Thursday, November 24, 2005

Terrorism: Tortured Prose and Padilla

Two articles currently posted on the Newsweek Web site deal with the Padilla case:

Isolating Cheney?
The White House change of mind on Padilla is another sign of the deepening rifts in the administration over detainees’ rights

Case Not Closed
The decision to charge Jose Padilla may not resolve the larger constitutional issues over ‘enemy combatants.'

Shadowland looked at the Padilla case way back in August 2003:

We Have Ways of Making You Talk
The United States figures it can get plenty out of the newly captured Chemical Ali. But how? And are these ‘interrogation’ techniques being readied for American citizens?

...How do you make a man like this talk? We Americans have ways, it would seem, and they were recently outlined by none other than Vice Adm. Lowell E. Jacoby, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. No need to get out the battery cables or fingernail pliers, it seems. The only thing Jacoby tortures is prose. “Interrogation is the art of questioning and examining a source to obtain the maximum amount of usable, reliable information in the least amount of time to meet intelligence requirements,” Jacoby writes in a legal brief. “DIA’s approach to interrogation is largely dependent upon creating an atmosphere of dependency and trust between the subject and interrogator.”

Actually, we know from other documents declassified over the years that when it comes to questioning hard cases, dependency is a whole lot more important than “trust.” Suspected bad guys are isolated and dependent for every bit of information they receive, even the time of day. The interrogators have the power to grant or withhold permission for every bodily function, including sleep. It’s amazing how fast most people break down under such circumstances.If that doesn’t work, the treatment can get rough. But you have to read between Jacoby’s lines to figure that out.

Because the enemy in the war on terror is so hard to identify and doesn’t fight the kind of war the United States spent trillions of dollars to wage, Jacoby tells us “innovative and aggressive solutions are required.” A “robust program” has been put in place during which “interrogations have been conducted at many locations worldwide by personnel from DIA and other organizations in the Intelligence Community.”

As one of Jacoby’s subordinates in the U.S. Navy explained to me, the idea is to keep most of the important players out of the United States. Apparently there is no shortage of black holes in which to soften up the bad guys, although only a few are publicized. “The most interesting thing about interrogations is how the U.S. government and military capitalizes on the dubious status (as sovereign states) of Afghanistan, Diego Garcia, Guantanamo Bay, Iraq and aircraft carriers to avoid certain legal questions about rough interrogations,” my friend told me. “Whatever humanitarian pronouncements a state such as ours may make about torture, states don’t perform interrogations, individual people do. What’s going to stop an impatient soldier, in a supralegal location, from whacking one nameless, dehumanized shopkeeper among many?”Not the law, certainly. But should we complain? These American interrogators have worked their magic on some of the very bad actors in Al Qaeda, which is one reason the United States is a little safer today than it was two years ago.

But there are some real problems with all this. First of all, as a Lebanese torturer—er, interrogator—of my acquaintance once told me, the real challenge comes if someone is telling the truth: “How do you know?” And what if that truth doesn’t fit with what you really want to hear? And what your bosses really believe—really know in their souls to be the truth? What if, for instance, there really are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq because they really were destroyed to keep United Nations inspectors from finding them? The United States now has captured 37 of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis in the famous pack of cards. That’s what all of them are saying, and lesser-known scientists have told the same story. Yet still the WMD beat goes on.

The means of making people talk, even relatively benign means, become problematic when you don’t actually care what they say.

Still, as a freedom-loving American, that’s not what worries me most about Jacoby’s rationale for robust interrogations in faraway places. What worries me is that it was submitted in January to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York to explain techniques used on an American citizen by DIA interrogators after that citizen was arrested and jailed in the United States of America.

The man’s name is José Padilla. Some 15 months ago, Attorney General John Ashcroft commanded worldwide attention when he announced dramatically (on live TV from Russia of all places) that Padilla had been plotting to set off a “dirty bomb” in the United States. Padilla, a high-school dropout and former gang member from Chicago, had drifted into the orbit of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and had been persuaded to bring a terror campaign back to the United States. Or, rather, to think about doing it. Or, at least, he surfed the Web trying to find out how he might do it. The FBI questioned him for a month, then handed him over to the Pentagon.

Padilla was declared an “enemy combatant” based on the assertion—not the presentation—of “some evidence” by the administration that he was a bin Laden bad guy....

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