In his gung-ho views on torture, New York State Senator Greg Ball has plenty of company.
At the November 12, 2011 Republican debate on foreign policy, all seven candidates endorsed the use of torture as an effective counter-terrorism tactic.
Former Godfather Pizza CEO Herman Cain called for the re-authorized use of waterboarding to “persuade” captured terrArabists to talk.
“I don’t see it as torture, I see it as an enhanced interrogation technique,” said Cain.
Representative Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Texas Governor Rick Perry agreed with Cain.
And Perry drew sustained applause when he declared, “This is war…I will defend them [waterboarding and other coercive techniques] until I die.”
The use of waterboarding was discontinued late in the administration of President George W. Bush.
Following much heated, internal debate, officials in the FBI and Justice Department admitted that it constituted torture and was therefore illegal.
But after the killing of Osama bin Laden, several Bush administration officials–notably former Vice President Dick Cheney–tried to reinstitute the technique, or at least its reputation.
They suggested that information acquired during the earlier waterboarding years may have provided an essential clue to locating bin Laden.
Unfortunately for Republicans, the truth about torture generally–and waterboarding in particular–is just the opposite.
Victims will say anything they think their captors want to hear to stop the agony. And, in fact, subsequent investigations have shown that just that happened with Al Qaeda suspects.
Waterboarding a captive
Shortly after the invasion of Afghanistan in October, 2001, hundreds of Al Qaeda members started falling into American hands. And so did a great many others who were simply accused by rival warlords of being Al Qaeda members.
The only way to learn if Al Qaeda was planning any more 9/11-style attacks on the United States was to interrogate those suspected captives. The question was: How?
The CIA and the Pentagon quickly took the “gloves off” approach. Their methods included such “stress techniques” as playing loud music and flashing strobe lights to keep detainees awake.
Some were “softened up” prior to interrogation by “third-degree” beatings. And still others were waterboarded.
In 2003, an FBI agent observing a CIA “interrogation” at Guantanamo was stunned to see a detainee sitting on the floor, wrapped in an Israeli flag. Nearby, music blared and strobe slights flashed.
In Osama bin Laden’s 1998 declaration of war against America, he had accused the country of being controlled by the Jews, saying the United States “served the Jews’ petty state.”
Draping an Islamic captive with an Israeli flag could only confirm such propaganda.
The FBI, on the other hand, followed its traditional “kill them with kindness” approach to interrogation.
Pat D’Amuro, a veteran FBI agent who had led the Bureau’s investigation into the 1998 bombing of the American embasy in Nairobi, Kenya, warned FBI Director Robert Mueller III:
The FBI should not be a party in the use of “enhanced intrrogation techniques.” They wouldn’t work and wouldn’t produce the dramatic results the CIA hoped for.
But there was a bigger danger, D’Amuro warned: “We’ll be handing every future defense attorney Giglio material.”
The Supreme Court had ruled in Giglio vs. the United States (1972) that the personal credibility of a government official was admissible in court.
Any FBI agent who made use of extra-legal interrogation techniques could potentially have that issue raised every time he testified in court on any other matter.
It was a defense attorney’s dream-come-true recipe for impeaching an agent’s credibility–and thus ruin his investigative career.
But there was another solid reason for avoiding interrogations that smacked of torture: Most Al Qaeda members relished appearing before grand juries.
Unlike organized crime members, they were talkative–and even tried to proslytize to the jury members. They were proud of what they had done–and wanted to talk.
“This is what the FBI does,” said Mike Rolince, an FBI experrt on counter-terrorism. “Nearly 100% of the terrorists we’ve taken into custody have confessed. The CIA wasn’t trained. They don’t do interrogations.”
According to The Threat Matrix: The FBI at War in the Age of Global Terror (2011), jihadists had been taught to expect severe torture at tha hands of American interrogators. Writes Author Garrett M. Graff:
“Often, in the FBI’s experience, their best cooperation came when detainees realized they weren’t going to get tortured, that the United States wasn’t the Great Satan. Interrogators were figuring out…that not playing into Al Qaeda’s propaganda could produce victories.”
And the FBI isn’t alone in believing that acts of simple humanity can turn even sworn entmies into allies.
No less an authority on “real-politick” than Niccolo Machiavelli reached the same conclusion more than 500 years ago.