This blog is about how a movie helped perpetuate one of the single most disgusting of the right wing Big Lies, the lie that torture gets actionable intelligence. In fact, what torture has done is damage the image of the America around the world, made us less safe and resulted in the deaths of thousands of Americans.
I saw the film, Zero Dark Thirty the other night. I really loved the movie. It may not be right to root for the killing of any individual but I cheered for Osama Bin Laden to be killed and enjoyed seeing it happen. Nevertheless, the film had a serious problem. It has revived an issue that seems to have slipped from the national attention- waterboarding. The film suggests that Osama Bin Laden was found through information obtained by torturing captured terrorists, perpetuating a right wing Big Lie.
Here’s what Ali H. Soufan, an FBI agent actually involved in interrogating prisoners told the New York Times about the movie:
” I watched “Zero Dark Thirty” not as a former F.B.I. special agent who spent a decade chasing, interrogating and prosecuting top members of Al Qaeda but as someone who enjoys Hollywood movies. As a movie, I enjoyed it. As history, it’s bunk.”
“Ammar is a composite character who bears a strong resemblance to a real-life terrorist, Ammar al-Baluchi. In both the film and real life he was a relative of Bin Laden’s lieutenant, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. But the C.I.A. has repeatedly said that only three detainees were ever waterboarded. The real Mr. Baluchi was not among them, and he didn’t give up information that led to Bin Laden.”
The CIA has vigorously protested, and rightly so, even though this is just a movie. The Atlantic Wire quotes acting CIA director Michael Morell:
“…the film creates the strong impression that the enhanced interrogation techniques that were part of our former detention and interrogation program were the key to finding bin Laden. That impression is false.”
I personally heard the previous Director, Leon Panetta, tell a reporter that not one single piece of actionable intelligence was every obtained through enhanced interrogation. I heard the same from Robert Mueller. And it wasn’t just the CIA. The San Francisco Chronicle has an article about Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Diane Feinstein, Senate Armed Service Committee Chairman Carl Levin and Senator John McCain sending a letter to Sony Pictures which stated:
“As you know, the film graphically depicts CIA officers repeatedly torturing detainees and then credits these detainees with providing critical lead information on the courier that led to the Osama bin Laden. Regardless of what message the filmmakers intended to convey, the movie clearly implies that the CIA’s coercive interrogation techniques were effective in eliciting important information related to a courier for Osama bin Laden. We have reviewed CIA records and know that this is incorrect.”
John McCain said in a speech on the Senate floor:
“Not only did the use of enhanced interrogation techniques on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed not provide us with key leads on bin Laden’s courier, Abu Ahmed, it actually produced false and misleading information.”
He was referring to the fact that, when Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was tortured, he told his inquisitors that the courier, Abu Ahmed was no longer working for Osama bin Laden. This misinformation resulted in Abu Ahmed being ignored for years until, under a new administration, the whole idea of waterboarding was thrown out and the information obtained through waterboarding came into question. New people looking at Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s confession realized that his statements weren’t necessarily true, that they were given under torture. Efforts were made to track Abu Ahmed down which eventually succeeded. He was followed and led the CIA to Osama bin Laden’s hideout. These are the facts. Many, if not most people, know these facts.
Let’s go over some of the other facts, facts that no one seems willing to discuss. First of all, the source of waterboarding was the Inquisition which lasted from1184 to 1860. Waterboarding was used on somewhere between 40,000 and 60,000 poor women who, after they ‘confessed,’ were burned at the stake. Let’s put these facts another way: it was used for over five hundred years on tens of thousands of people and, in almost every single case, produced a false confession. No, during that time period, women were not flying around Europe on broomsticks and having meetings with the devil incarnate. They simply told that story to their inquisitors because they were tortured. When the right wing adopted waterboarding it wasn’t an untried methodology being used for the first time. It was extremely well know that the method didn’t work when the neocons decided to use it on terrorists.
The United States signed a treaty agreeing that the US would not use waterboarding specifically, as well as other torture, on prisoners of war. The US also executed Japanese prisoners of war for using waterboarding against American prisoners during WWII. Finally, sheriffs in Texas were arrested, tried, convicted and sent to jail for waterboarding. There was never any doubt that the procedures were illegal.
Here’s a quote from the Denver Post:
“For instance, the United Nations Convention against Torture was signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 and ratified by Congress in 1994. The relevant articles are:
“Article 2, Section 2: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”
“Article 4, Section 1: “Each State Party shall ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law. The same shall apply to an attempt to commit torture and to an act by any person which constitutes complicity or participation in torture.”
“Additionally, U.S. Code prohibits torture ordered by officials or carried out by employees of the U.S. government.”
Torture is a war crime. The Conventions against Torture are the bedrock of international law. At the Tokyo war crimes trial in 1946, an American-led tribunal executed Japanese leaders for failing to prevent war crimes. This is the legal doctrine of command responsibility. And yet, Bush ordered such crimes.
The next item is how the practice of waterboarding was put into practice. The group that was brought in to implement the program was a “psychology firm” consisting of two men, Jim Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. ABC News ran a story on them. These men had no experience in questioning suspects whatsoever. Both of them had worked for many years in the military. Their job had been working with pilots, teaching them SERE- Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape. Essentially, their job was to work with pilots on what to do should their planes be shot down over enemy territory, including how to best lie while being tortured. The program was originally set up because of the ridiculous confessions being made by pilots shot down in Viet Nam who were waterboarded. They confessed to all kinds of war crimes and the confessions were false. What Jim Mitchel and Bruce Jessen taught the pilots to do was to make better false confessions, confessions that wouldn’t make the US look as bad. A wonderful example of a false confession gotten by torture occurred when John McCain was tortured by the Viet Cong. They wanted the names of the men in his company. What they got was the starting line of the Dallas Cowboys. Perfect. What the Viet Cong didn’t get was the truth. And these two men, Jim Mitchel and Bruce Jessen, knew absolutely nothing about getting the truth from prisoners. All they knew about was lies produced through torture.
After Jim Mitchel and Bruce Jessen were brought onboard, they trained a bunch of neophytes in how to waterboard detainees to get information from them, in spite of the fact that they knew nothing about how to get true information from suspects. The CIA Inspector General produced a report in 2004. McClatchy’s published a summary:
“The CIA inspector general in 2004 found that there was no conclusive proof that waterboarding or other harsh interrogation techniques helped the Bush administration thwart any “specific imminent attacks,” according to recently declassified Justice Department memos.
“That undercuts assertions by former vice president Dick Cheney and other former Bush administration officials that the use of harsh interrogation tactics including waterboarding, which is widely considered torture, was justified because it headed off “terrorist attacks.”
The risks and effectiveness of waterboarding and other enhanced techniques are at the center of an increasingly heated debate over how thoroughly to investigate the CIA’s secret detention and interrogation programs.
Steven G. Bradbury, then the Justice Department’s principal deputy assistant attorney general, wrote in a May 30, 2005, memo to CIA General Counsel John Rizzo, one of four released last week by the Obama administration:
“It is difficult to quantify with confidence and precision the effectiveness of the program,” “As the IG Report notes, it is difficult to determine conclusively whether interrogations provided information critical to interdicting specific imminent attacks. And because the CIA has used enhanced techniques sparingly, ‘there is limited data on which to assess their individual effectiveness’,” Bradbury wrote, quoting the IG report.”
“Nevertheless, Bradbury concluded in his May 2005 memos that the program had been effective; that conclusion relied largely on memos written after the still secret report by Inspector General John Helgerson.”
“Helgerson also concluded that waterboarding was riskier than officials claimed and reported that the CIA’s Office of Medical Services thought that the risk to the health of some prisoners outweighed any potential intelligence benefit, according to the memos.”
“The IG’s report is among several indications that the Bush administration’s use of abusive interrogation methods was less productive than some former administration officials have claimed.
“Even some of those in the military who developed the techniques warned that the information they produced was “less reliable” than that gained by traditional psychological measures, and that using them would produce an “intolerable public and political backlash when discovered,” according to a Senate Armed Services Committee report released on Tuesday.
“President Bush told a September 2006 news conference that one plot, to attack a Los Angeles office tower, was “derailed” in early 2002 — before the harsh CIA interrogation measures were approved, contrary to those who claim that waterboarding revealed it.
Last December, FBI Director Robert Mueller told Vanity Fair magazine that he didn’t believe that” intelligence gleaned from abusive interrogation techniques had disrupted any attacks on America.”
These are the facts. Those who have followed this issue are familiar with these facts. They are contained in most of the articles written about the issue of waterboarding. The reason that I am starting up this blog is because, everywhere I have read, the writer stops here. No one points out the obvious: before Jim Mitchell and Bruce Jessen began their training, the neocons responsible knew all this. They were very much aware that torture in general and waterboarding in particular, produced false confessions. In fact, as I pointed out, the two men were specialists in false confessions and new nothing at all about getting the truth out of a suspect. It is impossible to believe that the people in the Bush administration were unaware of the Inquisition. It is impossible to believe that they didn’t know what had happened to pilots in Vietnam. It is impossible to believe that they thought that the two men they hired to train neophytes at the CIA to waterborard trainees would train them to actually get actionable intelligence. They knew all this and they approved waterboarding anyway. This is what no one is willing to discuss. No one talks about it. Well, I am.
The CIA and the FBI had people that were very, very good at questioning suspects and getting information out of them. I heard one of those people who had worked at Abu Ghraib on a radio talk show discussing that very fact and complaining that those people were replaced by what he called “knuckle draggers,” brutes who carried out inhumane treatment of prisoners without the sophistication to actually get information from them. Even he stopped short of saying it was done deliberately. He also stated that, after he gave up on torture, he questioned detainees more conversationally. One of the questions that he asked every single terrorist suspect was why they joined al Qaeda and went to Iraq. Every single one of them, without fail, said they did it because of what Americans were doing to Muslims at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. They pointed out that the Koran compelled them to do so. Torture didn’t prevent terrorist attacks, torture caused them. What’s more, the neocons knew all this.
Now we come to a truly disgusting right wing “Big Lie,” the ticking time bomb scenario. About.com talks about this “scenario:”
“The war on terror torture debate didn’t end with the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. Several of the men who would like to be the next president of the United States have said that they would definitely condone torture in a ticking time bomb scenario. We’ve all heard versions of that scenario: an attack is imminent and officials are holding a suspect who may have crucial information. Should he be tortured for the information?
“Candidates Rudy Giuliani Mitt Romney Sam Brownback and Duncan Hunter enthusiastically said Yes to what Georgetown University law professor David Luban called “torture for intelligence gathering” in 2005.”
The Republican leadership was totally behind using torture to get false confessions from suspects. Well, there it is. I’m saying it. The neocons deliberately implemented an interrogation method that they knew would produce false results. They did it knowing full well that, without the program, they would have gotten the truth out of prisoners, at least some of the time, and they decided to use torture instead.
Once we get to this point, the rest is easy. Clearly, if they knew that the approach they were adopting didn’t produce the truth, then we know that the neocons didn’t want the truth. They set up a system designed to prevent the CIA and the FBI from getting actionable intelligence and they did it deliberately. Now, we’ve got to guess: why did they do it? Here’s my guess- the neocons thought that terrorist attacks were beneficial to the Republican Party and they had no interest in preventing them. The right wing of the Republican Party is not on the side of the American people. They are solely interested in their own short term gain. They believed that terrorist attacks moved their agenda and they stood aside and let the terrorists proceed.
Another way to look at the Neocon desire to promote terrorist attacks is their concept of “Permanent War.” Shadia Drury is a writer specializing in the neocons, particularly one of their philosophers- Leo Strauss. She talks about one of his concepts ‘perpetual war.” Information Clearing House: quotes her as saying:
“Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man, is a popularization of this viewpoint. It sees the coming catastrophe of American global power as inevitable, and seeks to make the best of a bad situation. It is far from a celebration of American dominance. On this perverse view of the world, if America fails to achieve her “national destiny”, and is mired in perpetual war, then all is well. Man’s humanity, defined in terms of struggle to the death, is rescued from extinction.”
David Brody, of CBN news, describes Rand Paul talking about the neocon ideal of Permanent War:
“In a veiled shot at influential neoconservatives within the Republican Party, Sen. Rand Paul tells The Brody File the following: ‘There are people who will do or say anything who are your enemies,’ Paul said. ‘Those who believe in perpetual war are some of the most dangerous to our country, and I think they will do everything they can to try and vilify people who are trying to find a more reasoned approach where war is the last resort not the first resort.’
“While he didn’t mention any names, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Paul is pushing back against neoconservatives like Bill Kristol and others who haven’t had too many kind words for the senator from Kentucky.”
Waterboarding prisoners to prevent terrorist attacks was a Big Lie. It was a Big Lie designed to make the War On Terror a permanent war. Consequently, they promoted the Big Lie. And, boy, did they promote it.
Let’s look at one of the promotional tools- “24.” The entire concept of that weekly show was that terrorists were trying to carry out an attack and Jack Bauer tortured them until he found out where the ticking time bomb was located. He did it in time to stop the attack. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the show and didn’t miss a single episode. The point is, torture has been tried, literally hundreds of thousands of times, and it does not produce actionable intelligence.
Let’s look at three situations. In all three, a terrorist is involved in planting a weapon of mass destruction (unlike those discovered in Iraq, these WMD’s would actually kill people) in New York City and he is caught. The first difference between “24” and reality is that the number of law of enforcement personnel involved would far outweigh the number of terrorists. New York City has 35,000 police officers. A significant number would be made available to counteract a major threat. That’s not to mention the FBI, CIA, Department of Homeland Security, National Guard, etc. One of the things that made the show so riveting was that Jack Bauer was often on his own. Let’s compare the different approaches.
First, the prisoner is waterboarded and lies about the location of the implanted device. Let’s say it’s a complicated lie, he can’t say exactly but it’s in the sewer system. Or the water system or some parking garage, or… whatever. This information, although false, is acted on and large numbers of law enforcement personnel are immediately sent out to search. All of their efforts are wasted because they are searching in the wrong places and the bomb goes off.
Second scenario. The prisoner is killed in the attempt to capture him. No information, obviously, can be gotten from him. In the very act of finding and killing the terrorist, some information must have been obtained. How did they come to suspect him? Where did they find him, etc. Each little detail leads to ideas about where the weapon might be hidden but no single idea would take precedence they way it would in the false confession. There would be a chance that the ticking time bomb would be found.
Third scenario. The suspect is captured alive. Other interrogation techniques are used. There are interrogators in law enforcement that are very, very good at getting people to talk. Certain officers, particularly in the Secret Service, are very good at being able to tell when someone is lying. By asking questions, knowing the answer is a lie can often give a clue as to what the truth is. Other experts are very good at making friends with suspects. This approach would have a much better chance of success than the other two. Finally, there are passive interrogation techniques that don’t require the suspect to cooperate and can’t be falsified. One is to place the suspect in an MRI which monitors brain function. The suspect is then shown pictures. If the suspect recognizes the person, place, or thing, particular areas of the brain are more active than when unknown pictures are shown to him. Through this procedure, certain information is revealed. Of the three approaches, this is, by far, the most likely to discover the ticking time bomb. Nevertheless, the right wing continually promotes the Big Lie.
And promote it they did. Is there anyone in the country who didn’t hear a right wing politician begin a discussion with “Well, you know, in a ticking time bomb situation…” and then go on to recommend torture?
And, let’s take another look at “24.” The shows executive producers Robert Cochran, Joel Surnow, and Howard Gordon were all right wingers. AR15.com points out that they are good friends of Rush Limbaugh and they meet often. Surnow, who has jokingly called himself a “right-wing nut job,” shares his show’s hard-line perspective. Speaking of torture, he said, “Isn’t it obvious that if there was a nuke in New York City that was about to blow—or any other city in this country—that, even if you were going to go to jail, it would be the right thing to do?”
The Washington Post wrote about a meeting at the Heritage Foundation:
“On June 23, 2006, the politically conservative US think tank The Heritage Foundation held an unusual panel event to discuss “24” and America’s Image in Fighting Terrorism”. The panel event, which was first conceived by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife, Ginni, was moderated by talk radio host Rush Limbaugh. In addition to “24” executive producers Robert Cochran, Joel Surnow, and Howard Gordon, and “24” cast members Gregory Itzin, Mary Lynn Rajskub, and Carlos Bernard, the panel included Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, and leading Homeland Security experts James Jay Carafano and David Heyman.
“During the event, Limbaugh, a fan of the show himself, commented that “Everybody I’ve met in the government that I tell I watch this show, they are huge fans.” He specifically identified former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Republican political strategist Mary Matalin as enthusiastic fans. The event audience also included Justice Thomas and radio talk show host Laura Ingraham.”
The event was organized by Ginni Thomas, Clarence Thomas’s wife who went on to found and become president of the conservative advocacy group Liberty Central. I’m sure that all present were big fans. The show was designed to promote the neocon Big Lie and was extremely successful at doing so. It greatly furthered the neocon adgenda.
Now we come to the absolutely stunning part of the story: when “24” was developed. Wikipedia describes the conception of the show:
The idea for the series first came from executive producer Joel Surnow, who initially had the idea of a TV show with 24 episodes in a season. Each episode would be an hour long, taking place over the course of a single day. He discussed the idea over the phone with producer Robert Cochran, whose initial response was “Forget it, that’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard, it will never work and it’s too hard”. They met the next day at the International House of Pancakes in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, to discuss the idea of this action-espionage series that used the format of real time to create dramatic tension with a race against the clock.
The pilot for “24” was pitched to Fox who immediately bought it, saying they felt that the idea for the series was one that would “move the form of television forward.” The episode had a $4 million budget with filming in March 2001.
All I can say is wow. The right wing was working on convincing the public that torture worked six months to a year before 9/11. Maybe this is a good way to put the whole thing in perspective. Imagine that a Hollywood friend of Barack Obama put out a TV series designed to convince Americans that all terrorist attacks were the result of a major insult to the Koran. Imagine, if you will, that the right wing discovered that work went into producing this TV series six months before the attack on Benghazi. I can promise you that the right wing would discuss this fact every day for the next thousand years.
Fortunately, the rest of us aren’t conspiracy theorists. Still, the very fact that the right wing pushed a method for dealing with terrorists that didn’t produced actionable results and helped al Qaeda recruit proves that the neocons, in the war on terror, are not on the side of the American people. It’s about time that we started discussing this.
Last night, I watched another movie that involved torture: Olympus has Fallen. It was nowhere as good as “24,” but it also involved torture. This time, the people being tortured were senior government officials up to and including the President. Once again, torture worked. Apparently, these senior officials didn’t get the simple fact discovered by most people that have been tortured to get information. It’s embarrassing that I have to point this out. If torturers are torturing you to get information that they don’t have, you don’t have to tell the truth. You can lie. Your interrogator won’t know it’s a lie because they don’t know what the truth is. Muslim terrorists already know this, which is why we didn’t get any actionable intelligence from them. According to the movie, the president and his cabinet weren’t as smart as terrorists. It seems bizarre to me that everyone doesn’t understand this.
The neocons who promoted all this aren’t your friends. Get them out of office.
This is what I have to say about torture but I don’t spend all of my time on politics. I’m also a Celtic artists (the border is my work.) If you would like to see some of more my art work, go to my website theirishweddingtoast.com or that of my good friend, the author Doug Page.