and he was dismissed as Ambassador in 2004, when a letter he wrote against the the use of torture was leaked to the Times (London). A young, aspiring and talented member of the British Foreign Service had his career destroyed by the Blair government because he spoke out very passionately against the use of torture. You can guess who replaced him–a completely compliant Foreign Service officer who could look the other way as the Uzbekis continued their cruel torture practices.
Irene Kahn, the head of Amnesty International once referred to Guantanamo as the “gulag of our times.” You can hear and read G.W. Bush’s response to her characterization on Democracy Now and determine for yourself who has the moral high ground. The proponents of torture as a means of getting information and saving lives have never proven their case, or when it has been attempted, experts against the use of torture have provided counter evidence that the best information came from applying the soft approach of interrogation, which generally produces more reliable information.
The United States’ validation of torture as a reliable means of getting information is leading directly to more impoverished conditions around the world, because those who are going hungry and complaining about it can now be viewed as subversives with jail, torture and murder awaiting for them if they complain. What then have we done and what responsibilities do we have as we witness other countries moving to adopt violence and torture as a substitute for facing the serious political and social problems of poverty, rape, war and hunger? Have we not given virtually every other country a new way of facing and dealing with these problems? Is this another issue that Americans can comfortably sweep under the carpet of denial and ignorance?  It was America after all that helped to stimulate the adoption of international agreements that made it illegal and immoral to use torture. Has America contributed to the decline of civilization? One billion people in the world now live in extreme poverty, earning less that $1 a day. That number is expected to increase to 2 billion in the next twenty years. How can we fight poverty worldwide if we confuse it with terrorism? It will take a long time for us to erase the cultural stain of torture: it will probably require many generations if it can be done at all.  America has an abundant supply of humanoids  who form the new constituency for torture, with Dick Cheney as their torture guru.  And, they are just waiting for the next terrorist attack to begin their own coercive methods to bring torture back on a grand scale. We opened Pandora’s box on torture, but are we too blind to see how this has led to the devastation of our worldwide level of civilization?

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