Saturday, October 11, 2008

Keeping Up the Pressure on Torture

If I seem preoccupied with torture, that's due to two factors above all:

First, Fayetteville-Fort Bragg is surrounded by major components of what I call the "Torture Industrial Complex." So it's hard to ignore.

And second, in my study of this gruesome subject, it's become clear that legitimizing torture is a key step in the creation of a police state.

Anyway, here's another OpEd on the topic that I sent to the local paper.

Fayetteville NC Observer – published Sunday, September 28, 2008 in the Opinion category.

Don’t forget Torture Migration Day
By Chuck Fager

In this military town, much attention is given to important dates in military history: June 6, D-Day; Nov. 11, formerly Armistice, now Veterans Day; Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor Day.

Earlier this month, another major anniversary passed, with no notice but of huge importance, especially locally: Sept. 16. Migration Day. Torture Migration Day.

On Sept. 16, 2002, a conference began at the Special Warfare Center on Fort Bragg. At the session, the staff of the rapidly filling detention camp at Guantanamo were treated to detailed "demonstrations" of the Special Forces’ SERE techniques.

SERE: Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape. It’s the part of Special Forces training where aspiring operators are "captured" and then abused, under controlled conditions, to see how long they can resist breaking down and signing false confessions.

Reports are that the techniques, which grew out of the abuse of U.S. prisoners of war in the Korean War, can include waterboarding, religious assaults, sensory and sleep deprivation, and extremes of heat and cold. Reports also say they are extremely effective at breaking down the trainees’ will to resist, usually quickly.

The goal of the Bragg demonstration, according to Army investigators and the important new book, The Dark Side, by New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer, was to show the Guantanamo officials how to get their prisoners to talk. Until then, the complaint was that the hundreds of detainees there were producing very little useful information.

From that fateful Sept. 16 meeting here, the SERE techniques, say investigators, "migrated" to Gitmo. And then to Afghanistan and Iraq, at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. And then to the "black sites" operated by various OGAs, or Other Government Agencies — read CIA.

With this "migration," evidently many detainees started to talk, and didn’t stop.

That’s not surprising because these techniques really are not about interrogation. They’re about torture. So yes, those subjected to them talked. And talked. They spewed reams of "confessions" and detailed "intelligence."

But over time, as numerous investigations have shown and Jane Mayer’s book chillingly summarizes, little of this "intelligence" has proven authentic or useful.

And hundreds of the detainees, after such abuse, were released without charges — because they had no involvement with terrorism.

That is, they were not only innocent, they also were ignorant of the details of terror. Their confessions were mostly fabricated, to get the torture to stop.

Also in The Dark Side, Mayer recounts that numerous administration officials — solid anti-terror conservatives and high military officers — came to see this "migration" as a tragic wrong turn and tried to stop it.

Without success.

There are many reasons to deplore the torture migration that was launched Sept. 16, 2002. Some, such as respect for the Geneva Conventions, the Constitution, U.S. federal anti-torture laws, and God, can be dismissed as the cavils of bleeding hearts such as myself.

But others come from battle-seasoned military leaders.

One of these was former Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. John Shalikashvili. He said that such practices "fostered greater animosity toward the United States, undermined our intelligence-gathering efforts, and added to the risks facing our troops serving around the world."

That’s right: torture or "enhanced interrogation" by U.S. authorities endangers American troops.

This is "the Golden Rule" argument: if it’s OK for the U.S. to torture and abuse detainees and prisoners — that makes it OK for our adversaries to do the same to our forces. "Do unto others ..."

Shalikashvili also states what can be called "the Bad Seed" argument:

Remember all those hundreds — more like thousands — of released detainees who weren’t part of al-Qaida or other terror groups when they came in? Whose side do you suppose they’re on now?

Right again: Torture helps recruit new terrorists and sympathizers. Which means, torture not only increases risks to our soldiers. It also endangers our national security.

While I hope the tide is beginning to turn against torture and so-called "enhanced interrogation," it’s clear that this matter is far from over. The efforts to root it out will likely take years.

So while those efforts continue, I propose we add Sept. 16 to the calendar of unhappily memorable days on the military history calendar.

Torture Migration Day.

Let it not be forgotten.

And may it never happen again.

No comments: