Take Torture Off Agenda



According to President Donald Trump, people who are tortured deserve it. Trump’s initial draft executive order in January revealed his passion for reopening U.S. black site prisons, loading Guantanamo with prisoners, and rewriting the Army Field Manual to redefine allowable interrogation techniques.

Sure, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis opposes torture. But multiple CIA agents, military brass, legislators, and citizens have opposed torture for decades. Those with a will for torture find a way.

The Bush administration tortured foreign prisoners using waterboarding, forced feeding, rectal feeding, slamming into concrete walls by the neck, freezing water, stripping, beating, dragging, mock executions, isolation, drug injections, agonizing enclosure in tiny boxes, forced runs while hooded, and harrowing threats to families. Such despicable behavior, hypocritically to preserve American values and safety, makes some Americans want to shred their flags.

Guilt of foreign captives is often unknown. There are no trials. There’s not even a clear definition of guilt. Even if guilt were proven, torture is immoral and illegal. The post-9/11 torture program violated the U.S. Constitution, the U.S. Uniform Code of Military Justice, and international law.

U.S. torture policy rested partly upon psychologists James Mitchell’s and Bruce Jessen’s absurd logic that since dogs cease resisting electric shocks when learning resistance is futile, prisoners will release truthful information when tortured. Notice, the poor dogs didn’t divulge any information. And given affectionate training, dogs will joyfully cooperate.

In 2002, Mitchell and Jessen implemented torture at a U.S. black site in Thailand run by Gina Haspel, who had the site’s videotapes destroyed in 2005 and is now Trump’s CIA deputy director. That year, the CIA outsourced almost its entire interrogation program to Mitchell, Jessen, and Associates who developed 20 “enhanced interrogation techniques” for $81.1 million. A sadistic murderer could’ve done that for free.

What was the excuse for tax-funded depravity? CIA attorney John Rizzo explained, “The government wanted a solution. It wanted a path to get these guys to talk.” Rizzo believed that if another attack occurred and he’d failed to force captives to talk, he’d be responsible for thousands of deaths.

Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales defended the torture program’s “ability to quickly obtain information from captured terrorists … to avoid further atrocities against American civilians.”

So cruelty is defended in the name of protecting us, as if we’re chickens running around, believing the sky will fall if we don’t get tough now. But if timely action is critical, doesn’t it waste time to quickly go in the wrong direction?

After all, seasoned interrogators know torture is useless. It damages mental clarity, coherence, and recall. In its 2014 report, the Senate Intelligence Committee recognized torture’s unquestionable failure as an information-gathering tool: It acquires neither actionable intelligence nor prisoner cooperation. Victims, crying, begging, and whimpering, are rendered “unable to effectively communicate.”

Particularly disgusting is the U.S. double standard of justice. Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Trump have protected torture program members from prosecution, often by invoking the “state secrets executive privilege.” Apparently, torture folks don’t belong on trial. They’re above the law. We’re supposed to understand that they were doing their best, serving our nation, following orders, pressured, fearful: good people with noble motives.

Yet when we turn to suspected Mid-Eastern militants, we’re not supposed to consider their circumstances, motivations, pressures, or fears. Apparently, they also don’t belong on trial. They’re below the law. Nail them with drones, the extrajudicial killing more politically palatable than extrajudicial torture.

Mitchell, Jessen, and Associates face a lawsuit in court June 26, and Trump is trying to block federal court access to CIA testimony on grounds of “national security.”

But as long as the U.S. perceives enemies the way exterminators perceive cockroaches, national security will be elusive and any peace will be no more stable than a house of cards.

Notice that intelligence efforts always revolve around obtaining Destructive Intelligence: information for defeating enemies. No Constructive Intelligence is sought, nothing to illuminate causes of violence and cooperative solutions.

Why? Because the CIA, NSA, and Department of Defense are boxed in by organizational missions to conquer enemies, missions that constrict the mind’s ability to perceive the enemy as having any heart or mind worth caring about.

If we created a U.S. Department of Peace whose mission was to non-violently address roots of violence, such a mission would gear American ingenuity and enthusiasm toward the bigger picture of conflict resolution and friendship rather than toward desperate conclusions that security requires cruelty toward enemies.

We’ve got to considerately ask Mid-Eastern friends and enemies their perspectives on ISIS, the Taliban, and the U.S., ask their ideas for creating trust, caring, justice and peace, for leading meaningful lives, sharing wealth and power, and resolving disagreements. Such questions would rapidly elicit the empowering Constructive Intelligence needed to activate cooperative solutions.

But without a caring approach to peace, the American imagination fails us, imagining only the bad that may result from refusing to torture and kill, rather than the good that will come from non-violently resolving conflict.

Kristin Christman is author of Taxonomy of Peace. https://sites.google.com/site/paradigmforpeace A previous version of this article was first published in the Albany Times Union.


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