Addressing America’s Trip to the “Dark Side”: The Cost of Torture
By Maddy Tennis
This week, Human Rights First hosted a press call with five military and interrogation experts to discuss the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the post 9/11 CIA detention and interrogation program. The report consists of more than 6,000 pages, which show CIA torture was much more widespread and brutal than Americans were led to believe, and much less effective at gathering intelligence than proponents of enhanced interrogation claim.
Alberto Mora, former General Counsel of the Navy and Director of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, said that before 9/11 the United States “adhered strictly to the principle that every individual has the right to be free from cruelty” and that this right “is enshrined in the Constitution and it’s enshrined in our legislation.” Enhanced interrogation techniques, he claimed, undermine this freedom from cruelty and fall under the definition of torture.
Colonel Steven Kleinman, who was deployed in Iraq to help train interrogators, says interrogation “can and should be informed by modern legal guidelines, by leading edge science, and most importantly, it must conform to the moral standards that this country claims to embrace. I think the entire debate that we’re seeing now very clearly provides graphic evidence to support the claim that we fall short in all three of those areas.”
Kleinman notes that from a scientific perspective, the use of force—whether it is physical, psychological, or emotional—weakens executive cognitive functioning and the ability to recall one’s memory.
Human Rights First’s Michael Quigley and former High Value Detainee Interrogator at Guantanamo added that so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” in practice were not interrogations, but preparations for interrogations. Anyone being tortured will say whatever he feels is necessary to stop the pain, leading to a “wild goose chase.” Moreover, no questions were typically asked during torture, so the argument that you have to use a harsher technique because of an immediate threat or because of a “ticking time bomb” just is not true. Torture merely prolongs the process.
The speakers agreed that not only is torture wrong and ineffective, but it also has severe consequences for United States’ strategic objectives and national security.
“My view, my personal view based upon what I saw for five years in the Pentagon, was in fact not only were these techniques not [making] us safer—they actually made us weaker. They weakened the defenses of the nation and also weakened the strategic alliance we had crafted to fight the war on terror most effectively,” said Mora.
Quigley shares Mora’s opinion. He says torture “makes us weaker but it also makes us more vulnerable because this kind of practice is inviting people to enter into a fight against us, and so we have to be cognizant of that.”
During his time in Iraq and Guantanamo, Quigley heard a common story from detainees—rumors of Americans torturing Muslims fueled their radicalization and recruitment. “This has a very, very real effect on the radicalization story on almost every detainee I spoke with which led to their eventual recruitment. “
General Paul Eaton, who was responsible for training Iraqi soldiers, stressed the strategic problems torture presents. “The strategic costs to the United States’ national interests in the future—and I’m talking about generations to come—have been undermined by the awareness, by the clear truth, ground truth that the United States is going to torture people,” says Eaton. “So there’s really no legal support for this. There’s no moral support for it. Again, speaking as an intelligence officer, there’s very, very little operational support.”
The Senate report will confirm these views. Some, however, are determined to defend torture and claim that the report is partisan. In fact, the report was initiated on a bipartisan vote, adopted on a bipartisan vote, and submitted for declassification on a bipartisan vote, with additional support from key Senators such as Carl Levin (D-MI), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and John McCain (R-AZ).
Kleinman says, “This is non-partisan. This is all about supporting the Federal Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic, and that’s why we’re here.”
All agreed that the United States must look at this dark chapter in recent American history to ensure it never happens again.