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Thursday, December 18th, 2014

Baton Rouge, Louisiana


And we thought Jack Bauer on the Fox TV show “24” was heavy handed in his use of torture techniques. Jack was a piker compared to CIA operatives who utilized about every method of pain infliction imaginable. And then, Vice President Dick Chaney made it clear America had to move to “the dark side.” The ends justified the means if we were to protect our freedoms. But did we, and at what cost?

The controversy was ignited last week when the Senate Intelligence Committee issued a pejorative report claiming that post 9/11, the CIA undertook an elaborate scheme to torture purported terrorists in violation of federal law. The report also concluded that the program of “enhanced interrogations techniques” was incompetent and provided little useful information. Democratic senators cheered, but Republicans, with a few exceptions shouted it was all about politics. So what does a reasonable examination of the facts show?

First, torture is illegal under both U.S. and international law. Specifically, 18 U.S. Code § 2340A, states: “Whoever outside the United States commits or attempts to commit torture shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both, and if death results to any person from conduct prohibited by this subsection, shall be punished by death or imprisoned for any term of years or for life.” No exceptions for any government official. Cheney’s “dark side” argument doesn’t hold water under federal law. If America wants to torture, then change the law.

Secondly, did CIA operatives actually torture? I guess it’s how the “enhanced techniques” are defined. The senate report describes detainees being water boarded, rectally force fed, repeatedly beaten, hanged and handcuffed to an overhead bar for 22-hour periods, left in total darkness and cold temperatures, hooded and shackled, forced to stay awake for up to 180 hours while “standing or in painful stress positions, at times with their hands shackled above their heads in isolated cells with loud noise or music and only a bucket to use for human waste.” Pretty damning evidence that these detainees were more than just “roughed up” a bit.

So is torture effective? Not according to many in the military. Republican Senator John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee in 2012, was tortured as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. He was repeatedly beaten, his ribs shattered, his arm rebroken, and he was kept in terrible conditions in solitary confinement for two years. His opinion? You don’t get reliable information from torture. Prisoners will say anything they think interrogators want to hear. McCain said on the Senate floor last week that: “torture actually damages our security interests as well as our reputation as a force for good in the world.”

McCain joins a long list of military generals and admirals, including former General and Secretary of State Colin Powell, who agree that torture is ineffective and essentially impairs efforts to gain reliable information. It’s strange that the most vocal proponents in favor of torture are those that never served a day in the military. So called “chicken hawks” like Chaney, who received five draft deferments, and when asked why he did not join the service, responded that he had “other priorities.” You can add just about every potential presidential candidate in 2016 who wants to send your son or daughter off to war without volunteering to do so themselves.

CIA field officer and interrogator Glen Carle was a guest on my syndicated radio program last weekend, and he was forthright in saying it is implausible that torture gains any reliable information. His book, The Interrogator, concludes that torture is ineffective and illegal. Carle writes: “The ‘ticking time bomb’ scenario rests on the flawed assumption that, somehow, torture would provide desperately needed information not otherwise obtainable in enough time to stop the threat. But when people are tortured, they will say anything to try to stop the pain.”

After 9/11, a number of well-meaning government officials made decisions that they felt were necessary to protect the nation. It’s easy to second guess. Lincoln suspended habeas corpus and jailed those who opposed his views on the civil war. During World War II, Roosevelt interred thousands of Japanese Americans out of fear. But when the initial fears settle down, it’s critical that America retain a moral clarity.

If only it were as simple as Jack Bauer tried to make it in “24.” But the world is not so black and white. John McCain said it eloquently last week. “The question isn’t about our enemies. It’s about us. It’s about who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be.”

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownla.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownla.com.




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