Let's put this straight right off the bat: favoring the use of torture is not a political position, it's a mental illness.
Any further discussion of torture should be unnecessary. However, since our our national media seems to be enthusiastically pimping depravity as a governing principle, we might as well point out that the guys that have been there, done that, seen the elephant show and lived to come home? They say it doesn't work, isn't worth it, and they want nothing to do with it.
If you need further evidence, check out Mike Ritz, a former SERE instructor who worked with our servicemen and women to prepare them for
harsh interrogations torture, and who went on to found his own private "stress laboratory" where he could "use just about any technique" he had read about to "see what kind of results he could get." Tony Lagouranis, a former Army interrogator who questioned prisoners in several locations, including Abu Ghraib. In other words, these are two people who have tortured other people, neither of them is shy about that fact, and they are willing to talk about that experience. Both men appeared on NPR's Tell Me More (audio link). The guys who have really done this stuff to actual human beings do not exactly back up the words of American's biggest Dick.
First off, they discussed the difference between what service people in the intelligence field had been trained to do, and what they were then asked to do by the Bush administration.
Michel Martin (HOST): Tony, do you think that any of the techniques that you were trained in constitute torture?
TONY Lagouranis: I wasn't trained in those techniques that I would call torture, that's part of the problem. In training we were told we had to follow Geneva Conventions to the letter, which wouldn't involve any harsh or coercive techniques. Once we got into Iraq we were told Geneva Conventions didn't apply and we were given a new set of rules, for which we didn't have training. Those rules were sort of open ended. In fact, the document called "Interrogation Rules of Engagement" said the interrogator needs the freedom to be creative in the interrogation. These were only guidelines. Among those guidelines were the use of military working dogs, sleep deprivation, inducing hypothermia or extreme heat, isolation -- I do believe those things constitute torture.
So even those people who had been trained to carry out interrogation suddenly found themselves confronted by rules that had not been tested in the field. They were unprepared, untrained, and left on their own with open-ended "guidelines" that encouraged "harsh treatment." And they were in an environment where their fellow servicemen and women were dying every day from bombs, snipers, and ambushes. How do you suppose that worked out for them?
HOST: s there some cost to you, psychologically or emotionally, in using these techniques?
TONY: Yes. When I came back I was experiencing intense guilt. I'm still dealing with that, and I think that any sane person put in the situation that I was of brutalizing a helpless person, it doesn't matter who they are, you're going to suffer psychological consequences. A friend of mine trained with me as an interrogator and trained in Arabic with me. She was sent to Iraq and asked to use these harsh techniques in the interrogation booth in Tal Afar. She refused, twice. She was ultimately taken off of her post. She... she killed herself rather than use these techniques. We're asking our young servicemen and women to make a choice. To torture people or destroy themselves, and I don't think that's how we want to treat our service people.
I wonder if, when tallying all those imaginary people saved from imaginary plots foiled by torture, Cheney takes a moment to subtract the very real people in our military -- and in our intelligence services -- damaged by their involvement with these procedures? No, of course not. Dick Cheney, king of deferments, lord of the hidden bunker, is far to tough to worry about something like that.
Why would any member of the service let disobedience of these rules drive them to such distraction that they would take their own life?
Host: You can disobey an order that's unlawful. In the real world does that happen?
TONY: Yes, but we were given rules of engagement issued by the Pentagon, so we believed that the orders issued were legal.
That's the real effect of the dry memos and furtive phone calls to the White House. That's where it really came down. Men and women who had already volunteered to put themselves on the line for a nation they loved found themselves trapped by orders that they they were told were legal, but which they knew to be immoral. It was a torture as painful as any being used in dark cells. People who put on the uniform of the United States were then ordered to dishonor everything that uniform stands for. It's hard to imagine a deeper betrayal.
What did we get in exchange for our honor?
HOST: one of the points of contention in this debate is whether the techniques actually yield useful information. Vice President Dick Cheney has been very insistent that the information obtained using these methods was important to American safety.
TONY: In my experience they didn't yield any useful information. Even if it did, you couldn't separate it from the information that wasn't useful. You can torture somebody into confessing to any crime you want. I could torture you until you confessed to murdering JFK, but that doesn't mean you did it, and it's certainly not intelligence.
But we only tortured the worst of the worst, people we knew had done us harm.
TONY: Many of the detainees I interrogated, and tortured, didn't have information to give me. They hadn't committed any crime or action against the US forces. Beyond that, even when you're dealing with someone who does have information, I think that torturing them is the worst possible way to go. The FBI does not use torture and they have a 90% success rate in their interrogation practices, and I saw nothing close to that in Iraq using any of these techniques.
MIKE Ritz: I agree with Tony completely. I'd like to point out this isn't guesswork, we know this to be fact. If you look at the case of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi who was initially captured and cooperated with FBI interrogations. They were using report building techniques, they were giving him the incentive of promising that his wife and family could come to the United States. And this guy, who was very guilty, was cooperating, giving us actual intelligence information. What happened was that the CIA came in, asked if they could use more enhanced interrogation techniques on the individual and through rendition took him to a foreign country. They utilized those techniques. At first he clammed up completely, and then ultimately he linked al-Qaeda to Iraq and claimed that Iraq had trained al-Qaeda in weapons of mass destruction, which we now know to be completely false information and some would speculate sparked the war.
When these techniques are used as part of military training exercises, they come with limits, with guidelines on duration, with supervision, with knowledge from both those undergoing the torture and those administering it, that the technique is as physically safe as it can be. That's a far cry from something being done in a room where emotions are running high, supervisors are out of sight, and the guidelines are ill defined.
MIKE: There is an effect on individuals who subject others to any of this cruel treatment. There are psychologists at SERE school who are there to not only evaluate the people undergoing the training, but to evaluate the staff and cadre that are there to make sure that they're not losing their senses. That they are maintaining composure.
How different is it when the psychologists are the ones directing torture and asking for ever harsher treatment?
Cheney may want to blame what happened at Abu Ghraib on a few rotten apples, but when you take people whose buddies are dying around them, tell them that the rules they were taught back in training are void, and provide examples by way of CIA contractors who are redefining the boundaries in daily phone calls with the president's personal attorney... It's not the apples that are rotten, it's the tree.