by John F. Sullivan, former CIA polygraphy interrogator in Vietnam.
During Mr. Bush’s press conference on January 19, one of the correspondents asked the president to clarify his position on torture. “Americans don’t torture,” summed up his response. I don’t know if Mr. Bush was suggesting that Americans didn’t torture in the past, weren’t currently engaging in acts of torture, or wouldn’t engage in such acts in the future, but I do know that during my five years in the U.S. Army and 31 years as a polygraph examiner/interrogator with the CIA, I became aware that Americans did torture
Torture and prisoner abuse have been a part of every war in which America has engaged, at least in my lifetime, but was never a sanctioned policy. Torture has been to the U.S. Government, and police agencies which use it, analogous to what sexual misconduct on the part of Catholic priests has been to the Catholic Church: publicly denied, privately acknowledged, and occasionally tacitly approved. That changed with 9/11.
Vice President Cheney’s suggestion that in response to 9/11 we may have to go to the “dark side” of intelligence in our fight against terrorism, the administration’s declaring al Qaeda and other terrorists as enemy combatants, not POWs, in order to deny them protection under the Geneva Convention, and the Department of Justice’s memorandum of August 2002, which redefined torture, made it clear that “the gloves were off” and that in the pursuit of terrorists, “anything goes.” Torture went from being a “dirty little secret” to a condoned policy.
Of the aforementioned, the most insidious was the Department of Justice’s August 2002 memorandum which defined a coercive technique as torture, “…only when it induced pain equivalent to what a person experiencing death or organ failure might suffer.” This is an obscenity.
How does one determine when an individual being “coerced” has reached the point of being tortured – by the decibel level of the victim’s screams? I assume the person making that decision is the interrogator. If so, what training has he or she had in making such assessments? I would hope that no doctor would ever participate in such an exercise and contend that any doctor, who would, not only violates his Hippocratic Oath but is also right down there with the infamous Dr. Mengele.
In analyzing Mr. Bush’s “Americans don’t torture,” statement, I conclude that he based his statement on the DOJ’s definition of torture and that those pictured in the Abu Ghraib photos didn’t meet his criteria for torture. I would like to think that Mr. Bush does not share Rush Limbaugh’s view that what happened at Abu Ghraib was nothing more than a fraternity prank, but am concerned that many Americans might agree with Limbaugh.
My first reaction to those pictures was rage – rage at the sheer sadism depicted; rage at the stupidity of those who allowed the torture, rage at the lack of cultural awareness, and lastly, rage over the fact that those pictures were going to cost American GIs their lives.
The Abu Ghraib pictures make a great recruiting poster for al Qaeda, and I posit that more Muslims were recruited for the Jihad as a result of those pictures than GIs were saved as a result of information coming from torture victims.
It seems logical to me that an al Qaeda/terrorist fighting in Iraq, who saw those pictures, might be more motivated as well as more inclined to fight harder so as not to get captured. Do the battle cries “Remember the Alamo,” “Remember the Maine,” or “Remember 9/11” ring any bells? How about “Remember Abu Ghraib?”
What are the implications of those pictures for any American GIs who might get captured? Can anyone imagine the reaction in America if similar pictures of American GIs were coming out of Iraq? Were that the case, I don’t think our military would have to worry about recruitment shortfalls for as long as the war on terror is waged.
Senator McCain, in commenting on his ordeal in North Vietnam and in referring to his torturers, noted that one of the things that sustained him and his fellow POWs was their belief that, “We are better than this.” The Abu Ghraib photos seem to indicate that we are not better than we were back then.
The above essay was posted by Elaine at Blog Sisters. Jeneane brought it to my attention by cross posting it at Allied. It's subject matter that requires broad discussion, and I hope it will continue to be cross posted widely.