by John F. Sullivan, former CIA polygraphy
interrogator in Vietnam.
During Mr. Bushâ€™s press conference on January
19, one of the correspondents asked the president to clarify his position on
torture. â€œAmericans donâ€™t torture,â€ summed up his response. I donâ€™t know if Mr.
Bush was suggesting that Americans didnâ€™t torture in the past, werenâ€™t currently
engaging in acts of torture, or wouldnâ€™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 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 Cheneyâ€™s
suggestion that in response to 9/11 we may have to go to the â€œdark sideâ€ of
intelligence in our fight against terrorism, the administrationâ€™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 Justiceâ€™s
memorandum of August 2002, which redefined torture, made it clear that â€œthe
gloves were offâ€ and that in the pursuit of terrorists, â€œanything goes.â€ Torture
went from being a â€œdirty little secretâ€ to a condoned policy.
aforementioned, the most insidious was the Department of Justiceâ€™s August 2002
memorandum which defined a coercive technique as torture, â€œâ€¦only when it induced
pain equivalent to what a person experiencing death or organ failure might
suffer.â€ This is an obscenity.
How does one determine when an individual
being â€œcoercedâ€ has reached the point of being tortured â€“ by the decibel level
of the victimâ€™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.
Bushâ€™s â€œAmericans donâ€™t torture,â€ statement, I conclude that he based his
statement on the DOJâ€™s definition of torture and that those pictured in the Abu
Ghraib photos didnâ€™t meet his criteria for torture. I would like to think that
Mr. Bush does not share Rush Limbaughâ€™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 â€“
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.
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
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 â€œRemember the
Alamo,â€ â€œRemember the Maine,â€ or â€œRemember 9/11â€ ring any bells? How about
â€œRemember Abu Ghraib?â€
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 donâ€™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, â€œWe are better than this.â€ 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.