Sunday, May 24, 2009

More Torture Items

There are two incredibly interesting items about torture.

First: a Chicago-based radio show host called Erich Mancow Muller - apparently he's on a conservative show, though I've never listened to it - volunteered to be waterboarded. He lasted only a handful of seconds after less than a gallon of water was poured onto his face (he got through 3/4 of a gallon). He said it was "absolutely torture," and that it was "instanteous and horrific." Here's the clip.

Second: two men with first hand experience with waterboarding and other "enhanced interrogation techniques" went on NPR to talk about how waterboarding is torture, is ineffective, obtains false confessions, and negatively affects the mental health and well being of our soldiers who were required to conduct the torture. The two men are Tony Lagouranis (a former interrogator at Abu Graib (not involved in any of the now-infamous photos) who has just written a book called "Fear Up Harsh - An Army Interrogator's Dark Journey Through Iraq") and Mike Ritz (a former interrogation instructor at SERE, our military's program that trains soldiers what kind of torture to expect if caught behind enemy lines). Here's the interview (audio form only). It's a little long, but well worth the listening.

Here are some parts of the interview:

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 LAGOURANIS: 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.

* and *

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.

* and *

HOST: Is 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.

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.

The tape ends with Tony Lagouranis saying that the debate about torture is not really a debate conducted by professional interrogators, who already believe, like he does, that it is not effective. Instead it is just a debate being made by civilians like Dick Cheney: "Ultimately, I don't think that torture is about getting intelligence. I think it's about domination. I think it's about revenge, it's about fear..."

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