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Monday, May 30, 2011

Was Bin Laden Found because of Torture & Enhanced Interrogation?

Does Desperation for Information Trump Human Rights?

There are such compelling arguments both for and against the use of torture during the interrogation of suspected terrorists, that it is a no win situation for whomever is deciding policy.

The months following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and the Washington, D.C. area were extremely frustrating for federal law enforcement agents. An immediate and massive dragnet had produced 150 people believed to have ties to al Qaeda, the terrorist organization believed responsible for the hijackings. Four suspects, in particular, were thought to have crucial information on al Qaeda operations: Zacarias Moussaoui, a French Moroccan detained several months before the attacks because he sought lessons on how to fly commercial airplane; Mohammed Jaweed Azmath and Ayub Ali Khan, Indian citizens traveling with false passports, box cutters, hair dye, and $5,000 in cash; and Nabil Almarabh, a former Boston cab driver with a suspicious past.

Agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) offered these suspects the usual incentives to divulge information, including lighter criminal sentences, money, and new identities for new lives in the United States. These tactics met with no success. 'We're into this thing for thirty-five days and nobody is talking,' said a senior FBI official, noting, 'frustration has begun to appear.' Another FBI interrogator pointed out, 'You can't torture, you can't give drugs, and there is logic, reason, and humanity to back that.' He added, 'I don't think this country would ever permit torture, or beatings' of terrorist suspects. Indeed, the United States has signed two international treaties that expressly prohibit torture: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the United Nations Convention Against Torture. Beyond any treaty commitments, this country joins most of the rest of the world in rejecting torture as immoral an unacceptable. 'No other practice except slavery,' wrote one observer 'is so universally and unanimously condemned in law and human convention.' In theory, then, torture is never acceptable.

In theory, however, most Americans could never imagine the events of September 11, 2001, taking place. In practice, if torturing a suspect to gain information would prevent further such attacks, many law enforcement agents believe the option should at least be considered. Reports from the global 'war on terrorism' strongly suggest that American agents are either directly or indirectly involved in interrogation tactics that fall under the definition of torture. As one FBI official predicted in October 2001, 'it could get to that spotÉ where we don't have a choice.'

The Ticking Bomb Scenario

According to the United Nations, torture is defined as 'any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person' to punish or obtain a confession or information. In addition, 'No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability, or any other public emergency, may be invoked as justification for torture.' A number of observers do believe, however, that 'exceptional circumstances' may allow for torture when it is clearly necessary to prevent a much greater evil. These circumstances are often referred to as the 'ticking bomb' scenario, a hypothetical situation in which a bomb has been activated and the only person who has information that may prevent the bomb from detonating refuses to cooperate.

The question is whether the suspect in the "ticking bomb" scenario should be tortured to divulge information that could potentially save many lives. Those who think that torture is justified in a "ticking bomb" scenario rely on the legal defense of necessity (based on “ticking bomb” scenario, 3 national polls reported 32%, 45% and 65% approval), under which society "forgives" a person for violating the law if that person is in a position in which they must do so to prevent a greater harm.

While the 'ticking bomb' scenario is hypothetical, it has been used to rationalize state support of torture in the past. In particular, Israel employed 'physical coercion' of suspected Palestinian terrorists in the 1980s and 1990s and France tortured thousands of Algerians during that a revolt in the 1950s. No country, including the United States, has officially sanctioned torture in the present war on terrorism, though the arrest of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in the spring of 2003 presented what many believe to be closest thing to a 'ticking bomb' in the present conflict. Mohammed, a Kuwaiti citizen, is alleged to have been deeply involved in the planning of the September 11, 2001, attacks and many American law enforcement and intelligence officials believe he has extensive knowledge of al Qaeda strategies, including any plans for further large-scale terrorist activity.

'Torture Warrants.' The interrogation of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was captured in Pakistan and then handed over to American authorities, raises another set of questions. Regardless of international treaties, what does the U.S. Constitution have to say about the practice of torture? As we will discuss later in this feature, many constitutional scholars believe that the ConstitutionÑspecifically, the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth AmendmentsÑprotects terrorist suspects from torture just as it would protect any criminal suspect from brutal treatment at the hands of the police.

In order to avoid constitutional entanglements, defense attorney Alan Dershowitz has suggested that Congress and the courts prepare for the inevitable 'ticking bomb' situation by incorporating torture into the American legal system. Under Dershowitz's plan, judges would be given the authority to issue 'torture warrants' when law enforcement agents could prove that there was an 'absolute need to obtain immediate information' to save lives along with probable cause that 'the suspect had such information and was unwilling to reveal it.'

10 Things To Know About Torture


Arguing for Using Torture Techniques to Interrogate Suspected Terrorists

In a clear 'ticking bomb' scenario, some observers reject the notion that the Constitution limits a law enforcement officers' ability to use 'any means necessary,' including torture, to save lives. These observers acknowledge that while torture is not a fail proof method for gaining information, it has worked in limited situations in the past. In a report to the United Nations, Israel claimed that torture techniques foiled ninety planned terrorist attacks from 1994 to 1996, including ten suicide bombings, seven car bombings, and fifteen kidnappings. It would be preposterous, say some, to deny investigators this tool. Richard L. Thornburgh, former U.S. Attorney General, warns, 'We put emphasis on due process and sometimes it strangles us.'

The January 2001 cover of The Atlantic Monthly asked in large print, 'MUST WE TORTURE?' Terrorism analyst Bruce Hoffman from Rand Corporation suggested we must. He reported sympathetically on his meeting with a Sri Lankan intelligence officer—'Thomas'— the following scenerio:
Thomas’s unit had apprehended three terrorists who, it suspected, had recently planted somewhere in the city a bomb that was then ticking away, the minutes counting down to catastrophe.... He asked them where the bomb was. The terrorists—highly dedicated and steeled to resist interrogation—remained silent....So Thomas took his pistol from his gun belt, pointed it at the forehead of one of them, and shot him dead. The other two, he said, talked immediately; the bomb, which had been placed in a crowded railway station and set to explode during the evening rush hour, was found and defused, and countless lives were saved.

In contrast, many supporters of the limited use of torture, echoing the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, do not think that the Constitution needs to be a 'suicide pact' when it comes to protecting American against terrorist attack. Not every government action that results in an individual's pain, they point out, is prohibited by law. A police officer may use 'appropriate force' to subdue a violent suspect, for example, and prison guards may use firearms to suppress a riot. The Constitution, via the Eighth Amendment, only requires that the infliction of pain not be 'wanton and unnecessary.' So, if a law enforcement official were to torture a suspect out of personal spite, his or her actions would certainly be unconstitutional. But, under a 'ticking bomb' scenario, one could argue that the torture is necessary and therefore meets the requirements of the Constitution.

Reasoning along similar lines, Dershowitz argues that his 'torture warrants' would pass the test of constitutionalism. As long as the information gained was used solely to prevent terrorist attacks and not to prosecute the suspect in criminal court, the Fifth Amendment's prohibition against self-incrimination would not be breeched. Furthermore, because the torture suspect is not a regular criminal suspect, the due process standards of the Fifth and Fourteenth do not apply. Finally, insists Dershowitz, because a torture suspect has not been convicted of any crime, the Eighth Amendment's protections against 'cruel and unusual' punishments are not relevant.

Arguing against Using Torture Techniques to Interrogate Suspected Terrorists

Shocking the Conscience. Dating back to a 1936 case in which police officers hung a suspect from a tree branch and whipped him until he confessed, the Supreme Court has held that the use of physical abuse as part of the interrogation process is 'revolting' to the 'sense of justice.' More recently, the Court has established that the due process clause protects suspects against any physical abuse that 'shocks the conscience' of the justices. This standard was developed during a case in which police officers took a suspect to the hospital and had a physician pump his stomach to recover two swallowed capsules containing illegal drugs. The Court ruled that these methods of evidence retrieval violated the 'bodily integrity' of the suspect and were 'too close to the rack and screw' to be protected by the Constitution.

If pumping a suspect's stomach to gain evidence is comparable to torture and 'shocks the conscious' of the Supreme Court, argue some, than using actual torture to conflict excruciating pain on a suspect would certainly offend the 'sense of justice' that is upheld by the due process clause. Furthermore, as the Court has found the refusal to administer a painkiller to a prisoner after surgery constitutes 'cruel and unusual' punishment under the Eighth Amendment, then surely the justices would quail at the idea of inflicting much higher levels of pain on someone who has not even been prosecuted for committing a crime.

Does Torture Work? Critics of interrogating terrorist suspects with torture tactics do not only rely on the Constitution to bolster their arguments. They claim that, simply stated, torture does not work. Coerced confessions are a 'lazy' form of police work, often discouraging a complete investigation of the evidence. Furthermore, torture often inspires the subject to tell the interrogators what he or she thinks they want to hear, regardless of whether the information is true. 'Law enforcement officials understand that torture is a wonderful technique for getting confessions from innocent people and a lousy technique for getting truth out of guilty people,' notes one human rights expert. John Conroy, who served in the U.S. Armed Forces during the Vietnam War (1961-1975) and participated in the torture of Vietnamese prisoners, could not think of a single instance in which the practice led to useful information.

For many observers, the most compelling reason for the United States to resist the temptation to torture terrorist suspects is that such a step would severely impair our ability to challenge human rights violations committed by other countries. If American officials approved the use of torture under one set of circumstances, other countries would be encouraged to employ the practice with more impunity, including against American citizens abroad. Finally, in the eyes of many, the United States is a 'shining beacon' of democracy and human rights because it rejects practice such as torture, which can be used by a government to oppress and control its own citizens. 'We are Americans, and we will not torture people, even to save lives,' states one critic of the practice. 'This is one of the things that distinguishes us from our enemy.'

Interrogating Terrorists Today

Critics of torture also point out the 'ticking bomb' scenario, while possibly useful in a theoretical sense, is highly unlikely to actually occur, meaning that officials must make the decision of whether to torture in less clear-cut circumstances. In the 'real world,' American officials are more likely to use torture to gain information about a terrorist act that has already taken place or similar acts that may be 'on the drawing board.'

Although the U.S. government has declared that no representative of the American government is authorized to use torture on terrorist suspects at home or abroad, news reports are rife with descriptions of interrogation tactics that skirt the legal definition of the practice. American 'human intelligence collectors' are allowed to lie and to take advantage of a terrorist suspects' ethnic stereotypes, sexual urges, religious prejudices, and concern for his or her family's safety to draw out information. Furthermore, terrorist suspects who refuse to cooperate are sometimes subject to 'stress and duress' techniques, such as sleep deprivation, denial of medical care, and being held in awkward, painful positions for hours.

Federal officials are also suspected of sending terrorist suspects to countries where government agents are quite willing to use torture as part of interrogation, a practice that is illegal under both U.S. and international law. In 2002, for example, a Yemeni biology student believed to be an al Qaeda operative was flown from Pakistan to Jordan on a jet chartered by the U.S. government to be questioned by Jordanian officials. As one anonymous American antiterrorist official stated, 'We don't kick the s**t out of them. We send them to other countries so that they can kick the s**t out of them.'

The Final Word

Former Bush administration officials, Republican lawmakers, as well as Americans accross the country have given President Obama and his national security team great credit for the daring operation that ended with bin Laden being shot to death by a CIA-led Navy SEALs team. Republicans voice that the controversial interrogation program and information gleaned from detainees at Guantanamo Bay and at secret overseas prisons set the stage for Sunday's success.
The key information was given up by two Guatanamo prisoners, including 9/11 architect Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Faraj al Libi, Al Qaeda's No. 3 leader at the time. They disclosed Bin Laden's courier's name, which was known only to bin Laden's innermost circle.

Critics of the Bush-era interrogation programs have suggested that the harsh interrogations were not essential to tracking bin Laden and that the information could have been obtained by more humane means. But for Cheney, Bush supporters and the majority of Americans everywhere, the raid leading to the death of the world's most wanted man stands as proof their system worked.

Because of the sensitivity of the subject, it is difficult to be sure of the prevalence of 'stress and duress' tactics or the shipping of suspects to torture-friendly countries. Public opinion surveys show that about half of the American public supports the use of torture on terrorist suspects, a large but not overwhelming statement in favor of the practice. In the end, the best step to take concerning the practice might be no step at all. For the legal and moral reasons described in this feature, we should keep the practice of torture illegal. Then, if a 'ticking bomb' scenario did arise and an American law enforcement or intelligence office was forced to use torture, he or she could use the necessity defense when charged with committing a crime.

This strategy places the decision whether to torture squarely on the shoulders of the individual, who will be aware of the need to convince a court that he or she was acting reasonably under the circumstances. 'We should not torture an al Qaeda prisoner as a general rule. But to torture one who knows where the hijacked, airborne Boeing 737 is headed is an exception to the rule,' observes political commentator William F. Buckley. 'Some acts of warfare, like some intelligence, are works of art, not articles of war.'

So, should America torture terrorists during interrogation to obtain info? What do you think? Could you answer the question on my SodaHead Poll for me? It will only take a second, HERE. Also, my Conspiracy Watch readers would really like to know your opinion, so please leave a short comment down bellow. Thank you!

See you back here, soon.

Yours Truly!

- Tom Retterbush

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An important book. If you care about our Government's complicity in these illegal and horrific acts then this book provides the evidence. - Ken Loach, "Extraordinary rendition, false imprisonment, inhumane treatment - including torture and death in secretive detention sites - has forever destroyed the lives of hundreds of men, of whom I was one."

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