No Easy Answers….(revisited & revised)

“And for me, this war, it’s more about preserving our American principles than it is about defeating al-Qaida. We can’t become our enemies in trying to defeat them.” (former US interrogator Matthew Alexander)

In the process of writing my next Jefferson post, (which ironically begins with “It was a close call. The recent release of the CIA memos was pulling me in the direction of ‘commentary’ but{and here I explain how I resisted getting side-tracked} ) when I could no longer resist getting side-tracked. Re-reading the recent Washington Post updates I’ve received, I am profoundly impacted by the interrogations information, the ‘intense debate’ over its release, and the choke-hold struggle over possible prosecution of the involved parties.

Initially, I was pro-torture. (Not for the sake of revenge – such actions only perpetuate the hatred cycle. Nobody wins that one.) My ‘pro’ orientation rather was produced by goal-specific effectiveness. I saw the core issue as being summed up in the following statements: “The most aggressive interrogation techniques conducted by CIA personnel were applied only to a handful of the worst terrorists on the planet, including people who had planned the 9/11 attacks. … Information from these interrogations helped disrupt plots aimed at locations in the U.S.,…” (as well as the UK, the Middle East, and South and Central Asia ) – former Director of Central Intelligence for the CIA, 1997-2004, George Tenet, from his memoir At the Center of the Storm. “… al Qaeda’s toughest prisoner, Khalid Sheik Mohammed… was able to last between two and two-and-a-half minutes before begging to confess.” (CIA’s Harsh Interrogation Techniques Described) The New York Times reported this, written in an internal memo by Admiral Dennis Blair, the national intelligence director for President Obama : “High value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the al-Qaeda organization that was attacking this country.” ( ‘Meet the Press’ transcript, pg.1) Lastly, former CIA Director Michael Hayden says enhanced interrogation techniques yielded critical, actionable intelligence. (source)

Approaching from the other direction: “…civilian and military intelligence professionals have also gone on record …with respect to how torture tactics are not only ineffective in terms of getting reliable, actionable intelligence but have fueled recruitment by Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups to the point that, arguably, more U.S. troops have been killed by terrorists bent on revenge for torture than the 3,000 civilians killed on 9/11…” Larry Johnson, A Memo for Obama

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, as well as others, has stated that such information as indicated in the opening quotes above may well have been gained using other, less radical means. Admittedly, this is a possibility. Larry Johnson, former CIA officer and deputy director of the State Department’s office of counter-terrorism in 2005 stated: “What real CIA field officers know firsthand is that it is better to build a relationship of trust” when seeking to gain information from detainees. It would seem to me that in the aftermath of 9/11, time was of the essence, and employing less radical, more ‘psychologically-based’ methods would most likely have taken more, maybe much more time to acquire crucial information. Time to ‘build trust’ may have been time that the United States could not afford to spend. And yet, intelligence operatives are acutely aware of the time-sensitive nature of their business, so…

Matthew Alexander (a pseudonym, for security reasons) was in charge of a team of interrogators assigned to locate Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the former leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Their success in doing so was a result of “techniques that {were} based on understanding, cultural understanding, sympathy, things like intellect, ingenuity, innovation” rather than brutality. According to Alexander, the rough stuff doesn’t work. As I read through the interview, I find myself definitely re-considering a pro-torture stance. During the last 30 minutes of a six-hour interrogation session, because Alexander established a rapport and empathised with a detainee, “he told me that he was friends with Abu Ayyub al-Masri, who is now the current leader of al-Qaida in Iraq and who was Zarqawi’s right-hand man.” The parting with this information led to the parting of even more, which. provided a pathway to Zarqawi, who, as we know, was later killed by American forces.

As stated above, the reliability of information extracted during the use of torture is an issue. “According to CIA sources, Ibn al Shaykh al Libbi, after two weeks of enhanced interrogation, made statements that were designed to tell the interrogators what they wanted to hear…al Libbi…fabricated the statements because he was terrified of further harsh treatment.” (source) In this one instance, at least, the Bush administration made Iraqi war policy decisions based on such faulty information, sources told ABC News. (My note: This is not to say that the ‘facts’ supplied by al Libbi were actually not true..he just had no knowledge of their veracity or lack thereof. He may have inadvertently provided valuable information, as the subject of this particular interrogation was al Qaeda biological weapons training.)

To be considered as well is al Qaeda’s use of U.S. torture policy as a ‘rallying cry’ and ‘recruitment tool’, according to Press Secretary Gibbs and others. Implied is the suggestion that the jihadists would be less likely to recruit as many new members, or to fan such an intense flame of hatred towards the U.S. if she refrained from such a policy. Maybe. How can such a factor as that be measured? Or proven? Perhaps when history looks back on itself, at a future date…at this point in time, I think any such result would be negligible. But that is just my opinion, and I am apparently wrong. A former U.S. special intelligence operations officer tells us otherwise in a December, 2008 interview on AlterNet. “…the No. 1 reason these foreign fighters gave for coming to Iraq was routinely because of Abu Ghraib, because of Guantanamo Bay, because of torture practices. In their eyes, they see us as not living up to the ideals that we have prescribed to.”


Democratic strategist Eric Yaverbaum considers the releasing of these memos to begin with, ‘a flawed strategy’, and sums up the torture/CIA memo debate this way: “Nobody is going to do anything differently that is a terrorist.” (source) I tend to think Yaverbaum has it right, as far as the declassified interrogations information subduing terrorism, at least.

Former CIA director General Michael Hayden, quoted above, expresses serious concerns over the repercussions of the once-classified memos being made public. Hayden considers the release a “mark of political maneuvering” and says it “hurts the CIA’s ability to conduct the job it is tasked with doing…It really gets into the head of CIA officers who are consistently asked to do things that are on the edge, lawful, but on the edge, in the defense of the republic.” The former CIA chief is concerned about the power of doubt affecting the agency’s operatives on future missions, knowing now “that the legal opinions on which their actions are based are subject to political change and political wind,” thus hindering their effectiveness in action.


I wonder, might this very unsettling, messy, we-wish-it-would-just-go-away-but-it-WON’T! legal and ethical quagmire in which the the United States of America now finds herself , be akin to a deeply buried, rusted piece of metal festering in flesh. Corrosive, toxic…deadly. Perhaps this is our chance to remove it, and be healed.

Jesus talked about how the Pharisees of his day were like white-washed tombs, full of decay and death on the inside, lookin’ good on the outside. Point is, it’s what on the inside that matters. The intangibles endure. What do we, as people, as Americans want to endure? When I started this post, I did not know why I was writing it, or where it was headed. But I have done a complete 180′ by now. I am broken, and broken-hearted, for so many reasons.

This article has taken its toll on me. I’m pretty sure in some places I’m not even making sense, nor connecting the dots right! There is so much more I’d like to cover, but this is too draining. Instead of anymore ‘torture’ reading, I’ve started a slow and thorough examination of our Constitution, and am heading back to things Jeffersonian.


5 responses to “No Easy Answers….(revisited & revised)

  1. May I just concentrate my comment on the aspect of “torture?” And the techniques of torture: having only experienced torture during my entire life by “self-afflicted” injury incurred staring at television, and wallowing in “what will happen to A-Team next week?”…you see, I have no experience in this field… so I will argue with myself, it you don’t mind.Let me further say, the seriousness is two-fold. I don’t know what I mean by that either… so I will begin by saying I am a pretty large human and probably never got tortured because anyone trying to find a subject, probably decided to capture a smaller, weaker subject to electrocute and pluck things off of. As I try to equate torture with Bullying? So in our case “we the USA” is the “bully?” That said:This is the Crux of this Biscuit:How can such a factor as that be measured? Or proven? Perhaps when history looks back on itself, at a future date…at this point in time, I think any such result would be negligible.So saith G-gurl… The episode has become third column Section 7, Sun Times “popular” like Al Gore’s “green thingy.” To rally around the torture of various Allen “Al” Kada’s would require a system of groupies who follow those bands of terror… to spread the word or keep records… no?Roadies and groupies who could tell “behind the scenes tales” of how their anti-hero Muslim muggle-headed cheap-shot artist got his scars… there must be an additional factor of underground intrigue.No one, not even half-man half-woman Hitler, ever anticipated that Germans and Jews both are mercantile enough to keep excruciatingly detailed records of every dot and dash… causing an almost Biblical account of extermination, and other things. Whereas, follow me now, to contrast was the mass killing of Chinese by Japanese in WWII, where no records were kept to prove it, or dispel it. Hey, and how about Stalin..? No records, no sabo?This is where I and Sen McCain are pedestrians in two different worlds. I have never had anything greater than a broken nose… or a hazing to get into a Fraternity; John McC, and many of my ’73 high school classmates, it turns out have been in the throes of torture. Ask those guys what it means… is it effective? Can we get a First hand testimony versus psychologic babble duck duck goose goose… ? Probably no exact person will be interviewed to tell us how it really is.We used covert technique and tortured those terrorists and we kept records… now those records are being faxed all over the world… blah blah blah.Meanwhile, our CIA is rendered impotent, and our President looks like a fool, like I do when I try to imagine a torture episode.Let’s call USA the “Bridge to Infamy,” and let’s go ahead and call the Al Qaeda “bridge inspectors.” Will our infrastructure sustain our form of “republicanism;” even when we break our own laws… or shall we be swept aside as elitists who lost our own bottoms going over speed bumps too fast?…Standing-by for the next instalment…. faithfully yours… pdnf[I can see this comment being moderated right out of the blogosphere.]

  2. MooP_W, as you can see, you have not been 'moderated right out of the blogosphere' !I'm unclear on exactly why I'm even writing on this topic, what my point is…I only know that it is evolving, as I continue to explore & read, and that the pull to do so is strong. I almost have no choice…more to come…

  3. Oh, now I see. Me too, now that you have opened the lid to the [secret titled] box of torturous thoughts coming from the Black Tower: Maybe you have Read this one — at this SOURCEand\or –MooP_W ~v~ HERE”[Excerpt from mid-way through letter]…For what it may be worth, I will say this much. For eight years, we have had a robust debate in the United States about how to handle alien terrorists captured during a defensive war authorized by Congress after nearly 3000 of our fellow Americans were annihilated. Essentially, there have been two camps. One calls for prosecution in the civilian criminal justice system, the strategy used throughout the 1990s. The other calls for a military justice approach of combatant detention and war-crimes prosecutions by military commission. Because each theory has its downsides, many commentators, myself included, have proposed a third way: a hybrid system, designed for the realities of modern international terrorism—a new system that would address the needs to protect our classified defense secrets and to assure Americans, as well as our allies, that we are detaining the right people.” (McCarthy, Andrew; Letter to Attorney General Holder, May 1, 2009 — verbatim from public forum email..)It has me deconstructing in my spare time… as now I see you too are in the jive of it. My pull on this one? It has to do with human genome and cultivating a counter terrorist method from that angle.. eh?Here to add support, as always,pdnf

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