Why They Used Torture


While we know that torture is illegal, immoral, and ineffective, it has remained a popular tool of tyrants throughout history. Generally torture was used not to extract valid information, as it is not an effective means of doing so, but to force false confessions. This occurred during the Spanish Inquisition. Viewers of The Tudors have seen how torture was used to build a case of incest and adultery against Ann Boleyn. More recently torture was used by the North Vietnamese to force American prisoners, including John McCain, to give false confessions of war crimes. There are now suggestions that the Bush administration used torture in an attempt to prove something which was counter to fact.

McClatchy reports that torture was used to try to prove a connection between Saddam and al Qaeda when no such connection actually existed:

The Bush administration applied relentless pressure on interrogators to use harsh methods on detainees in part to find evidence of cooperation between al Qaida and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime, according to a former senior U.S. intelligence official and a former Army psychiatrist.

Such information would’ve provided a foundation for one of former President George W. Bush’s main arguments for invading Iraq in 2003. In fact, no evidence has ever been found of operational ties between Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network and Saddam’s regime…

A former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the interrogation issue said that Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld demanded that the interrogators find evidence of al Qaida-Iraq collaboration.

“There were two reasons why these interrogations were so persistent, and why extreme methods were used,” the former senior intelligence official said on condition of anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity.

“The main one is that everyone was worried about some kind of follow-up attack (after 9/11). But for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between al Qaida and Iraq that (former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed) Chalabi and others had told them were there.”

It was during this period that CIA interrogators waterboarded two alleged top al Qaida detainees repeatedly — Abu Zubaydah at least 83 times in August 2002 and Khalid Sheik Muhammed 183 times in March 2003 — according to a newly released Justice Department document.

There is a tendency among many Americans to forgive the Bush administration for some of its crimes committed after 9/11, feeling that although they overreacted they were acting to attempt to protect the country. This information shows that they were largely motivated to protect their own legacy and cover up the manner in which they betrayed the country by lying us into an unnecessary war. If this is the case there is no longer any reason why George Bush and Dick Cheney should not be tried and held accountable for war crimes, just as Japanese and Germans were tried after World War II.

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  1. 1
    Christopher Skyi says:

    It’s weird — I’m in full agreement that torture is illegal, immoral, and ineffective, but when I just read about Abu Zubaydah being waterboaded at least 83 times in and Khalid Sheik Muhammed 183 times, well — if a couple of guys ever had it coming, it was these two. 

    Torture  is wrong, but at the same time, I don’t feel sorry for these guys at all.  Not a bit.  In fact, I take pleasure in the whole idea, just for these guys.  Human reaction, I guess, but I’m thinking that if one is to build an agrument against torture, perhaps it’s best not to mention those two inhuman, pathological killers — for them, torture is too good.

  2. 2
    Christopher Skyi says:

    Cathartic Vent.

    This whole topic has got me surprisingly upset.

    First: I think many people were sympathetic to “torture of terrorist” because they conflated the emotional response I had in my last comment with the wider issue and principle, i.e., people may have imagined we were torturing people who were clearly guilty, and they did NOT think that

    1) a lot of these people were simply suspects.  They weren’t random people pulled off the street, obviously. We can assume “intelligence” had good cause to be concerned about them, but — they were not like khalid Sheik Muhammed who we know planned and killed people.

    2) they did NOT think about the possibility that under enough pain and fear, people will confess to anything. 

    Second:  I’m actually FOR torture in this sense: torture for it’s own sake. I was in NYC on 9/11/2001. If I had khalid Sheik Muhammed alone in a room and I KNEW he was directly involved, I would have said to him “I want nothing from you, NOTHING. I’m just going to torture you, and when and if I’ve had enough, I’m going to kill you.”  That’s pure and understanding (though certainty not desirable).  Pure and understandable, yet — you still can’t do that. Even if the person “deserves it.” This is why we have laws and courts.

    If team Bush had said they were going to do that, I don’t think anyone would have complained or cared, not really.

    However, it appears that team Bush used torture to try to extract information about a connection between al Qaida and Iraq .

    I’m not going to go so far as to say they were deliberately trying to get a “confession” they knew was false, but they put themselves and us on such a dangerous slippery slope it’s inexcusable, and it’s made me come as close as I ever have to losing faith in my own government — and that’s a lousy feeling, let me tell you. 

    So, I’m left with realization that there’s a part of me that would enjoy torture (or at least thinks it would) — and that’s not a pleasant realization — and, I’ve come close as I even want to losing my faith in my own government and country.

    Thanks Bush. Thanks a lot.

    But — to leave it at that is to accept being a victim.

    I think the task for all of us, or at least me, is to take this wider self-awareness to use to re-affirm my commitment to due process, the law, moral principles.  I can’t choose how I feel about things, but I can certainty choose how to act, how to behave.  

    Second, it’s good lesson for all us that no matter who’s in power in D.C., they always and forever bear close watching.  Jefferson was right:

    “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”

  3. 3
    Eclectic Radical says:

    I object to the idea of torture of guilty terrorists for the point of making them suffer. That would just appeal to their masochistic martyrdom fantasies in the end. I’d lock convicted terrorists up in a place the equivalent of a nursing home and let them live in that kind of wasting boredom for as long as they could last.

    That aside, I think you’re right about the assumptions the average person who doesn’t object to the idea of torture was making when the word was used. That people were being tortured who deserved to be tortured, so it was all okay. This was deliberately propagated, in fact, by the Bush White House and the right wing media machine. The idea was to instill in everyone’s mind that only bad people were being tortured or spied on and no one else had anything to worry about. They also advanced tv spy fantasies as justifications for their behavior. When one understands that many of the armchair soldiers on the right are living these kinds of action movie fantasies in their own heads, a lot more makes sense.

  4. 4
    Christopher Skyi says:

    “I object to the idea of torture of guilty terrorists for the point of making them suffer.”

    So do I. But the “I” that object’s is not the all of me, and — by nature or fate — sometimes it is not the ruler of me.

    I just watched Hamlet, consumed in grief, rage, obsessed with revenge:

    “Now see that noble and most sovereign reason,
    Like sweet bells jangled, out of tune and harsh”
    ~ Ophelia, watching Hamlet fall apart.

    I think the most fundamental problem with religion is that it start with a denial of human nature. Maybe we don’t know what we are, completely, but what little we sometimes see, we don’t like.

    I think great art, great drama embraces what we are — it’s starts “there,” “right there,” raw, unvarnished. And that’s the first step to . . . enlightenment. It’s why we watch, why we read: to help us see clearly who we really are, and you’re ultimately free, really free, when you do that.

    The worst aspects of both conservatism and liberalism is that each thinks an “idea” of who we ought to be, should be, somehow can overrule who we really are.  The (failed, destructive) drug war is one example on the conservative side.   “From each according to his abilities to each according to his needs” on the (extreme) left side. It should be no surprise that these “visions” of who we ought to be have so miserably failed.

    I guess I like economic conservatives and socially liberal conservatives because each position “deals” with what we are, the desirable and undesirable.   That’s rational. Anything that ties to “make” us “better,” in some fundamental way, is crazy.

    So — you CAN “object” to the act of torturing of guilty terrorists for the point of making them suffer, but you can’t object to the desire, the drive, the urge, the “you” that wants to do it nevertheless.

    I think these things just are, and there’s little we can do about them, and reason and passion will always, like the wind and sea, contend with each other to see who is the strongest. By simply accepting that, we have a chance to survive the battle. If we fight passion, suppress it, deny it, it will kick our ass.

  5. 5
    Eclectic Radical says:

    I believe that we can object to the desire you are talking about. That is why we have to choose not to act on it, because we know it is objectionable and we have to make a conscience decision to object to that part of ourselves and choose the better angels of our nature in their place. I certainly think we should be aware of that part ourselves and acknowledge its truth, but that does not make it right to act on it or make that part of ourselves unobjectionable.

    Human nature is good and bad, and we must embrace the good while acknowledging and striving to overcome the bad.

    I should note that, in the basic sense of the words, ‘From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs’ is a far better guidepost for society’s governance than most of the alternatives. The trick is remembering that everyone has needs, not all needs are the same, and sometimes ability creates needs of its own.

    The problem with conservative or liberal utopianism is not ideology, but rather the understanding of the real world and its lack of neat, logical, consistent, ideological boundaries. Generally speaking, liberals are more flexible about their ideology because they believe problems can be solved. This requires flexible thinking to solve problems. The conservative notion that one can only let problems solve themselves encourages a degree of inflexibility.

    I consider myself to be on the ‘far left’ as such things are measured in American politics, and I don’t believe the loons on the left are loons because of their radical views. Loons on either side are loons because of their inability to adapt to the real world.

  6. 6
    Eclectic Radical says:

    In reference to the article itself, that has ALWAYS been the primary purpose of torture. To get the prisoner to tell his captors what they want to hear regardless of the truth of that statement. Torture is not interrogation, it is coercion.

    I’ve failed to understand how people fail to understand that.

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